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U.S.' World Cup gameday routine


PRETORIA, South Africa -- Gameday for the U.S. soccer team has a dependable structure, albeit with some built-in down time for the players, the amount depending on whether the United States is dealing with an afternoon or a night-time kickoff (local time) as with this Saturday's contest against Ghana:

Here then, is what a United States soccer team game day looks like from wake-up right up until the moment the players assemble for the march to the field, with the familiar World Cup anthem in the backdrop:

Wake-up: The players are allowed to more or less sleep as late as they want. At this World Cup, there really is no night-time curfew because, essentially, no one leaves the grounds of the Irene Lodge unless they are part of a larger group. There's no bed check.

7-10 a.m.: Breakfast is optional for players, but it's available for three hours. It's essentially the same full breakfast options the players get each day. Choices include pretty much what you'd expect: eggs, egg whites, an omelet station, various cereals and breads, an assortment of fruit juices, etc.

Menus for all meals are designed by head athletic trainer Ivan Pierra and team fitness coach Pierre Barrieu. All meals are prepared by hotel staff chefs. There really is no need for the United States contingent to travel with its own cook because they generally are headquartered at upscale properties. It was the J.W. Marriot at World Cup 2006 and the Park Hyatt in 2002. Similarly, the head cook at the Irene Lodge in suburban Pretoria knows how to prep anything the U.S. team will need.

10 a.m. until pre-game meal: Some teams take a group walk on gameday morning, although the U.S. never does. The Americans didn't under former coach Bruce Arena and don't now under Bob Bradley. Some players like to go to the gym after breakfast. They'll do something light, like ride the stationary bike. It's just to get the legs moving; there's no weight lifting or anything too strenuous.

After breakfast: The players' gameday gear has all been laid out in a common area by equipment staff. The players' actual game kit (jersey, shorts, socks, etc.) will be brought to the stadium; at this point, the players are collecting the outfit to be worn on the team bus, into the stadium. Otherwise, it's down time for the athletes, some of whom rest or listen to music.

The team training and treatment room is open during this time. Players can also get a muscle message at this time, although most who do like a pre-game message prefer to wait until stadium arrival.

Next meal -- the team meal: Players will always be sitting down, ready to eat right at four hours out, regardless of kickoff time. At this point, there's a wide variety of food available. There's an omelet station once again, because some players like the protein in the eggs. There is also fish and chicken for protein and plenty of carbohydrate options, pasta and rice and such in addition to vegetables. Most players are fairly particular, preferring to consume the same things before every match for a predictable response.

After the team meal: Bradley will always hold a team meeting immediately after the team meal, arranged for all players and assistant coaches. Here, the players go over last minute details for the match, such as defensive assignments on re-starts. Marking assignments are carefully thought out to ensure optimum matchups. Some of this may already have been worked on in practice but there may be new details or last-minute wrinkles introduced here.

This may also be where everyone discovers who is starting. Sometimes the team is told the day before. If not, they'll all find out here when they walk into the meeting room, where charts will be posted with the starting lineup, the projected opposition lineup and all the appropriate diagramming of restarts.

Finally, in World Cup qualifiers, this is where the roster will be pared down to a selection of 18 (11 starters plus seven subs allowed to dress). At a World Cup however, all 23 players are allowed to dress, so this part doesn't apply in South Africa.

Six hours before kickoff: A truck, escorted by security, leaves the team compound bound for the venue loaded with all game gear and equipment. This truck, along with two managers and two trainers, will have everything the side requires: warm-up balls, cones, team kits, shoes, etc.

Upon arrival, the managers and trainers set up the locker room, prepping everything from trainers' tables and message tables to snacks and liquids. Game kits are set out at individual lockers.

From pre-game meal / meeting until departure: Players are on their own to begin preparing mentally. Again, some sleep. Some listen to music. Some start "finding the zone."

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An itinerary has been posted and distributed the night before to all players and staff. This will detail precisely what time the team bus will pull away from the hotel/lodge.

There are rarely individual meetings at this time. But if coaches have any last-minute details to cover regarding specific opposition attacker tendencies or something along those lines, this is where they might informally meet with players to review it. Mostly, this has all been covered in the practice; but in the case of a short-turn (like Saturday's), there may be more need for squeezing in last-minute details or even a late video review prepared by team personnel.

Departure for stadium: At a FIFA meeting with match commissioners and representatives from both sides the day before, U.S. officials will choose a departure time that will put them at the venue 90 minutes before kickoff. Members of the U.S. contingent present at this meeting include team administrators Tom King and Pam Perkins, a media representative, a member of the team medical staff and a member of the security staff. Also covered at that meeting are FIFA protocol details, such as presentation of the team kits, including the goalkeeper jersey, gloves, etc. This is to prevent conflicts between the teams and the referees, and also done to ensure the logos (mostly on gloves or a goalkeeper cap than may be worn) conform to FIFA standards. They will also review other match details such as flags (and the proper presentation), the appropriate warm-up areas for reserves, postgame media procedures, ticketing and the official game countdown.

90 minutes to kickoff: The team bus arrives. Players go directly into the locker room, but most then walk out onto the field. This is just a last-minute examination of the field conditions and an opportunity to check out the stadium setup. In most cases, the teams have practiced on site the night before, although this hasn't been the case at the last two U.S. matches. So, the pre-game walk is especially important in this case for selection of shoes.

By now everything has been laid out for players and the music is already bouncing through the locker room. That part seems fairly essential. The music is selected by equipment manager Jesse Bignami, with plenty of player input. Most have their own music playing through head phones as well.

Also available to the players at this time is a variety of fruit, drinks and coffee.

Players begin getting pre-game messages or chiropractic adjustments now. The coaches always have their own area, separate from players, to review any last minute details

75 minutes to kickoff: Some players begin individual, light stretching routines. Some are getting taped by trainers. Coaches generally leave the players alone at this point. Whatever else they have to say can wait until the final minutes before players walk out.

Here, coaches sign and turn in their official lineups and get the other side's official selections. Teams may still make changes but it's a little complicated at that point, so alterations are rare from this point until kickoff.

At this point, the important defensive assignments on restarts go from pencil to pen. If there is a surprise personnel change on the other side's official lineup, coaches will quickly make the last-minute tactical adjustments here.

50 minutes to kickoff: Goalkeepers are allowed on the field for warm-ups.

45 minutes to kickoff: All players are allowed out for warm-ups. The starters make a point to go out as a group. So they assemble on team captain Carlos Bocanegra and move through the tunnel. They move around on their own for a few minutes until Barrieu begins leading them through group warm-ups.

45-20 minutes to kickoff: The starters go through a pre-arranged set of agility drills: hops, short sprints, quick turns, etc. Barrieu leads it all. Then the starters will play a game of keep-away in a coned area, going at 80-90 percent game speed. All coaches are on the field here except for Bradley. Like Arena before him and other head coaches, he remains back in the locker room at this point.

20 minutes to kickoff: Players file back into the locker room. As the tension and drama really mount, they'll have about 7-8 minutes before starters assemble for the walk onto the field. Here, players are walking through the locker room, shaking hands and exchanging hugs. Usually, the reserves begin the process, wishing luck to the starters, who will be last out of the locker room. Meanwhile, Bradley is beginning to talk to the group; it's all short bursts of last-minute reminders and encouragement.

A member of staff is on radio with FIFA game operations staff regarding the official game countdown. So the U.S. staffer is giving Bradley signals, as in, "Five minutes to go ... " etc.

When the word comes from FIFA that teams need to assemble in two minutes, the staffer gives Bradley that signal. At that point, the coach calls the team into the center of the locker room, says a few quick words and then hands to up together in a big circle. Bradley says a few more words, always ending with "On three ... 'U.S.A.!'"

7-9 minutes before kickoff: The staff member gives Bradley a final "thumbs up" and it's time to go. The reserves walk out, shaking hands with coaches on the way out. Now the starters gather outside the locker room, again lead by the captain, Carlos Bocanegra. (Team captains lead the teams out; that's FIFA protocol.) So Bocanegra says something to the players and that's about when you see the pictures, the teams standing in parallel lines, ready to take the field ...