In the wake of the U.S. victory in the Women's World Cup, the appearance of the U.S. men's national team in the Confederations Cup has been little noticed, a fact that has some team members somewhat miffed.
"You just can't compare what the women and the men do," John Harkes said today on the eve of the United States's first match of the international tournament, against New Zealand. "It's two different worlds."
For a long while now, the men's world has been in a twilight zone following the team's spectacular flop at last year's World Cup in France. It was doubly painful to see their sister team take not only the Women's World Cup title but an entire nation by storm.
But the men aren't bitter, just eager for attention in a year during which they have rebounded under the coaching leadership of Bruce Arena. During his seven-game tenure, the Americans have gone 4-1-2 and have displayed a newfound grit.
"The differences here are night and day," said Harkes, who returns this week to the team that dumped him shortly before the World Cup. Arena said he is a possible starter, since midfielder Chris Armas has a knee injury that could sideline him for at least a month.
For Harkes, it's a welcome homecoming, although the onetime team captain has not forgotten how difficult it was to be cut from the national squad by former coach Steve Sampson.
"It was the most horrible thing for me and my family, but I never thought I'd never ever again play for the national team," said Harkes. "In some ways it feels like I never left, even though after that last game in 1998, I had to put all that away. Writing my book [an autobiography] was therapeutic."
It's in the past, which is where the men's team as a whole would like to file 1998.
"Our performance a year ago doesn't really have to resurface," Harkes said. "Since then the team has done well to rebound, and we've had some great wins."
But to truly exorcise the ghosts of 1998, the men know they have to get good results in this eight-team tournament, which includes Germany, Brazil and Mexico. With a depleted lineup -- Eddie Pope, Tony Sanneh, Claudio Reyna, David Regis and Armas are unavailable -- the United States is going to face stiff opposition at every stage.
"Injuries are all part of the game," Arena said. "Every team here has players missing, and I don't think it will change them, or us, very much."
The United States's first test comes at Jalisco Stadium Saturday against an unknown New Zealand team. Nonetheless, Arena sees a tight match -- "a one-goal game."
"They're athletic and physical and they keep things close," he said.
And the U.S. team likely will have to rely on the player it dropped just over a year ago to make things happen. "I don't need a [captain's] armband to be a leader," he said. "I know this is a great chance for me."
Notes: Goalkeeper Kasey Keller is close to signing a deal with Rayo Vallecano in Spain. The only holdup for the former English Premier League goalie is a new Spanish League rule limiting non-European Union players. Keller said he looks forward to a resolution Monday. . . . Ariel Graziani, a striker who scored for Ecuador in Copa America, will be allocated to MLS's New England Revolution. He was a teammate of Joe-Max Moore during that national team member's tenure with Emelec of Ecuador. "I'm very excited to have him coming," Moore said. "He's a great left-footed player."