Today at Princeton University, the U.S. Men's National Team completed it second day of pre-World Cup training camp. Very similar to yesterday, media was allowed into Rogers Stadium only at the very end of training as the team did its fitness runs around the perimeter of the field.
It was freezing and rainy, but I still managed to shoot three videos that have been uploaded into the video player below on the right. I read the comments and noticed someone "requested" that there be no background conversations on the videos. Unfortunately, there's only a few places to stand while waiting for practice to end, so background conversations are part of the package deal with this World Cup coverage, that and some wobbly, raw videos. Nevertheless, there's one video of the team running, including Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan leading their pack of guys. There's another video of the post-practice media availability; Bradley was a popular guy during that time. The final video is the first few minutes of Donovan's press conference, which lasted 30 minutes.
Before we get to Donovan, here's the news from today: During the fitness runs at the end, there were, by my count, 21 guys participating -- up a couple from yesterday's total. Five guys trained for the first time today: Edson Buddle, Donovan, Benny Feilhaber, Clarence Goodson, and Jose Torres. Buddle, Donovan, and Torres were getting physicals yesterday, the first day of camp. Feilhaber and Goodson arrived in the U.S. yesterday afternoon.
Coach Bob Bradley excused Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson from practice so they could complete their physicals. Both defender Oguchi Onyewu and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya are scheduled to arrive today and practice tomorrow, Day 3 of camp.
So, Donovan ... he was available to the media today ... and he was most definitely available. He answered every question asked of him, and quite thoughtfully. The most interesting thing seems to be his approach going into South Africa, which will be his third World Cup. I know it's going to make for a long blog post, but here are some of the more interesting answers from Donovan, who talked about his ex-wife, actress Bianca Kajlich, his disappointing 2006 World Cup performance, and his maturity.
On his disappointment after Germany: "I don’t think back any longer. I thought back for a while and now I focus on the present. That lesson has been well learned and won’t be duplicated again."
On what he learned from it: "You can take the soccer component out of it: In life you have opportunities that come around every so often that you’d like to take advantage of. And I was unprepared, and I didn't take advantage of it. Whether that’s in any facet of your life – in your job, in your personal life, in anything – that’s disappointing."
On U.S. coach Bob Bradley: "With Bob, you earn everything you get. I remember early on, him and I had a discussion and I told him I wanted to be a leader on this team. And looking back now, I realize I wasn’t ready for that and he probably saw that, too, and so it takes time to learn those things. And for me, I want to earn it. I don’t want to be given anything because I’ve played in a lot of games, or have a lot of experience, I want to earn it. And he’s made me earn it. And it feels better that way."
On what he learned on the field: "The soccer side is: I am who I am as a player now. I’m not going to learn how to shoot the ball better in the next few years. The biggest improvement that I’ve made has been mentally. My time in Everton was a really big test for that, to see how far I’ve come. I wanted to make sure when I got there that I was prepared and open to the experience in every way. And, like I said, that I made the most of it."
"Knowing who I am, first and foremost. Knowing what I’m not, which is equally important in life, and knowing the things to do to be successful. I no longer focus on the things I can’t control. And I no longer worry about things outside of myself. I focus on myself and I do the things I’m good at and I know when I do that I can be successful."
On his expectations for this World Cup: "For me, expectations are useless and I think the only thing we demand of ourselves is that every day we show up and be the best we can be. And when you do that, the rest takes care of itself. In sports, and anyone that’s been around sports for a long time knows that things happen beyond your control and you can’t worry about that. If the ball hits the post and goes out one day, instead of hitting the post and going in, we can’t control that. But if we show up everyday here for the next couple of weeks, and in South Africa, hopefully for a long time, and do our best – we know what we’re capable of."
On getting out of 'Group C' in South Africa: "In my opinion, having been through this twice, it’s very difficult to get out of your group. There are a few teams who take that for granted because they can, because they’re good enough. But most teams at the World Cup set the bar there, at getting out of their group. And it’s the same for us. At that point, if we accomplish that, we know from our experience last year that we can compete with anyone. And we’ll take it from there."
On the increased respect for American players abroad: "It’s hard to pinpoint that. I know that when I went to Everton this year, there was immediate respect. That was eye-opening for me because I’d never before experienced that ... it’s certainly changed, you can tell it’s tangible. But it’s still going to take a long time until we’re seen the same way as places like Brazil, Argentina."
"What’s happening now is because a few of us have done well over there … teams are going to be willing to take chances on American players like they haven’t done in the past."
On playing England in their opening match: "For us, it’s more or less the same. We could have played any team first, for us it’s three games. Obviously from a story-line standpoint, and from a buildup to the World Cup standpoint, it’s intriguing and it’s exciting. But for us a lot of emphasis is put on England, but regardless of what happens in that game we’re not out of the tournament and we’re not advancing in the tournament."
On the difference between 2002 (his first World Cup) and now: "It’s equally as exciting, just in a different way. At 20, it was youthful exuberance and naivety and literally just playing every day because you loved to play everyday. Now there’s more responsibility. In my opinion, there’s also greater opportunity. I enjoy the challenge of that now. In 2006, I think, that became burdensome because I wasn’t ready for it. Now I’m ready for it. And I’m really excited for it."
"I’m more real than I was. I’m more centered. Those things give you confidence, but also ease that whatever comes you’re going to be OK with. In the past I thought I had it figured out and I’m sure in the future I’ll look back at this time and say I didn’t have it quite figured out yet. But I’m in a much better place right now than I was in the past."
The biggest thing for me has been asking for time off when I need it. And in the past I’ve always been a guy who almost felt guilty taking time off. But now I understand how important it is. There’s a balance between doing things you need to do to stay sharp and doing things everybody is doing because it’s part of being a team. But also understanding where you’re at physically and mentally and knowing when you need to take time off.
Where did this growth and self-reflection start?: "It started eight years ago, on July 4, after an L.A. Galaxy-San Jose Earthquake game where I met my now ex-wife who has taught me more about myself than I’ve ever known. And continues to do that. And that was the beginning of it all."
"Bianca is an actress and if any of you know what that life is like, it can be miserable at times. And she has fought very hard for everything she’s gotten. On the other hand, I have been pretty blessed and fortunate with the ability I’ve been given and the opportunities I’ve been given. And when you get that perspective, and realize that you can’t take things for granted, it hits you hard when it comes from your wife and your best friend. That’s been a really big part of this whole process."
On the changes from 2002 until now: "Well, I’ll tell you first the process that I’ve gone through is when you first come on the scene it’s exciting in a way that you are just genuinely happy to be there. And then I went through a period where there was a lot of attention, and with that came pressure, and I got to the point where it just wore me down and I thought to myself many times, 'Gosh, why am I doing this? This is just too much.' And then you get back to the place where you find your way again and what it really means to you. It doesn’t mean when I go out onto the field I’m so excited again like I was when I was 20, but you realize what it means to you now and why you’re motivated to do it."
On his preferred position with this team: "On this team, I’ve developed a comfort playing wide in the midfield, on either side. So that would be my preference. But I also understand that in certain games and even within games that those things change and tactically things need to change. And I’ve always been open to that."
Again, on his personal growth: "Coaches, family, therapy, and spending a lot of time looking at myself in an honest way and when you combine all that, you don’t have much choice but to learn about yourself, whether you like it or not."
"Every comment I would get when I told people I was going through a divorce was, 'Oh, I’m so sorry.' It’s not always the case that it has to be ‘so sorry.' Sometimes, you learn more from those moments than anything. For me, certainly, that was the case. It doesn’t have to be ugly, it doesn’t have to be nasty. It can be helpful and you can grow from it and that’s what we both took out of it.'
More tomorrow, from Day 3 of camp ...