The Ties That Bind: The U.S. Men's National Team and Princeton
It was an easy decision.
Princeton University was selected by Men's National Soccer Team head coach Bob Bradley as the location to hold the pre-World Cup training camp.
Bradley's ties to the Princeton community are never-ending and it was those connections that led him to bring his team to campus to train during the week of May 17-23.
Bradley, a 1980 Princeton alum, played soccer for the Tigers from 1976-1979. In 1984 he took over as head coach of the program, and led the team to its first NCAA College Cup before leaving in 1995 to join the coaching ranks of Major League Soccer.
Bradley was hired by former Princeton Athletic Director Bob Myslik and during his 11-year reign as head coach, Bradley coached Myslik's son Rob along with current Princeton head coach Jim Barlow from 1986-89. In 2003, Rob was killed in a car accident. His memory will forever live on with his name attached to the two-year old facility Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium.
Bradley told his players about Myslik Field and "Robbie" and introduced the team to Robbie's father Bob after a training session. When thanked for coming out to the practice, Myslik, who was traveling from his home in Boston, said, "I wouldn't have missed this for the world."
Graduating just one year before Rob Myslik stepped foot on the pitch was goalkeeper Tom Roberts, for whom the stadium is named.
Opening in 2008, Princeton's Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium was the home to the National Team for a weeklong training camp.
It's an honor that members of the Princeton community haven't taken for granted.
"We feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of the U.S. team's road to the World Cup," head coach of the women's soccer program Julie Shackford said. "It was an amazing opportunity for the Princeton soccer programs and the fact that the U.S. coaches and players thought our facility was the best they had utilized made it that much more special."
"We were honored that they chose to train on Myslik Field in Roberts Stadium before leaving for South Africa, and we hope they enjoyed being here as much as we enjoyed hosting them," Barlow said. "They provided the Princeton community with some incredible lasting memories, and we can't wait to see them do well in South Africa."
"It's unbelievable that the men's national team chose this spot to get ready for the World Cup," junior Max Hare of the Princeton men's soccer team said. "I'm always going to remember this, especially next year, my last year. I'm always going to come out to this field knowing that the best players were here playing here and working hard and it's going to drive me to work as hard as they do."
The team, a roster of 30, arrived in Princeton on May 15 and had full physicals before starting training on Monday, May 17. The practices were closed to the public but invited guests and members of the Princeton Athletics Department were able to attend practices that were held from 10-noon.
Former Princeton basketball coach Pete Carrill stopped by practice on Friday, Myslik made the trip on Thursday and Bradley's parents were in attendance on Sunday. A familiar face at training every single day was Scott Bradley, the Princeton baseball coach and Bradley's brother. After training either Bob or son Michael would head over to speak with Scott on the sideline.
It was not only a special chance for Bradley and his son Michael, a midfielder on the team who was born in Princeton in 1987, to return to Princeton but also a homecoming for several players who play overseas and call New Jersey home. They include starting keeper Tim Howard (North Brunswick) and striker Jozy Altidore (Livingston) who said in an interview with GoPrincetonTigers.tv that he was pretty close to attending Princeton.
Also stopping by practice on Thursday was Princeton Athletic Director Gary Walters, who was instrumental in making the training camp at Princeton a reality. He presented the team with Princeton hats to commemorate its visit.
Barlow said one of the funniest moments was when midfielder Benny Feilhaber received his Princeton hat. "I hadn't seen Benny since his official visit to Princeton -- it wound up not working out here and he went to UCLA -- I told him I was sorry it did not work out at Princeton, but I think things turned out for the best for him."
An incredible number of media outlets were on hand each day, when they were allowed in for the final 15 minutes of practice. During the first day of practice over 70 outlets had requested entrance to practice and they came from all over the world including, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, MLS.com, outlets from Canada, the UK, Mexico.
It was obvious to those in attendance the focus of camp was on fitness. The team would start each practice with a light jog before agility, foot and ball drills that would take up about half of practice. The team would then play short field, 6v6 and later in the week full field games. They were physical as it was the last chance for 23 of them to prove themselves worthy of being named to the final roster, a decision Bradley made live on ESPN on Wednesday, May 26.
Most practices ended with long runs, about 10-15 laps around the field, a break and then another 10-15 laps in the opposite direction. The players were hooked up to instant heart rate monitors.
The players had nothing but spectacular things to say about the facility.
"This is actually better than a lot of pitches I've played on before," midfielder Maurice Edu said. "The team's enjoyed it. We're out here working hard. And the staff and everyone that's been a part of Princeton has done a tremendous job in helping us really take full advantage of the facilities here, whether it's on the pitch or inside using the cold tubs and all the other facilities. It's been great for us, we've really enjoyed it."
"The field's been great and has held up really really well," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "It's not only plush but it's firm enough to withhold all of the bumps and bruises that we give it. "
Just when you think you have figured out all of the ties the National Team has to Princeton you learn of another, and then another.
Three members of the team had connections to the University. Midfielder Robbie Rogers, defender Jonathan Spector and Altidore all played for Barlow on the U.S. U-15 Team, a team that Barlow has been the head coach of for the past six years.
The newest member of the National Team also has connections to the Orange and Black. Princeton All-America Jesse Marsch '90 joined the team as an assistant coach in February after a 14-year career in the MLS.
"It was a special week having the U.S. Men's National Team train in Princeton and having Bob Bradley and Jesse Marsch back on campus," Barlow said.
The team will depart for South Africa on Sunday, the day after it plays its second of two home-field friendlies with Turkey in Philadelphia.
The U.S. is drawn with England, Algeria and Slovenia in the Group C for the first round of the World Cup starting on June 11. The U.S. will play England on June 12, Slovenia on June 18 and Algeria on June 23.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Princeton. Having a hand in preparing the U.S. National Team for the world's biggest stage.
One of the biggest stage hands in having the camp go off without a hitch event was Russ Steves, Princeton athletic trainer.
"Russ should be commended for taking the lead and orchestrating the entire training camp without a hitch," Shackford said.
"I don't think this event would have been possible without Russ," Barlow said. "He handled so many details from organizing the volunteer staff and security, to helping US Soccer assemble the daily guest list, preparing for press conferences and media requests, equipment set-up and breakdown, and troubleshooting all week for US Soccer. He gave an incredible amount of time and energy to this event and Princeton Soccer is grateful for all that he did."-Kristy McNeil, Princeton Athletic Communications