A day before his team's opening game against Japan, U.S. Olympic team goalkeeper Brad Guzan is in Tianjin, China, and excited about the opportunities ahead of him. He is a part of a young U.S. team that has a chance to make history in China. He also just received a long-awaited approval on his U.K. work permit and will suit up for his new English Premier League club, Aston Villa, after the Olympics. Guzan sat down with ESPNsoccernet to talk about the U.S.' preparations for the Olympic tourney.
ESPNsoccernet: What is the mood like in camp right now with this team?
Brad Guzan: We are excited, making our move from Hong Kong to Tianjin where we are looking forward to starting the games. Obviously, that starts in a couple of hours for us against Japan, and we are pumped. We are excited to show everybody we have a good team. We know what we can do with the players that we have. We are a talented group, and everyone is looking forward to the first game.
ESPNsoccernet: Fans are disappointed after the ING Cup. What did you guys learn from that?
BG: First of all, I don't think we played as badly as everyone has been saying we did. We used those games to fine tune things a little bit. For a lot of guys, this was their first time playing here, so obviously, for guys like myself, Michael Parkhurst, Brian McBride, for us it was more like a pre-Olympic tune-up, if you will.
We approached it as that and we were glad to go there, play the games that we did and learn a lot about each other and about our team. We learned a lot about how each individual plays, getting into a rhythm with each other and getting into a flow of how we would defend and go forward as well.
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We are going to take what we now know and apply them to our team in the games we have coming up. Our goal was not to go to the ING tournament and win two games and score four goals. Ultimately our goal is to come to the Olympics and win a medal.
ESPNsoccernet: Coach Peter Nowak said after the game against Cameroon that you guys are still a "little bit naive about international football." How do you respond?
BG: I think what coach was getting at was, we were a little bit passive in the first half of that game. Not necessarily saying it is an eye-opener or a wake-up call, but we have to make sure that we come prepared to each and every game and know that it is going to be a hard fought game. It's going to be physical, emotional, filled with passion, and we have to be ready for all those different elements that the game will bring. I think the first half, we were not our sharpest and they [Cameroon] did not create too many chances, either. Their goal was from a penalty as well.
ESPNsoccernet: So if this is not a naive group, should fans expect to look beyond the group stage? Talk to me about the realistic expectations of this team.
BG: If you look around our team and the players we have, the level of experience of guys is so high, especially going forward. Obviously, our first goal is to get out of our group. Not an easy task. A lot of people have written us off. They say we are not good enough to get out of the group, but we believe that we have the talent on this team to get out of the group. Once we are out [of the group], anything can happen. We'll take it one game at a time and not get ahead of ourselves, but ultimately the goal is to win a medal. You don't come here thinking anything less.
ESPNsoccernet: What is the health of the team going into the game?
BG: Everyone is prepared, ready, and we will go through one more training before the first game. We are going through the mental and physical process of getting ready for that first game right now.
ESPNsoccernet: In your opinion, what would you prefer: To top the group and avoid Argentina, or square off against one of the favorites?
BG: Honestly, it would not matter. However we get out of the group, we are focused on doing that. Once we get out, we'll take that next game and whoever it is. We are prepared for whoever comes our way, whether it is Argentina, Ivory Coast or anyone. However we get out of the group, either we win it or not, we are prepared to go far and anything is possible.
ESPNsoccernet: What is the team's game plan for Japan?
BG: They are a technical side, a team that is looking to work hard. They won't give up, and we are aware of that. We might not score within the first 10-20 minutes but continue to possess the ball through this time. We have to make sure we are patient, being the opening game of the tournament. We need to stay calm at all times. If we win 1-0, after 90 minutes, we are fine with that and we'll take it.
ESPNsoccernet: After Japan, you play the Netherlands. Has Michael Bradley dropped any knowledge on their style, since he plays in the Dutch Eredivisie?
BG: Right now we have not spoken too much about the Dutch team, simply because we are worried about Japan right now. But I have spoken with Michael a little bit. The Dutch have a bunch of talented players and as we get closer, he will give us an insight as to what we can expect. I don't think it is a secret as to what we will expect: They are going to keep the ball and create chances going forward.
ESPNsoccernet: With the unimpressive performances leading up to China, how do you change the mindset of fans that have written the team off?
BG: I think by getting results, and if we can do that, we'll be just fine. That's not really our goal -- if fans want to support us or follow us, that's great. We will surely prove to the rest of the world that we have a talented team and we can play to be successful in this tournament. Until then, we just have to wait and see. We are all confident, not cocky in our abilities. Our attitude is to win a medal. If we approach it with anything less than that, then we will go home empty.
Sulaiman Folarin is a columnist for ESPNsoccernet and contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.