Prep work key to U.S. soccer success
Scheduling of friendlies helped Americans qualify for World Cup, says coach Bob Bradley
It isn't by accident that the United States is set to compete in its sixth consecutive World Cup this June.
It's all about the proper preparation, according to Bob Bradley.
The coach of the American national team believes one of the major reasons why he and his players will board a plane bound for South Africa is because they played a series of exhibition matches against top opponents that prepared them for the World Cup qualifying campaign.
Bradley gives a great deal of credit to the United States Soccer Federation, the sport's official governing body in the U.S., for organizing friendlies against teams the calibre of Brazil, England, Spain and Argentina long before the qualifiers even began in June 2008.
"The main reason [the U.S. qualified for the 2010 World Cup] is that we had prepared ourselves well in 2007 and 2008; we did an excellent job of scheduling during those years," Bradley told CBCSports.ca.
"We played against very good teams, we played games in Europe and games that tested us and taught us a lot about ourselves, and I think that really helped us going into 2009 when the CONCACAF qualifiers heated up."
The results speak for themselves: Bradley's team finished first place in the final round of a gruelling CONCACAF qualifying section, recording crucial wins over Mexico and Honduras to stamp their passport for South Africa.
"I don't think people recognize the challenges of going to some of these countries, playing games in a hostile stadium in Costa Rica, El Salvador Honduras," Bradley said. "Dealing with tough conditions and going on the road and knowing how to keep yourself going over the course of the qualifiers is the key to qualifying from CONCACAF."
The U.S. opens its World Cup schedule with a game against England on June 12. It meets Slovenia six days later and finishes up the first round with a match against Algeria on June 23.
Everyone is talking about the marquee encounter between the U.S. and England, but Bradley isn't looking past the other two teams in Group C.
"It's really exciting for us to start this World Cup against England.… Slovenia and Algeria are teams that don't have the big stars but they obviously did a great job, especially at the back end of the qualifiers, to get to South Africa. Those will be tough games," Bradley said.
The last time the U.S. and England faced off at the World Cup was in 1950 in Brazil when the Americans won 1-0, registering the greatest upset in tournament history.
'Piece of our history'
Bradley will use the example of the 1950 team, captained by Walter Bahr, to inspire his players ahead of the June 12 match against England.
"It's a piece of our history in the United States that we're very proud of here," Bradley said. "It can't be a focal point of our effort to get ready, but I do think it's important for our players to know that there are people like Walter Bahr and others who got the game rolling a long time ago."
Bradley is cognizant of U.S. soccer history and his place in it, and hopes to add another chapter to the story when he makes his World Cup coaching debut in June.
"I think anyone who gets the opportunity to coach their national team understands that you do it on behalf of so many people who have given their hearts and souls to the game," Bradley said
"I often say that when they give you the baton you run as long and as hard and as fast as you can, and I'm proud of the tradition.