Over twenty years ago this journey began. In 1997, I was appointed on the US Soccer National Instructor Staff for Goalkeepers. From 1997-2001 I worked with a number of youth national teams as a goalkeeper coach for my boss, Peter Mellor. Over the last 20 years, I served as an instructor at scores of US Soccer "A", "B", and "C" licenses.
My workings with US Soccer have been incredibly rewarding, but always had something missing, an international world championship tournament. Over the years I got to work with a number of cycles of U17 / youth national teams, but I never went full time and attended a youth world championship. Now, almost 20 years to the day I first got the honor to work with US Soccer Federation, I am in San Luis, Argentina as an Asst. Coach with the US Soccer National Para Team in the World Championships.
Working with these coaches and athletes has been one of the best "professional development" opportunities that I could dream up. Not only are we competing against the top 16 countries in the world here in Argentina, but the dynamic roster decisions and tactics that come with the Para-game is incredibly challenging and brings on 4-5 new "layers of decision making and thinking" on every team decision. Every decision has to be cross referenced with a very different lens of 7v7 Para game with classification combinations on the field and where the team is in the tournament, etc.
Now the time has come. Working over the past 12 months at a number of domestic training camps in San Diego, Chicago, Tampa, and other locations, it makes you realize that the past 12 months' worth of work will come down to the next week of competition. You truly get the perspective of Olympic Athletes working for 3-4 years with the week long competition at the Olympics as the goal. It’s difficult to describe, but this year-long period of working toward a common two week long competition goal is a huge reason this team has such an incredible bond and chemistry. These men are truly United as One Nation, One Team. Every training session, every game ends with a team huddle with the chant... "TEAM.. USA". I've been blessed to coach and work with some very elite professional teams and organizations, but nothing ever compares to the feeling you get wearing your nation's flag and the US Soccer crest!
Traveling internationally with a National Team sounds glamorous, but it comes with tremendous challenges. First, getting to San Luis, Argentina is not that easy. The team assembled in Miami to fly to Buenos Aires. After a 14 hour layover and a brief stay at a local hotel we arrived at a second, domestic airport in Buenos Aires for a short flight to San Luis. As soon as we stepped off the bus, we knew things were not "normal". The airport baggage handlers went on strike that morning and over 70 flights had been cancelled. Lines of people were out the door and down the sidewalks for as far as you could see. Now, we were about to unload over 25 very large steel cases, team bags, folding therapy tables, and general equipment needed for a team to compete on an international stage, all while trying to find a corner to stack up all our gear through thousands of angry, stranded passengers. Finally, after over two hours of delays, we were able to get most everyone on the final flight of the day from Buenos Aires to San Luis. I say most everyone, for we had to get 3 volunteers to take a 10 hour bus ride through the night, for there were not enough seats on the final flight. Myself, a security officer, and second coordinator volunteered for the bus ride option and it was quite an "experience".
Arriving in our host hotel on Thursday early morning, this will be our home for over two weeks. Our hotel is hosting England, Iran, Brazil, Holland, Japan, Ukraine and the USA. The hotel environment is truly a "United Nations". We had time enough to drop our equipment, load the bus and head for training. Once in San Luis, we had two training sessions on Thursday and Friday. Saturday was "classification" day for our team, so our players had to be analyzed by the medical officers / classifiers of the World Championships.
Sunday, September 10 - The day has finally arrived for "Opening Ceremonies". Unfortunately, heavy rains came in overnight so the first games that we were going to scout have been postponed. The opening ceremonies and first game with host Argentina are the only events remaining on the day's schedule.
Monday, September 11 - GAME DAY! Opening USA game v Australia. We played very well executing the game plan to the letter. It was great to see our players play so well after a full year of preparation. Huge win for the USA 6 - 0 over Australia on our opening match.
Sept. 21- Update from Argentina. USA played #1 in the World Ukraine to a 0-2 loss. The 2nd goal of Ukraine came after the US hit the post and missed another chance just wide. With the loss to Ukraine we ended the group stage as 2nd in our group to advance to the Quarter Finals against England.
Quarter Finals v England - the US was up 1-0 at the half, but under tremendous pressure by England. US Goalkeeper Sean Boyle was tremendous with over 20 saves in the game. The game ended 1-2 with England scoring two tough, hard fought goals.
After the Quarter Final loss we had to play Wednesday, Sept. 20th against the loser of one of the other Quarter Finals between Iran and Brazil. Brazil lost in that Quarters so we had to take on World #2 ranked Brazil. Wednesday, Sept 20th was a cold windy day here in Argentina and it worked in the favor of the USA... We came back from 0-2 down to win 3-2! and now play our final game on Sept. 22 for 5th place v Ireland.