[USA] For the next day or so, the most important member of the U.S. Soccer contingent in South Africa may be fitness coach Pierre Barrieu.
In a tournament such as the World Cup, players need their own version of R&R: rest and recovery. Massage, pool therapy, stretching and dozens of other methods aren’t the stuff of headlines and chat rooms, but just as vital as conditioning and training.
“We’ll be ready,” said midfielder Michael Bradley in the aftermath of incredible scenes at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. “We could play tomorrow and we’d be ready."
Once the emotion and adrenaline drains away, however, muscles need to be revived and fluids must be replenished.
By stunning Algeria, 1-0, Wednesday with a stoppage-time goal to win Group C, the Americans get a round of 16 match on just two days’ rest against Ghana, which lost to Germany, 1-0, a few hours after the U.S. game. If they had finished second, they would have played Sunday against Germany.
Teams meeting in the round of 16 play on the same amount of rest, but the turnaround ranges from two (for the USA and Ghana and Group G winner and the Group H runner-up, which meet Monday) to four games.
The time between games, away from the training field, is another facet of competing in a major tournament the fans don’t know much about yet the players have learned to appreciate.
“He gets us in the pool, in the gym, and it’s not a lot of fun sometimes,” says Landon Donovan, described by Barrieu as a physical marvel of endurance and speed. “But we realize how important it is, because in big tournaments, you can’t waste any of the time between games.”
Eight years ago, the USA had two days to recover from its 3-1 loss to Poland before it faced Mexico in the round of 16 of the World Cup.
Needing to get fresh legs in the lineup, Coach Bruce Arena shuffled the U.S. lineup. Gregg Berhalter, Josh Wolff and Eddie Lewis started for the first time, and the USA went on to won, 2-0.
The Americans played on two days’ rest throughout the group phases at the Confederations Cup last year, so they are well-acquainted with fast turnarounds as well as the logistics of travel in South Africa.
After losing its opener, 3-1, to Italy, the USA lost to Brazil, 3-0, before beating Egypt, 3-0, to sneak into the semifinals. It played, and beat, Spain (2-0) on two days’ rest, then had a three-day break prior to the final against Brazil, which it lost, 3-2.
During the Hexagonal last year, it lost, 3-1 in Costa Rica on June 3, then traveled 2,200 miles to Chicago, where it beat Honduras, 2-1, on two days’ rest.
The travel demands for Saturday’s Rumble in Rustenburg, a rematch of Ghana’s 2-1 win in the final World Cup group game four years ago, won’t be nearly as strenuous.