I took the family out to the Home Depot Center for US Soccer's open practice on Wednesday. It really was a nice gesture by Klinsmann - at least I'm assuming it was his idea, if not, at least he embraced it - and I'd estimate about 2,000 fans took advantage of the hour-long free session (and free parking). They opened about a 5th of the stadium (section 101-109?) for the fans.
Its always a thrill to see members of the national team in person and even though I'm massively disappointed by Dempsey's absence (which we now know was a result of failed transfer talks to Arsenal), seeing Howard, Donovan, Bocanegra and Altidore reminded us that this was indeed the 1st team. By the way, as cool as it would have been to see Dempsey at such a big-time club, he may have had inconsistent playing time at a bad time for Arsenal. It may be better for him to keep his vital role on a middle of the pack EPL. On a further tangent, Michael Bradley will become the 3rd American behind Lalas and Onyewu (yes, g rossi is no true american to me) to ever play for an Italian side, now that he's been bought by Chievo.
Speaking of Alexi Lalas, he was also on hand to take in the session (and sign autographs) while Claudio Reyna was on the sidelines spending time with Klinsmann's staff this week, as expected. I never actually did pick out Tab Ramos however.
Klinsmann and last summer's Studio 90 host opened the session with a mostly generic welcome interview, but he did mention that he would like to have these open practices before every home game to give US fans more access to the players. That seems like a great way to create interest and a real sense of attachment for fans. I think he is sensing the burgeoning popularity of this team on the national sports consciousness.
He also made sure to let us know that the training would be pretty light and his statement pretty much set the tone for how the team practiced next. For the most part, it was a lackluster and sloppy session.
After a warm-up stretch, jog and cone work, the squad split into two groups doing variations of 2-touch passing drills at just moderate speed.
Next came a crossing and finishing drill - Torres, Pontius, Chandler, F. Johnson, Shea, Rogers and Castillo were stationed on the outside alternating crosses into the box for a pair of attackers (everyone else including defenders) trying to score on Howard and Hamid. (A goal was placed midfield and created a small field.) Torres was unquestionably the standout crosser, placing quality balls time after time with his left foot. I'm still wondering though why we would put Torres into a winger role.
Anyway, the finishing on the other hand was fairly mediocre. I don't know how most of their practices look, but most were not sharp and displayed poor touch. Surprisingly, Kljestan seemed to be one of the most confident and sharpest finishers on the day, while Agudelo, Ream and Larentowicz were particularly off.
Lastly, Klinsmann setup a 2-touch 9 vs 9 game on that short field. 2 rotating players per each team per side were stationed on the outside and not permitted to come in centrally. Though one team wore orange jerseys and the others wore the gray training shirt (and everyone in red shorts in case you care), Landon wore a blue shirt. I joked that it was like a red practice bib for QBs: "Don't be tackling the all-time US scorer!" or "Dempsey's not here so its only fair if Landon plays both ways". But I realized a few minutes into it that he was indeed playing the equivalent role of all-time-QB, always facilitating the offense. So to be accurate, it was actually 9v9 +1.
Perhaps it was the half-sized field or the fact that you have 15 guys crowded into a narrow central space, or Klinsmann's demand for 2 touches only, but good chances were hard to come by. Only after probably about 15 minutes of play did we finally see a goal, which then officially closed practice for the day. I can't remember who scored - perhaps Agudelo or Edu.
After cool down stretches, the players came to greet the fans. We decided to try and get a picture with some of them but couldn't get closer than the 2nd row. Carlos Bocanegra, who closed the session with a few comments and thereby made plainly obvious Klinsmann's choice of captain for the near future, was greeting family in front of us and afterwards at least signed my cap (CB3). Since Boca was in my class at UCLA and won a national championship our freshmen year, it was very cool. I guess it's time to shelf the hat and buy and new one.