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- It Seems To Me. . .-

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It Seems To Me . . .

At the World Cup, Arena chooses to do things his way.

By Robert Wagman

HAMBURG, Germany (Wednesday, June 7, 2006) -- United States men's manager Bruce Arena's method of preparing his team is unique among the 32 nations getting ready for the 2006 World Cup.

On one level, the U.S. training has been more grueling than that of most teams because about half of the Americans -- the 11 from Major League Soccer -- started their seasons in April, while just about everyone else ended their seasons in May. Yet, the U.S. preparations have taken place in a more relaxed and public atmosphere compared to just about everyone else.

In a number of different ways, the U.S. arrangements have been contradictory. To start, Arena decided to set up training camp at home in Cary, N.C., and then to play three "friendly" type matches -- all within six days -- against opponents who had not qualified for the World Cup.

This might seem overly relaxed when compared to the approach taken by Mexico coach Ricardo Lavolpe. He took his team to Europe a month ahead of the tournament and then had it play the hardest matches he could schedule -- against France in Saint-Denis and then the Netherlands in Eindhoven. Lavolpe said that although the Tricolor might not win those games, it would be better prepared for its opening match facing such tough opposition.

Here is where the contradiction comes into Arena's way of preparing his team. While holding camp in North Carolina, followed by some friendly matches against modest opposition might seem laid back, it was anything but. For two weeks, Arena and his assistants ran the players ragged. Probably no coach here trained his team as hard as Arena did in Cary, and then he had it play three physically grueling matches. In the third match against Latvia, the players on the field in the second half seemed all but out on their feet.

" I think we were pushed to our limits, physically," Arena said after the Latvia game in East Hartford, Conn. "You could see that we had a bit of a tired group out there towards the end of the game, but I'm real pleased to get these three weeks of training camp over with and now we can realistically look forward to the World Cup. We beat (the players) up physically -- trained very hard. Now we can taper towards the first (Cup) match. In Germany, our complete focus will be on preparing our team for the Czech Republic."

How the U.S. is preparing for its first match has proven controversial. Most of the other teams in the Cup are staying away from the big cities, preferring smaller rural towns where they can remain isolated, away from the media and their fans. England is a prime example, staying at the Buhlerhohe Schlosshotel, a grand old spa hotel in the middle of the Black Forest.

Not the U.S. While the team does practice in private at Norderstedt, the training grounds of Bundesliga side Hamburg SV, the team is staying in a major downtown hotel with players' families staying with them. Relatives and friends are staying in a nearby hotel.

This decision actually traces itself back to the 1998 World Cup -- when the U.S. finished last among 32 entrants -- when the Americans stayed in a remote area outside Leon in a setting resembling a monastery. Leaving their private accommodations only for matches, the players complained they felt like they were not part of the World Cup. In 2002, the U.S. team stayed in the middle of South Korea in Seoul and the team responded well, advancing to the quarterfinals. So that is the philosophy Arena has adopted and he has had to defend the decision from the moment the team arrived here last week.

"We were told we were stupid and crazy and ignorant in Korea, as well, with the families, so we'll just accept that as being dumb Americans," Arena told one news conference. I think it suits our lifestyle, our mentality. I want our players to enjoy the World Cup. The way Americans enjoy living every day is to get out into the culture, do things and not being locked up out in the country."

By all accounts the U.S. team has trained rather lightly this week, concentrating more on tactics than on physical preparation. Monday night, the team held a closed-door scrimmage (without fans or media) with Brian McBride scoring the only goal of the match, while Angola played down after Loco received his second yellow card after about a half hour.

So, as he always does, Arena is doing things his own way. And one of those ways is to keep secret, even from his own players, what his starting lineup will be. That is reportedly causing some unhappiness with some members of the team.

"It's irritating not to know," midfielder DaMarcus Beasley told a group of journalists before the Angola scrimmage. "'Of course it's better to know. It helps you get your mind set. It wouldn't matter to me if I'm on the right, the left or the middle, but I don't even know if I'll even be playing the first game. He hasn't made up his lineup."

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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