August 12, 2009


Mexico gives the U.S. altitude: Estadio Azteca, site of a World Cup qualifier, is 7,400 feet above sea level and a hostile environment for visiting teams. (GRAHAME L. JONES, August 12, 2009, LA Times)

U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said Monday, "This will be my first time to Azteca."

It will also be the first time for most of Bradley's players. Only four of the 20 on the roster -- defenders Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra and forward Landon Donovan -- have played at Azteca. For the rest, it will be an eye-opening experience.

"It's almost like a rite of passage for a U.S. national team player," starting goalkeeper Tim Howard said Monday.

No American national team has won in Mexico. A scoreless tie in 1997 is the best the U.S. has achieved in 23 games over 72 years. Bradley's predecessor as national coach, Bruce Arena, failed twice.

"You're not playing on a level playing field in that game," Arena said. "On a level playing field at sea level, I would favor the United States.

"The conditions at Azteca are difficult. You have around 100,000 people. The stadium is massive. The sightlines are real difficult for players. There are literally probably 20 yards from the touchline to the dugouts. You see that and the field looks like you're out in the country.

"Then you start dealing with the heat and the altitude and it gets to your head. Not only your head. The physiology is difficult. I remember games where we had oxygen at halftime. It's hard. It's an awesome home-field advantage."

There is nothing Bradley can do about the heat -- a temperature near 80 with a chance of thunderstorms is forecast for today -- or about the smog, or about the sellout crowd of 105,000 that will shake the old edifice to its foundations starting long before the kickoff at 1 p.m. PDT.

USA in Mexico City (Steve Goff, 8/11/09, Washington Post)
Bradley, on whether he will use the same lineup as he did against Spain at the Confederations Cup with Howard, Spector, Onyewu, DeMerit, Bocanegra, Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley, Clark, Altidore and Davies: "It's always a nice thought to think that you have a lineup that if it works one day, all you have to do is run it out again and it works again. But if you take a broader perspective, we had a lot of good games in the last six months, games that have given us a real sense of our depth, of our talent. The only things that get factored in differently than when when we were in Blumfontein is what have guys been doing lately? It is an interesting time for a match like this because it's preseason for some clubs, in some cases following the Confederations Cup, some guys had short periods of rest, some had longer periods of rest and gone back into their teams. Schedules for clubs vary. The MLS guys have been busy in the most demanding part of their season. So we take these different things into account and find our best lineup."

Donovan, on Jose Torres bringing extra insight into the Mexican players: "He plays against a lot of these guys, so we will pick his brain and have picked his brain."

Bradley, on Torres's place in the program after not playing at Confederations Cup and not being included in the Gold Cup but getting the call-up here. Was he in the doghouse? "Honestly, I think 'doghouse' is pretty inaccurate. Everyone is going to look from the outside and come up with ideas. ... The timetable of any young player in terms of how quickly they develop, how quickly they establish themselves in teams, what roles they take, you can't always predict what the timetable is."

One of the reasons that coach of the US squad is the best gig in the soccer world is that no one ever gets fired, so it's futile to think what they might do with a real coach. But you do have to ask how Mr. Bradley can justify not using Torres at all in the Gold Cup and then calling him up to the World Cup side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 12, 2009 9:00 AM
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