Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
BY ADAM SERRANO
The Los Angeles Galaxy may be at the top of the league table this season, but as the club prepares for their World Cup break to start after their match against Real Salt Lake, for veterans Eddie Lewis and Gregg Berhalter, memories arise of a different time. Days when they were young men and wore the crest of the United States at the World Cup.
A veteran of two World Cups, Berhalter played a vital role for the United States in 2002 appearing in a pair of matches while going as an unused substitute in 2006. Lewis was Berhalter's teammate for both tournaments making a total of five appearances. The veteran winger's World Cup legend grew when provided a key assist on Landon Donovan's second goal in the United States' epic 2-0 victory over Mexico in 2002. Although their days with the national team are over, the memories of those games are still with them.
"The excitement stays with you and the highs are so much greater because of the level of the competition and for the most part there aren't too many lows because if you don't advance there are world ranked nations that will fail to advance," said Lewis. "An unsuccessful team doesn't necessarily mean an unsuccessful experience and for the most part the United States federation does a wonderful job of making the experience a positive one, no matter the result."
During his national team career, Lewis made a total of 82 appearances over the span of 12 years. Having appeared in two World Cups, Lewis knows what the current members of the squad are going through before their opening match against England.
"Everyone is anxious right now and the good news is that everyone is nervous right now," said Lewis. "You might think that the players on England aren't nervous, but in some ways they have even more nerves because of added expectations that they are feeling right now."
Despite the nerves, the team must continue to prepare for a match that may be the most anticipated match ever for the United States After making a total of 44 appearances over 11 years for the national team, Berhalter understands the inherent difficulty of preparing for the biggest tournament of your career.
"Thursday you'll have your most intense training and on Friday you'll run through set pieces, but in terms of mentality on Friday you're completely focused on the game," said Berhalter. "You enter focus mode and its hard to have conversations with people and you are just focused on the game, which is what's great about it because the moment consumes you."
For the defender, the memory of stepping on the field for the first time in a World Cup is a cautious one. With the United States current roster only having eight players with prior World Cup experience, the current roster is far less experienced than the 2006 edition in which 12 players had been to a World Cup. It is the reason that he offered this word of warming to those players who haven't experienced the excitement of the World Cup.
"You feel so much adrenaline that you're incredibly worried about burning yourself in the first five minutes," said Berhalter. "You realize the scope of what you're doing and its how to handle it that will determine how you do, you don't try to come to terms with the scope of it all or else it could overwhelm you."
The memories are different for their former International and current head coach Bruce Arena. The 2010 edition of the World Cup will be his first after coaching the United States in the last two tournaments. For coach, it is not the games or the results that remain with him.
"The national anthem at a World Cup is special it was made even more special in 2002 having just come after September 11th," said Arena. "To represent the greatest country in the World, its a fabulous moment in anyone's life."
While the none of the men were able to lift the cup and their days of representing the United States are over, Berhalter understands how lucky he was to represent his country at the World Cup.
"There are a lot better players than me who never got to experience it," said Berhalter. "You look at guys played their whole career at top levels and they never got that chance to play in the World Cup so I consider myself lucky and I feel that its been a great experience."