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US starts training with key players missing

USA squad began a training camp on Thursday in the absence of key players like Landon Donovan, but the coach seemed relaxed.

india Updated: May 12, 2006 13:12 IST

US men's soccer coach Bruce Arena said he wasn't too worried about being short a few players at times during the 11-day World Cup training camp that began on Thursday.

Two players were in Germany, two just had landed at the Raleigh-Durham airport and another planned to head back to England in a week.

"It'll make a difference, but not considerable" Arena said. He also said the early focus during camp will be pushing the players a little harder to improve the overall fitness level and then moving on to 'building on our team concept.'

"We know all these players, and they know what we're about and how we do things. It's just refining it and getting them back together and becoming a team again," he said.

The team was missing a few players on Thursday, including one of its stars, Landon Donovan.

Donovan and Chris Albright arrived in North Carolina on Thursday after playing in a match for Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy in Dallas on Wednesday night. Steve Cherundolo and Kasey Keller will join the team Sunday, after the end of the German Bundesliga season.

The team also briefly will lose defender Eddie Lewis when he returns to England for a crucial on May 21 match that could land his club, Leeds United, a spot in the English Premier League.

"It's not really that long that the team is together before the tournament starts, so I think every day, in a lot of ways, counts. We've always been a cohesive group; we've always had team chemistry, so being together as a group is going to help that," Lewis said.

After camp ends, the 23-man team will play three tune-up matches in the United States, and then head to Germany for the World Cup, which begins June 9.

The Americans play their opening match against the Czech Republic.

The Americans are ranked fourth by FIFA, the highest ranking they've held, which translates into high expectations. But the players aren't letting the hype get to them.

"In the grand scheme of things, the rest of the world probably doesn't expect us to do very well," said defender Eddie Pope, who will be playing in his third World Cup.

"So that takes a little bit of the pressure off us. We know we're the underdog going into it, and maybe that's not the worst thing."

First Published: May 12, 2006 13:12 IST