I was able to stop by RFK Stadium with impeccable timing earlier today, arriving just as the media were allowed to enter the Auxiliary Field to observe the final 15 minutes of training ahead of the USA vs. Jamaica Gold Cup quarterfinal match on Sunday.
While its hard to take much away from the mostly light-hearted shooting drills at the conclusion of practice that included a healthy amount of joking, there were a few things that stood out to me.
- Freddy Adu did not look out of place. Even though he was the biggest surprise to make the 23-man tournament roster and has yet to enter a match, he hung with the big boys and had a couple nice finishes.
- Not that I was keeping track, but Michael Bradley probably had the lowest shooting percentage of the group, missing wide on most of his attempts.
Sacha Kljestan was clearly better at the crossing portion of the drill than the finishing portion, while Jozy Altidore was in my opinion the best shooter.
- Marcus Hahnemann made a few impressive 1v1 saves while sitting alone in goal with no defenders in front of him besides a few yellow plastic stands.
We were able to talk with a few players following the training session, so follow me below the break for more.To start with, I wasn't too surprised at the players' reluctance to answer many questions about the absences of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, whose sisters were paid by the Mexican Soccer Federation to hold their weddings during the Gold Cup (hopefully they won't be serving any chicken...). Carlos Bocanegra brushed off the subject saying that "they're professional, we're all professional, and we're preparing the same way with them or without them."
The theme from all of the players was the same though - they know they have to improve. Bocanegra said "We know we didn't play our best games in the first round. We were a little disappointed with how we played ... it wasn't good enough." Steve Cherundolo gave further detail, suggesting that "Our movement off the ball has to improve."
Cherundolo justified the loss to Panama with the statement that "There wasn't a whole lot of difference between finishing first or second in that group." Meanwhile, Clarence Goodson also dismissed criticism about the 1-0 win over Guadeloupe, saying "We created a lot of chances, and on a different day that's five or six to zero."
All of the players on hand know that improvement in Sunday's game against Jamaica is critical, and they seem confident that it will happen. Goodson noted that they're "supposed to be building as the tournament goes on" and Cherundolo said "I expect a better performance all around."
Bocanegra summed it up best with a statement that I hope doesn't fall lightly within the U.S. locker room: "This is still a big tournament for us. We have a chance to lift a trophy."
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