AMSTERDAM -- The U.S. held its first training session at the Sportpark Riekerhaven here on Monday in advance of Wednesday's full-squad friendly against the Netherlands (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Galavisión), and coach Bob Bradley gave some of his most detailed public comments yet about the chances of forward Charlie Davies to be available for the World Cup.
Davies suffered multiple serious injuries (including two broken bones in his legs and a broken left elbow) in a horrific auto accident near Washington D.C. last October. His recovery has gone faster than expected, though, and Davies recently returned to France (where he plays for Sochaux) to undergo further rehabilitation.
"The most important thing that you get when you hear Charlie talk is the positive attitude that he has, the determination that he has," Bradley said. "It shows up in his rehab, it shows up just in terms of his new attitude on a lot of things. I think that when you have that kind of mentality, that kind of attitude, you always have a chance.
"The reminder for anybody is just that for any athlete coming back from an injury, if it's 100 steps to get back to the level that you were playing at, the last steps are the hardest, and they're the ones that are most difficult to predict how long they take. So in the moment you just want to see him continue to work hard. The fact that it's a World Cup year means that everybody has in a way a target and a calendar in mind. But that being said, it's just important that he continues to cover all the steps and gets back to that level."
* "The 23 Golden Tickets" is a regular department between now and the World Cup. It's a list of the 23 players that I believe Bradley will pick for the U.S. team that travels to the World Cup in South Africa. Players with a "*" next to their names are those I would consider locks at this point:
GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard*, Brad Guzan*, Marcus Hahnemann*.
DEFENDERS: Oguchi Onyewu*, Carlos Bocanegra*, Jay DeMerit*, Jonathan Spector*, Jonathan Bornstein*, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson.
MIDFIELDERS: Clint Dempsey*, Landon Donovan*, Michael Bradley*, Ricardo Clark*, José Francisco Torres, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu, DaMarcus Beasley.
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore*, Brian Ching*, Robbie Findley, Conor Casey.
New addition: DaMarcus Beasley.
Fell out: Robbie Rogers.
New locks: Brian Ching, Marcus Hahnemann.
* José Francisco Torres was the final U.S. player to arrive in camp this afternoon and participated in training. Also present were non-roster players Steve Cherundolo (who practiced with the team) and Oguchi Onyewu (who did not take part in the full training session). "He's started to do a little bit," Bradley said of Onyewu, the AC Milan defender who is recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in October. "We had a chance to kind of ease him in a little bit [in Los Angeles last month]. Since he's been back to Milan I think they're still moving him along at that speed. So I can't give a definitive answer in terms of when he's back in full training. That's a decision that now gets made at Milan."
* The U.S. and the Netherlands will use a special red ball in their game on Wednesday. The ball is part of a shoe-company campaign to raise awareness for fighting AIDS in Africa. The ball itself looks like it was designed in the 1960s.
* Former Chicago Fire standout Lubos Kubik is here with the U.S. team and is now working on Bradley's coaching staff. Kubik played for Bradley on the Fire team that won the 1998 MLS title, and he also competed internationally for Czechoslovakia.
* Landon Donovan and Onyewu were the only U.S. players who were not made available to the media. Donovan is scheduled to participate in Tuesday's pre-game press conference.
What are your thoughts on Davies and the latest 23 Golden Tickets? Post them below and add to the discussion...
TAMPA -- Three thoughts after the U.S. B-team's 2-1 victory over El Salvador on Wednesday night:
* Depth is still a big concern. The U.S.'s MLS-based players have had two big chances this year to show they have what it takes to make the World Cup team, and the results have been decidedly mixed. The 3-1 loss to Honduras last month was marred by an early red card to Jimmy Conrad, but the Yanks played with no such disadvantage in this game and still had to come from behind at home against a mediocre regional foe. Still, fighting back for the victory showed this team does have a competitive spirit. Which players improved their cases to earn one of the 23 golden tickets in June? I'd say forward Brian Ching, whose goal and general danger in the box showed he could provide depth in South Africa; left back Heath Pearce, who sent a nice cross to Ching for the goal and had success down the left side; and perhaps midfielder Sacha Kljestan, whose game-winning goal came after he had missed two scoring chances in the first half. Defenders Clarence Goodson and Jonathan Bornstein were pretty solid in the central defense, too. That's about it, though.
* Other players didn't make a good case for World Cup inclusion. Robbie Rogers struggled in the first half on the right side of midfield, lacking sharpness and cohesion with his teammates and seeming out of sorts. Things improved slightly for Rogers on the left side in the second half, but he still didn't look like a player who could come on as a late-game sub in South Africa. Right back Brad Evans was dangerous on a couple of set-piece headers early, but his bad back-pass header led directly to El Salvador's goal. Meanwhile, midfielder Kyle Beckerman and starting forwards Conor Casey and Robbie Findley didn't look bad, but they didn't get the breakout performances that they could have used, either.
* Onward to Amsterdam. The importance of this game will pale in comparison to the A-squad's game next Wednesday at the Amsterdam Arena against the Netherlands. Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra and Co. will be back in action for the U.S. for the first time since last October's final World Cup qualifier in Washington D.C. How will they respond to playing one of the world's top teams in an intimidating atmosphere? Tonight's game was another reminder that MLS players don't figure to make much of an impact on the U.S. World Cup team in South Africa.
Who do you think helped their cause? Which of these U.S. players would you be comfortable with on the field in South Africa? What were your thoughts on the game? Feel free to post them below...
Grant Wahl can also be found on Twitter.
On a day when the Champions League knockout rounds start, I wanted to draw your attention away briefly from the stadium lights to a marvelous new soccer documentary by four young Americans that I saw a sneak preview of on Monday. The film is called Pelada--the Brazilian term for pickup soccer--and it follows two former college standouts (Duke's Gwendolyn Oxenham and Notre Dame's Luke Boughen) as they visit 25 countries in search of pickup games and the stories of the people who play them.
The movie, which debuts at the prestigious South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Tex., on March 14, is a testament to the power of the world's game to dissolve the boundaries of gender, language and culture. Armed with a ball and a thirst for adventure, the Americans bribe their way into a Bolivian prison game, play for money in a Nairobi slum tournament and test the limits of Iranian authorities when Oxenham joins an all-male game in Tehran.
But what elevates Pelada from a cute highlight travelogue to something more resonant is the filmmakers' ability to find compelling stories and earn the trust of their interview subjects. "Once you play a game with someone, interview doesn't seem like the appropriate word," says Oxenham. "There's this level of intimacy that you don't get if you don't play soccer. Every place we went, you're then invited into their homes. Everyone's mother wants to cook for you."
"[Playing soccer] would change the situation from being an outsider having an interview with them to having a conversation with a friend," adds Boughen.
The result is a film that combines eye-popping cinematography (by co-directors Rebekah Fergusson and Ryan White) with human stories: the dreams of a teenage Brazilian girl nicknamed Ronaldinha; a lunchtime kickabout among workers building the Cape Town World Cup stadium; and an Italian writer who pens love poems to the sport. A tense game between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem reveals the benefits (and very real challenges) that come with the sport.
Boughen and Oxenham are also clearly good players, and a running thread is the reaction in male-dominated soccer cultures to a woman who's eager to join them on the field. "It was funny because Luke would score three goals and nobody really cared because everyone can see he's a good [male] soccer player, but all I would have to do was a little pivot and everyone freaked out," says Oxenham. "There was very little negative reaction to me, except for maybe in Italy, where in a couple pickup games it was like, 'Who is this woman?' In Iran they passed the ball to me more than they did in any other country, whether I was in a good position or not, which was interesting to me."
The filmmakers financed their project by piecing together grants and contributions, but they're still raising money to cover costs after spending around $250,000 on the project. While they have done a deal with PBS International for the international rights, they're hoping that the buzz from the South by Southwest Film Festival and others (they have applied to the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City) will lead to a distribution deal with a U.S. studio or television channel.
For now, though, they're excited about their film finally making its public debut. "It's surreal," Oxenham says. "You spend three years and you've got 400 hours of footage and getting it down to 80 or 90 minutes tops, it feels like you're killing babies left and right. But it's great to see it shaping up into the thing that you always imagined from the beginning."
Yet being accepted into a major film festival isn't the only news for Oxenham and Boughen. After crisscrossing the globe together, they're getting married in June. Part of their honeymoon may involve a screening of Pelada in Cape Town during the World Cup.
You can find more information about Pelada (including a movie trailer and tax-deductible donations) at www.pelada-movie.com.
I'll be posting a new soccer Mailbag later this week. Please send in your questions about the U.S. national team, Champions League, MLS or anything else using the "E-Mail Grant" link on this page.
You can also find Grant Wahl on Twitter.
WASHINGTON -- Three thoughts after the U.S.' 2-2 tie with Costa Rica in the final Hexagonal game of World Cup qualifying:
• The U.S. does not know how to give up. Down 2-0 midway through the second half, the Americans scored twice in the final 23 minutes, capped by Jonathan Bornstein's stunning 95th-minute header, to secure a remarkable tie. The comeback forced Costa Rica into a playoff with Uruguay next month and catapulted Honduras (a 1-0 winner at El Salvador) into its first World Cup since 1982. In a week when the U.S. was shocked by the tragic auto accident involving forward Charlie Davies, this was only a sporting moment. But it was a special one which called to mind the U.S.' amazing comeback against Egypt in June's Confederations Cup. If the U.S. is to go on a deep run in South Africa next year, it will need to continue having this kind of never-quit attitude, which is infectious.
• René Simões went mental. I was just about ready to hail Costa Rica's new Brazilian coach for being the Ticos' Mr. Fix-It when he lost his mind in the final minutes, complaining to the fourth official and drawing a red card. Simões' antics mean that he'll be suspended for Costa Rica's first playoff game against Uruguay next month. If you're a Costa Rica fan right now, you have to be upset over how your team went from first place to fourth in only four games.
• Oguchi Onyewu's injury looked scary. The hulking U.S. defender left the field after going down with an alarming non-contact injury in the 83rd minute. We'll have to wait for a postgame injury report, but Gooch was extremely agitated on the field after falling down awkwardly in the Costa Rica box going up for a header.
What are your thoughts after the game? Please post them below, and check back later for a post-interviews piece.
- 12:03 AM ET 10.11
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras Three thoughts after the U.S.'s 3-2 victory against Honduras in Saturday's World Cup qualifier:
* The U.S. is World Cup-bound for the sixth straight time. In one of the most remarkable halves in U.S. Soccer history, the Americans overcame a 1-0 deficit and scored three times to silence 45,000 Hondurans who were hoping to celebrate the country's biggest win in nearly three decades. Granted, Honduras isn't Brazil, but the U.S. could have folded after giving up a brutal goal in the 46th minute much like the one it allowed to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final (a 3-2 loss). Instead, the Yanks found the resolve to keep pushing and run off three unanswered strikes by Conor Casey (two) and Landon Donovan (one). If you were ever going to question the U.S.'s heart, this World Cup-bound team answered those questions tonight.