Avoiding the Crush
While most folks in Johannesburg are embracing the energy building for the World Cup, the U.S. team is doing its best to avoid it.
Here's what U.S. forward Clint Dempsey said today: "I think you need to stay away from the energy. So you do feel like you get away from it because you can't be thinking about it non-stop, you'll stress yourself out. You need to prepare for it as you go, gradually building until game time. Because I'm someone who doesn't like to think about things too much because it can cause you to stress a little bit."
Dempsey said the team has had two speakers -- a captain from a Black Hawk Down helicopter and Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell -- and has watched some documentaries. The team is also spending its free time playing XBOX 360's FIFA World Cup game, ping pong, and maybe a little bit of chess. Dempsey said he played midfielder Ricardo Clark in chess.
"I had to show him how it was done," Dempsey joked. "But it isn't something that everybody is playing a lot of chess, mostly guys are playing FIFA Xbox 360 and ping-pong."
The team, as we've said, is staying at Irene Lodge, which happens to be in the middle of a dairy farm.
"It's a little bit of different circumstances," said defender Jonathan Bornstein. "You wouldn't picture your hotel to be in the middle of a dairy farm … but it's nice to have something different than the usual commercial hotels we get in the U.S."
Before Monday's open session in Pretoria, a few of the guys were playing some basketball (with soccer balls) before warming up for practice. Since I'm still the 76ers beat writer, I had to shoot the video of it. You can check that out below in the video player. They all looked like they had game, especially Robbie Findley who (not coincidentally, I'm sure) is cousins with NBA guards Mike Bibby and Eddie House. There's also a video of the team's bus: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Victory.
After taking yesterday off from training, today the team practice at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria. And so the preparation, officially, begins for England. Forward Jozy Altidore, who missed the exhibition match against Australia with a sprained right ankle, returned to practice. Afterwards he Tweeted, "Great day at training. We are focused."
"Bob's sessions haven't been anything crazy," said forward Edson Buddle before training, referring to coach Bob Bradley. "This week we're probably going to touch the ball a lot more and strategize on things he wants to implement in the game."
"We know they were watching our game, we saw Beckham there," said Stuart Holden, talking about the chess match between the U.S. and England. "It's par for the course now. Everyone has all eyes on each other and we've gathered all the information now and we'll be going through that and scouting through tapes and videos of past games and making sure we can do everything we can to be prepared."
Who will be Bradley's starting 11? That's something that won't be known until an hour before Saturday's match begins. But Dempsey said that Bradley is a straightforward coach (the following quote is Dempsey talking about other managers): "You don't really know where you stand sometimes and they don't really talk to you. All you can do is go out there and keep working hard. But it is nice to know where you stand, and to be able to have that type of open dialogue. I think it makes for a better team to have that type of manager."
Here are two interesting items from around Johannesburg today:
1.) Bafana, Bafana (South Africa's nickname for its national team, translation "the boys"): Each player on South Africa will supposedly be paid R3.5-4.0M (approximately $500,000) plus a Mercedes Benz if the team wins the World Cup. No small feat considering South Africa received an automatic bid as the host nation and is ranked #83 in the world. Bafana, Bafana (believe, you hear that everywhere here) have gone unbeaten in their last 12 matches and are talking the smack to opening match opponent, Mexico. You can check out the article about the 500k and benz here: Mercedes Benz.
2.) Apparently the German team was equipped with South African cell phones upon landing in Johannesburg, except the phones don't work between the players. Here's that story: Oops.
More tomorrow ...