U.S. players take time out to visit Lion Park
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- On his first trip with the U.S. national team, Jozy Altidore saw a foe with some bite.
"I ain't afraid of no lions," the 18-year-old New York Red Bulls forward said.
That's lions with a small 'l.'
Before playing South Africa in an exhibition game Saturday, the American players took time to visit Lion Park.
"I put my hand in the mouth of a lion, and I walked out with my hand still intact," defender Dan Califf said after Wednesday's visit.
Well, of course, he was dealing with a cub.
"Once you got in there, you realize they're harmless at this moment," defender Oguchi Onyewu said. "Give them a couple of months, and then they'll eat you."
On Friday, the U.S. team went to Ellis Park, one of the sites of the 2010 World Cup. As the team arrived for training, hail started falling and lightning could been seen in the distance. Practice then was called off.
Johannesburg is at 5,751 feet, higher than Denver. It's taken time for players to get used to the altitude.
"You feel like you have nothing in your tank," forward Clint Dempsey said. "You can recover quickly, but for a split second you hit a wall."
Dempsey was pleased with the arrangements for the game. The U.S. team will return in 2009 when it plays in the FIFA Confederations Cup.
"They want to let people know around the world that they're ready to host the World Cup," he said."Playing in the country ahead of time before the Confederations Cup is going to give us an idea of what to expect when we come here and compete in that tournament."
Saturday's game is just the third match in Africa for the U.S. team, following losses at Morocco in 1992 and 1998. The United States won its last game against South Africa, 4-0 at Washington's RFK Stadium in 2000.
Led by former Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, the Bafana Bafana are preparing for the African Cup of Nations, which starts Jan. 20 in Ghana. South Africa is in Group D with Angola, Tunisia and Senegal.
The Americans, 11-5-1 since Bradley replaced Bruce Arena, open next year's schedule with exhibitions against Sweden (Jan. 19 at Carson, Calif.) and Mexico (Feb. 6 at Houston). The United States starts World Cup qualifying in June and learns its possible early round opponents at the World Cup draw in Durban on Nov. 25.