MIAMI — The U.S. soccer team is together again, reunited after weeks apart in far-flung corners of the country. The players have had less than a week to prepare for the Colombian team, which they play today for the fourth time since 1984.
Making that preparation more urgent is the United States' 1-3 record against the Colombians, who, like the Americans, are back in the World Cup after a long absence. Brief reunions represent business as usual for the U.S. team. Its players are not on a set national team--some are playing in Europe, and the rest stay at home for a time, then fly to the city where the team is playing next.
"In one way, we are used to it," U.S. Coach Bob Gansler said. "In another way, it's getting old. It's been two years like this. I've said this before: What we do on a daily or weekly basis is a lot different than what Brazil does to prepare, or Italy. That's why sometimes I have felt the measuring sticks used against us are inappropriate. But this is our lot."
An obvious problem with this arrangement is the fragmented nature of training and conditioning. U.S. coaches have been looking for signs that this team is coming together--on the field and off. It is frustrating to see some cohesiveness develop, then have the players scatter.
What they actually do when they are home is another matter open to conjecture. All the players are given a running and conditioning program. Adherence to the program is encouraged but not always expected.
"All that you can hope is that they come back as strong as they left you," Gansler said. "Realistically, it's always a little less. The ultimate test is in the game situation. They may play two-on-three, but they don't get that 11-men-on-11-men situation."
The schedule this week was typical. Monday was spent assembling the team, with players flying in from across the country. Then came two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, of hard practice, including a doubleheader scrimmage Wednesday night against two American Soccer League teams.
Thursday was an off-day, at least from soccer. The team honed its competitive skills with an intramural slow-pitch softball game, East vs. West. The West won, 9-4, with goalkeeper/pitcher Tony Meola getting the loss.
Friday was another 2 1/2-hour workout at a nearby university, on a blustery and humid day. The team will stay together only for a few more days, then scatter again, before reuniting for the May 5 match against Malta at Piscataway, N.J.