U.S. holds obligatory open practice in Germany
NORDERSTEDT, Germany -- Kasey Keller walked to the edge of the field and signed autographs as people swarmed around.
American soccer players got to meet the German people Tuesday, with the Deutsche volk coming out to Edmund Plambeck Stadion in suburban Hamburg for an open haus -- the only scheduled U.S. public practice at the World Cup.
Shedding their jackets and scarves as the sun finally broke out following a gloomy, gray holiday weekend, fans applauded searing shots and sprawling saves. Their energy filtered down to the U.S. team.
"The fever is definitely starting to hit," captain Claudio Reyna said.
A mix of Germans, U.S. tourists, American students and diplomats were in the crowd of about 1,000 at the home of Eintracht Norderstedt, a regional team in a city of about 70,000, the fifth-largest in the Schleswig-Holstein federal state. The temperature was in the mid-60s, and the attendance was modest -- 45,000 tickets were distributed for Brazil's training sessions in Weggis, Switzerland -- but fans appeared to have a good time.
"It's a 30-minute train ride, and then we walked around for two hours trying to find the place," said Christina McCreary of Tulsa, Okla.
She is studying in Lueneberg and was able to snag tickets on the Internet for the U.S. opener Monday against the Czech Republic in Gelsenkirchen. She couldn't attend any of the qualifiers or warmup matches back home.
"It's hard from Tulsa to make it to any of the games," he said.
A Chicago Fire youth team sat in the stands, youngsters who are playing clubs from Turkey, Russia and Germany and wanted to watch their national team train.
"You learn a lot, see how they do things," said Rob Henehan, a 17-year-old from Oaklawn, Ill.
Not too far away was a group of 6-to-14-year-old German boys in blue shirts with American flags and the letters "USA," a group that will play for the United States in the UeNa Cup youth tournament that features German squads representing each of the 32 World Cup nations. One boy had an American flag painted of his left cheek, and several waved the Stars & Stripes.
Marion Seifert, a German fan from Geesthacht, stood by the field.
"I like the American soccer team because my son, he lives in Florida and he told me please, these are such great players,"
About 17,000 total tickets were sold for the American games by the U.S. Soccer Federation, a figure that doesn't include sponsor tickets or those bought directly from German organizers on the Internet. The USSF estimates more Americans will travel to this tournament than all previous World Cups combined, excluding the 1994 games in the United States.
But, as American players often have learned at their home games, tickets bought in the United States don't always translate into supporters of the red, white and blue.
"We probably have three to five thousand Czechs coming from America for the first game, 7,000 Italians coming from America for the second game and 5,000 Ghanians coming from New York for the third game," said Keller, the American goalkeeper.
Each team is required to hold at least one open practice. U.S. coach Bruce Arena, a secretive type, chose to hold his the morning after a closed-door scrimmage against Angola -- when U.S. players wore shirts without numbers to make identification more difficult.
Because of the timing, training wasn't very strenuous. The American team anticipated its three first-round opponents would be sending scouts to spy on the workout, trying to glean intelligence about the U.S. lineup and tactics.
"We do less as far as what we'd work on because you don't know who's here," Reyna said. "It was a very -- I don't know -- generic practice."
The practice venue was picked because the U.S. team is training nearby at the fields of Hamburger Sport-Verein, the big Bundesliga club.
"Just to thank the community because we are a little bit of a nuisance as we come through with our procession of sirens and everything else every day," Arena said. "We rattle them a little bit, so the least we could do is say, 'Thank you for all your support and your hospitality.' "
Duane Butcher, the U.S. consul general in Hamburg and a native of Arlington, Va., is counting on the American team to advance out of its group.
"I only have tickets for the knockout round," he said.
Reyna said his strained right hamstring has healed and he's set for the opener. ... Players still aren't sure of the starting 11. "There's positions up for grabs, that's fair to say," Reyna said. "I think that's a good thing, because a lot of guys look well, a lot of guys have pushed for starting positions and have had a good training camp, good games and look sharp."