Sometimes a break in the playing schedule is desirable but the recent news that the U.S. women's team has finalized two upcoming fixtures was welcome news. Given our long layoff, the games against Australia on Oct. 16 and Mexico on Oct. 23 in Fullerton, California provide a welcome respite. It's an exciting time since the team hasn't played a game since July 24. Since then myself and the others have had to do train on our own and stay self-motivated.
Compared to some of my teammates I was lucky since I live near a men's club team and trained regularly with them. If not for that, it's unlikely I'd have been able to stay in game shape for the upcoming friendlies. Don't get me wrong I would've run six days a week to compensate, but that's not enough to get a player ready for a professional soccer match. Training matches are required in order to maintain a feel for the game and to improve technique.
It's a safe assumption that the rest of the team had similar problems. Only two players played in Europe during our mini-offseason and the rest were basically independent and self-reliant for training. I imagine most of them resorted to playing with their former college teams or coaching - Shannon Boxx for instance found a group to play pickup games with.
As for the team itself, it's about to get even more competitive than normal. The players will be auditioning for a spot on the World Cup roster so the friendlies will be a key part of that ongoing evaluation process.
The game against Mexico in particular is going to be a good one. Obviously This still isn't as big a rivalry as the men's Mexico-U.S. rivalry, but it's getting there from our perspective. Mexico is starting to improve drastically and this is reflected in the results. We trailed to Mexico in one game last year before coming back to win 3-2 in overtime. Like their men's team, the Mexican women are feisty, fast and have some tenacious defenders. The Mexican team has had an infusion of speed and youth as of late and they retain a deep passion to beat us. In order to beat them, the U.S. team will have to match that passion and intensity.
MEN QUALIFY FOR WORLD CUP
While still more under the radar than I would have liked to see, it's exciting to see that the U.S. men's team has ensured qualification for the 2006 World Cup. The U.S. probably remains underrated on the world scene, there's a lot of people didn't realize how good this team was before, but now everyone knows.
Landon Donovan really stepped up for the national team in qualifying and continues to be a key goal scorer for the team. Clearly, a happy Landon Donovan plays better for the national team. What's impressed me as well is that he seems to have taken on much more of an on-field leadership role for the team.
What separates this team from past U.S. teams is the combination of youth and depth. For instance Arena was able to experiment mostly with youth in the most recent qualifier. Against Guatemala they had seven players playing in their first qualifying match. The other bonus these days is depth. In the past, an injury to a starter would really hamstring the team, but in its current incarnation, the U.S. has solid depth at most positions. Added to that the increased confidence this team shows and look for the U.S. to make a run at the World Cup, especially if keeper Kasey Keller keeps up his astounding play!
Heather Mitts covers women's soccer for ESPNsoccernet and is also a member of the U.S. women's national team and former WUSA All-Star.