U.S. coach says goalie shirt still up for grabs
The U.S. goalkeeper's jersey is still up for grabs, coach Bruce Arena said on Saturday as his team prepared to kick-off a week of World Cup warm-ups with a tough game against South America's sleeping giants Uruguay.
With Kasey Keller tied to Tottenham Hotspur for the final weekend of the English premier league season, Brad Friedel has the chance to stake his claim to the number one shirt in Sunday's international friendly.
But the Blackburn Rovers keeper, who turns 31 next week, was being coy about his prospects.
"I try to stake my claim every day. I just get out there and try to do my best," Friedel told Reuters after the team's training session at Washington's Robert F. Kennedy stadium.
But perhaps actions speak louder than words.
In order to attend a 10-day United States training camp in North Carolina, Friedel passed up a clash with former club Liverpool at Anfield.
And lining up to face a feisty Uruguay team on Sunday meant missing Blackburn's 3-0 season finale on Saturday against Fulham.
Meanwhile, coach Arena, who has lined up friendlies against Jamaica on May 16 and surprise non-qualifiers the Netherlands on May 19, was keeping the goalie card close to his chest.
"Brad will play tomorrow. Kasey will play at least one game. It's not a decision I look forward to making," he told reporters, adding with a mischievous glint in his eye, "I'll decide before June 5."
ERASING DEMONS OF 98
June 5 is the U.S. World Cup showdown with much fancied Portugal and a chance for many in the team to put the demons of the 1998 finals in France, when they lost all three group matches, behind them.
"They don't have anything to prove to me. But I imagine, as a group, they probably feel they need to prove something to themselves this time around," said Arena, who took up the U.S. coaching reins about six months after the dismal France 98 performance.
The United States, in group D, also face Poland and co-hosts Korea in the finals starting on May 31.
Sunday's fixture against Uruguay, who clinched the 32nd and final World Cup place by beating Australia 3-1 on aggregate in a playoff, will give the United States a chance to put into practice their training labours of the past 10 days.
"We made great progress. I'm really pleased with the attitude of the guys and our fitness levels. Hopefully you will be able to see a little bit of it on the field tomorrow," Arena said.
Uruguay, who are drawn in Group A with holders France, Denmark and Senegal, will be using the Washington fixture to limber up for their first World Cup in 12 years.
Pioneers and winners of the inaugural World Cup in 1930, they are currently 20th in the FIFA rankings, seven places behind the United States, and have a reputation for violent play and gamesmanship.
Top defender Paolo Montero of Juventus holds Italy's Serie A record for the number of red cards awarded to the same player.
Arena shrugged off concerns that the Americans run a high risk of injury playing Uruguay.
"That's going to be the responsibility of the referee. They are a team that's strong in the tackle, they get after the ball but I don't think it's anything that concerns us in terms of injuries," he said.