As a precursor to their friendly match on Wednesday against Belgium, the US Men's National Soccer Team held a practice session open to the public on Tuesday. I attended the session, and although it wasn't too eventful, here is a run down of how it was structured:
- The Southwest gate of FirstEnergy Stadium opened at 4:30 PM, and I arrived at about 4:40 PM. I was surprised to see only one staff member at the gate, and they did not ask to check my bag. Darn -- I guess I could have brought my water bottle after all.
- Upon entering, the north side of the stadium was gated off, but you could anywhere in the lower bowl of the South side of the stadium. I went near mid-field at the top-most row, which I knew was underneath a cover to guard from the rain, which was in the forecast.
- Practice started at 5:00 PM with stretching. Various warm-up drills then commenced for the players, while the goalkeepers were off on their own playing a game of keep-away.
- For most of practice, the field was shortened to about half-way, with an 8-on-8 simulation that mostly focused on quick passing and a couple of shots here and there. All the players were dressed in red, although for the 8-on-8, one side put light blue tops on.
- It was cool seeing Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey from a distance. It seemed like veteran DeMarcus Beasley was constantly struggling, unfortunately. There was one player who kept cracking me up during the 8-on-8 session, because while everyone else was passing, as soon as he got the ball, he was firing a shot, even if it wasn't a good look.
- Another drill broke the field down into three parts. On one part of the field, 4-5 yellow player-sized stands were stuck in the ground to simulate a free kick. I thought during practice, I'd see more goals or near goals in this drill, but it was actually just like the game -- many of the shots sail over the net.
In the middle of the field, Howard was practicing a few things, such as punching the ball a very long distance away when a corner kick came in, or diving to the ground to stop a shot on the ground.
On the third part of the field, your basic set plays were being practiced -- kick from midfield goes to the sideline, then the sideline kick goes into the box, and then a player tries to head or kick the ball into the net.
- Some raindrops did start falling for about five minutes, which was enough to scatter the fans from the front row up to where I was sitting. It didn't take too long for them to head back toward the front once the rain stopped, though.
- Practice ended at about 6:24 PM with the players stretching again, before going for autographs. Overall, I'd say that about 1000-2000 fans attended the practice, which was more than I expected. Tomorrow's game has reportedly sold around 20,000 tickets, as of reports from last week.
The Browns' Twitter feed posted the following photo of linebacker D'Qwell Jackson meeting Howard after practice:
After @ussoccer practice tonight at FirstEnergy Stadium, @dq52 met US goalkeeper Tim Howard. twitter.com/Browns/status/…— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) May 28, 2013