Why Hamburg?

By Paul Kennedy Managing Editor, Soccer America in Hamburg

Americans do things a little different in soccer.

While most finalists at the 2006 World Cup will be bunkered in the German countryside, the U.S. national team will be staying in the heart of Hamburg, Germany's entertainment capital.

U.S. Soccer did the castle thing in 1998 in France when Coach Steve Sampson's team was housed at the 17th-century Chateau de Pizay, 45 minutes from Lyons.

''When we get here,'' recalled Jeff Agoos, ''there are 10 geese waiting for us, and you can't see a house for about five miles.''

The Americans complained of boredom. They named the geese for amusement, and one player took to reading the phone book to kill time. ''Had we not had TV,'' added Agoos, ''we would have had to learn the World Cup was happening.''

While it's never been proved that boredom contributed to Michael Burns' failure to cover the left post on Andy Moeller's goal for Germany against the USA in their opening game -- or to the other mistakes in the USA's three losses -- the Chateau de Pizay became the symbol of what went wrong in 1998.

Four years later, the USA returned to the World Cup with a new coach, Bruce Arena, and a new travel plan. This time the Americans weren't isolated. They stayed at the Marriott Hotel in the middle of Seoul. Coincidence or not, the USA reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.

Needless to say, everyone loved the Marriott and its center-city location. It didn't hurt that the Americans and their families were headquartered at the Marriott during their entire stay at the World Cup. By being placed in the South Korea group, the U.S. team was assured of staying in South Korea (which co-hosted with Japan) up until the final, and it stayed in Seoul, within easy reach of the five cities in which it played.

After U.S. Soccer staff made multiple inspection tours of facilities in Germany, Arena visited three cities in July 2005 when it became clear the Americans would be returning to the World Cup for the fifth straight time.

''We narrowed it down to Munich, Berlin and Hamburg, all outstanding cities,'' said Arena last week, speaking to U.S. and German journalists at Sport-Bild, Europe's largest-circulation sports magazine.

''However, when I stepped off the train in Hamburg, we could sense this is the right city for the American team, an exciting environment, great opportunities for the families and players.''

While other national team coaches must isolate their players from media and fans, that's not an issue for Arena, who believes his players should enjoy the World Cup experience.

U.S. players and coaches will again be joined by several hundred family members and friends as part of a travel program being organized by U.S. Soccer.

''There's everything here for players and families to both experience the culture of Germany as well feel comfortable that this is a city that is similar to cities in the United States,'' added Arena. ''And it's a perfect match: great restaurants, lots of entertainment, lot of things to do, a great hotel, great training facilities. Everything we want is here.''

Security was tight at the Marriott in Seoul -- the U.S. team was protected by a 120-person security team and all guests and visitors had to pass through metal detectors to enter the hotel -- but it's a bigger issue in Hamburg, home of the Al Qaeda cell responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed Atta, the 9/11 ringleader, resided in an apartment on the Marienstrasse in Hamburg's working-class suburbs.

Thomas Model, Hamburg's police official in charge of security at the World Cup, told UPI that security for the USA ''is quite a challenge,'' since it will stay at the Park Hyatt Hotel on Hamburg's busiest shopping street, the Moenckebergstrasse.

Model said there are no plans to close off the Moenckebergstrasse, but access will again be restricted at the hotel and the shopping arcade below the hotel. There will also be surveillance of nearby buildings and stores.

Model acknowledges Hamburg has a tough balancing act to both provide security and maintain its image of an open and welcoming city.

''[We] won't have sharpshooters sitting in manholes,'' he told UPI.

U.S. Soccer is pleased with all the support it has received in preparing for the World Cup.

''We have worked very closely with the State Department and FIFA and the LOC on all of our logistics in Germany, including security,'' said U.S. Soccer spokesperson Jim Moorhouse, ''and are extremely confident in the details and plans that are in place.''

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