By Ridge Mahoney
And on the second day after the untouchable prince had been banished from the kingdom, those that remained returned to their duties, and peace descended upon the realm.
Those retained -- their number counted as two dozen minus one –- worried not, for they had been assured by the lord they would be taken forthwith on the great journey across the land and from thence to a hallowed place, where their ranks would take part in an ultimate challenge to which a great many aspire and very few attain.
They spoke fondly of the prince Landon, yet for little time can they bemoan his departure. The challenge draws ever closer.
“He’s a close friend, a close teammate,” said another of the attacking brigade, Chris Wondolowski, a man of modest origins yet acclaimed accomplishments. “We’ve been through the thick and thin, especially seeing him at practice every day and seeing how much he’s put into it, it’s definitely hard to see him. But we have faith in these 23 guys right now.”
That their quest would continue without the prince saddened them, yet express they did the understanding that the arduous decisions made by their lord Jurgen were for the benefit of all. “He obviously has a vision for this team that he thinks is a winning one, so we believe in that,” said Tim Howard, guardian of the gate they must defend against foes both crafty and powerful upon arrival in the hallowed land.
They pondered carefully their thoughts, respectful of the prince and a half-dozen others who had been left behind yet just as intently scrutinizing the days and weeks ahead and the obstacles set in their path. “We all have an incredible amount of respect and appreciation, admiration for everything that Landon’s done for this team and for soccer in this country,” said another of the midfielders, Michael Bradley, whose own father had once been lord and led some of these same soldiers on a similar quest.
“To see walk him out the door yesterday -- to see six other guys walk out the door yesterday – is not easy. But at this point there’s a group of 23 guys in there who are ready to go to a World Cup and forget everything else and really make this something special.”
They had been told of their fates on the Thursday, and the chosen 23 and the unchosen had parted ways. The prince had been just one of the unlucky seven and they took pains to praise and thank all of their comrades. SaidBrad Davis, blessed with a golden foot on the side seldom preferred by the populace, “He’s been a big teammate and obviously what he’s done for U.S. Soccer is pretty amazing, so for the players it was, we were all I think a little bit shocked, surprised, but for us, the coaches make the decisions. It’s not us in the room making the decisions.
“Yesterday we said our good byes and we’re bummed and we’re still bummed. We wish everybody could still be here, but the ultimate story is you can’t. There has to be some cuts made so you have to move on.”
They repeated often the mantra of moving on, of continuance, of pushing ahead on the path set forth by the lord, a lord who had emerged as champion in a similar challenge many years before and not so long ago led another band of warriors to a vastly hailed achievement though they fell narrowly short of the ultimate prize.
“It’s bittersweet,” saidClint Dempsey, who had faced the prince in lesser challenges and also fought alongside him on many fronts for many years. “You’re feeling sad for the other guys because you know what it’s like. It’s their dream to be in the World Cup and they’re right there, and it’s a difficult decision for him to make, but that’s what his job is. We have to support him in what he does, and we’re excited about the 23 we have here.”
Their expressions mirrored the harshness of their existence, for to take part in such a glorious spectacle they had seen many comrades bypassed along the way, and at times they themselves had been left behind. Resolve and determination, not solely guile and strength, had often proved to be the crucial attributes. And so it would be of the highest order at the place this quest would end.
“I think it’s just part of it,” said another of the midfield warriors, Kyle Beckerman, renowned for a crazed hairstyle that befits his thirst for battle. “It really is. All the elite sports, any time there’s going to be an elite team, some guys aren’t going to make it.”
The lord had made his decisions. His men were ready to carry his word forward as the millions of subjects worried and talked and prayed for the best.
“Jurgen’s chosen the 23 guys that he feels that at this moment are the fittest, are the sharpest, are the most ready to go and give this thing a real go,” said Bradley. “It’s a team that has a good mix of youth and experience and I know every guy in that room is ready to go and play and represent themselves in a way that’s going to make everybody at home proud."