Kicking It with ... Cory Gibbs
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The last time Cory Gibbs was flanked by a group of sportswriters in the Ocean State, he was probably discussing how his Brown University Bears would play against Yale or Dartmouth. Two years later, and just a Timmy Howard punt from his old stomping grounds, the 23-year-old defender finds himself comparing the man-to-man marking of the German Bundesliga compared to the zonal defense the U.S. National Team employs in its flat-back four while talking to reporters at the Westin Hotel.
So, yes, a lot has happened since he left the Ivy League after the 2000 season.
The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native has made a name for himself in Germany as a regular for F.C. St. Pauli over the past two seasons, and has worked himself into the National Team pool as both a left back and as a central defender. Most recently, he's earned himself three caps with the U.S., highlighted by his first international start against World Cup champion Brazil last month in the Confederation's Cup.
Of any of the young players on Bruce Arena's 18-man roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, it's clear that Gibbs is anxious to put on a good showing in the regional tournament starting this Saturday at Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxboro, Mass., in front of many fans that watched him play at the collegiate level.
Connolly: What was it like for you to walk out on the field with the U.S. jersey on in your first start knowing you were about to take on the mighty Brazilians?
Gibbs: It was unbelievable. My first start in the Bundesliga was against (Bayern) Leverkusen, so that was a huge, huge deal for me, too. The feeling to wear the National Team jersey is hard to describe. I wore it playing for the U-20s, but it was a different experience and not even a comparison to what it felt like wearing it against a team like Brazil. Getting in against New Zealand for the first time, that was also an honor and a big moment for me.
Connolly: Over the past few years, how aware have you been of the steady talk about your play overseas by American soccer fans who were calling for Bruce Arena to bring you into camp?
Gibbs: I wasn't that aware. I try to stay out of it as much as possible, to tell you the truth, and focus on what I'm doing. I'd read a couple of things on web sites, but I didn't stay too focused on it.
Connolly: During that time, how closely could you follow the National Team?
Gibbs: In Europe, you can't watch the games. They don't televise any of that. I would follow it on the Internet more than anything else.
Connolly: So when you saw young players like DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan doing well for the U.S. in the World Cup, were you surprised after not being able to see much of them previously?
Gibbs: I played with Landon a little when we were with the U-23s at the Pan-American Games, but I never played with DaMarcus. The first time I saw them together was in the World Cup, yeah. They showed well for us. I mean, I always knew they were good players, so to watch them play as well for us was a great thing.
Connolly: After the World Cup, how often was the U.S.-Germany quarterfinal match brought up?
Gibbs: Yeah, they talk about it all the time. They say that Germany clearly outplayed the U.S.
Connolly: Did they mention the hand ball?
Gibbs: Of course. They said it was definitely not a hand ball and how Germany is the best soccer country in the world and all that.
Connolly: Even before the World Cup you were on Bruce Arena's radar screen and even got called into a friendly in Germany before you suffered a hamstring injury. Had you heard from him before that at all?
Gibbs: There was some contact, yeah. It was small talk about how they were tracking me and encouragement to keep playing well and even better. The first time they made contact to say I was on the radar screen was through my manager.
Connolly: In your career in Germany, who have been the hardest strikers you've had to deal with?
Gibbs: I'd have to say (Miroslav) Klose from the German National Team. He had a bunch of goals in the World Cup, and he's something else to mark. Same goes, of course, for Giovane Elber (Bayern Munich). He's the league's best, and someone really tough to mark. The league has some great forwards. Every game presents one who will really stick out on the team.
Connolly: Is it a somewhat comforting feeling when you play German clubs that have an American? Does that help make you all friends?
Gibbs: I have a close relationship with Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) because he's only an hour away. We could see each other when the time allowed. With someone like Tony Sanneh, it was tough because we're so far apart and didn't have a lot of time to see each other.
Connolly: What's the best part of living in Germany?
Gibbs: The lifestyle for a soccer player is nice. When you're done training and go into the city, the people recognize you. It's a nice feeling. It's a different experience. Soccer is developing more and more in the United States, but I don't think it's as high as it should be, like the way it is all over Europe.
Connolly: What's the worst part of living in Germany?
Gibbs: The fact that the city closes by eight o'clock, and then everyone goes to sleep. You have to adapt to their lifestyle. People are a bit cold. The weather compared to Miami is - well, there is no comparison. In Hamburg, it's always cold and rainy and snowing. I was used to that in Rhode Island, but it's so different than Miami.
Connolly: Do you have any interesting Bruce Arena stories yet?
Gibbs: Well, he's a different style of coach. One thing with Bruce is that he's a direct person. He's a direct individual. He'll tell you exactly how he feels, and he'll tell you where you have to improve, and exactly where you stand. That's very important for all of us, not just me. I've always got the runaround from coaches, but not from Bruce. I respect that the most. If you're not going to play, there's a reason why, and he'll let you know. And if you're doing well and progressing, he'll tell you. There's also no favoritism with him.
Connolly: Lastly, has there been a player you've emulated or tried to style your game after?
Gibbs: I would have to say two players. One is (Marcel) Desailly for the middle. And on the left side it's (Paolo) Maldini. I try to follow both of their styles of play. I also try to have the work ethic of (Edgar) Davids.
Connolly: All those qualities would make quite a player.
Gibbs: (laughing) Yeah, definitely. That's the goal
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.