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Sunday 3 June 2012

First Person View – Canada-USA Build-Up – Day One - Press Conference

    Still damp from the morning exposure, but freshly refueled with some coffee and a rather tasty hipster burger, the time had come to head over to BMO Field for the official pre-match press conference with the head coaches and a player representative.

    These things are never as full as you would think they would be. The hype in the build-up to this match has struck me as a little subdued. Whether having a celebratory friendly mere days before the hard work of qualification begins is the cause of this oversight, or it is more a function of the upcoming European Championships is hard to say.

    Normally a meeting between Canada and the USA would invoke much more emotion, but both are focused on the task approaching and recognize this match as building towards that target.

    Canadian head coach Stephen Hart was joined by his American counterpart Jurgen Klinsmann, striker Simeon Jackson and defender Steve Cherundolo – a four man panel that faced about fifteen minutes or so of questions.

    It was all very subdued to be honest. Neither manager would give much away in terms of lineup selection. Hart preferred to not name the two players with injury concerns – as stated in the previous post Atiba Hutchinson did not train, while one report listed Mike Klukowski as the other carrying a knock; I spotted Will Johnson stretching and attending to his ankle in the morning training and thought he didn’t look as involved as he could have, but that is purely speculation on my part – Klinsmann was a little more forthcoming indicating that Clint Dempsey would likely play some part in the match, most likely as a starter or but possibly only as a substitute.

    Hart did not come across as calm and relaxed as he usually does. The weather was depressing and not particularly helpful to prepare for the heat of Cuba; the devastating injury to Josh Simpson, Hutchinson’s knock, and other minor concerns were probably weighing heavily upon him to be fair.

    Klinsmann was very personable, very comfortable in his own skin and the surroundings. He did his best to bring a touch of relief to the conversation, often taking the time to make reference to Canada, expanding his answers to include the host being in a similar position, specifically in terms of outlook for the match, to the US at this point.

    Both coaches stated the time for drastic experimentation was through and that their starting elevens would likely reflect their strongest lineups moving forward.

    Jackson was very quiet, he’s had a long season and crossing the pond will always take a little out of you. Cherundolo was only slightly more animated, but definitely an interesting individual.

    He came across as a soft-spoken, thoughtful man. He did his best to answer as thoroughly as he could and even took notice of the microphone not being close enough to Klinsmann at one point, sliding it over so as to better catch his gaffer’s voice.

    Thirteen years at the same club – Germany’s Hannover 96 – after two seasons at the University of Portland, involved in the National Team consistently since 2001, a remarkable achievement for any player. He came across as intelligently as one could hope for, cooling evaluating the loss to Brazil as a failure to start well, conceding the penalty early, then losing another from a set-piece shortly after put them in a bad position, where they needed to further stretch themselves to get into the match, a tactic that is always a dangerous one.

    The conversation took a slight more personable tone when the question was asked about what it means to play against such a close neighbour. The rivalry that pervades other sports between our two countries is virtually non-existent in football. Canada’s lack of success as the level of the game has soared in the States these past twenty years have dampened what should be an intense meeting. The US is also distracted by the fascinating – both on the field and in its socio-political ramifications – duel it has been in with Mexico over that same period of dormancy for the Canadian game.

    The number of ties between the nations in the soccer community is marked. Cherundolo was teammates with Julian de Guzman in Germany, Andre Hainault is teammates with Geoff Cameron in Houston, and Will Johnson plays with both Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando in Salt Lake.

    One day this will be a meeting of great rivals but for now we each have more important tasks at hand – Canada must find the consistency to establish itself as a force behind the top teams in CONCACAF; the US looks to validate their place as a world contender.

    The inevitable question was asked – has Klinsmann been keeping up with the progression of the Dutch project at Toronto FC and what did he think of their struggles – but he skillful evaded responding at the moment, deferring to the subject of the current conference and stating perhaps that could be discussed at a later time.

    It was a tactful deflection, but one that indicated he respected the question and the desire for his thoughts by the needy Toronto media. Toronto FC woes, though often misappropriated and misunderstood, have been one of the major stories of North American soccer this season.

    The discussion then broke off for individual interviews, in the hustle someone almost dropped a camera – one of those huge TV ones - right behind me, but luckily someone else with cat-like reflexes caught it.

    Of all the one-on-ones that have emerged, Daniel Squizzato probably got the best out of Coach Hart for his article over at Canadian Soccer News. Video of the conference and individual interviews are available at Red Nation’s YouTube page as usual.

    The open training session for the Americans was cancelled as the weather required it to be moved. Saturday both teams would take training at BMO Field, with a small portion being open to the media and further individual availability.

    I did not make it to the Canada training in the morning, and the American one was a bit of a waste of time – they did some jogging, then some stretching, then a few warm-ups and then closed the doors.

    But video can be found again at Red Nation and at MLSsoccer.com.

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