Rob Browning with the U.S. Men at World League

July 06, 2008, 4:58 p.m. (ET)
2008 World League

Madrid, Spain

July 6, 2008

Impressive start (and finish) for USA today. A remarkable trait of this team, which is a testament to the gym culture they have established, and of USA teams historically going back at least to the gold-medal teams of the 80’s, is the habit of showing up to play hard no matter the circumstances. All the World League matches are important, especially given the battle between USA and Bulgaria to win the group (it’s going to come down to the last weekend in Bulgaria), but team USA showed up today and took care of business from beginning to end as if it were the Olympics. Match time was 12:30pm on a Sunday, and Spain came out sleepy.

The alarm rang loudly with the first serve. After hitting the snooze bar a few times Spain finally woke up and started playing harder, but there is a distinct difference between showing up to play and deciding at some
point that you have to play hard or you’re going to get embarrassed in front of your home crowd. The scores don’t indicate how USA dominated this match against a very, very good team. The result was imminent way before the match ended.

There’s a lot going on in the Spanish sporting world this weekend. The country’s still buzzing from their soccer team’s victory in the European Cup last weekend in Austria. Yesterday a Spanish rider, Alejandro
Valverde, won the yellow jersey in the first stage of the Tour de France. Today, Spaniard Rafael Nadal plays Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. You would think those events would be headline news, but there’s also a huge deal being made of a vote among the members of FC Barcelona to censure the club’s president. Not sure why, but some guy within FC Barcelona collected over 9,000 signatures to force the vote. Anyway, the sports newspaper in Spain, SPORT, dedicated the first 13 pages of its 48-page daily publication to the vote. The next 15 pages were all dedicated to soccer. Wimbledon coverage was on page 34. There was no coverage on USA’s World League match with Spain.

Spain won the European championship last year beating Russia in the final. It was a huge victory for Spain. The coach at that time was Andrea Anastasi, former coach of his native Italy through the Sydney Olympics. After winning the European Championship with Spain, Italy offered Anastasi a contract through the 2010 World Championship to be held in Italy. A lot of money apparently. He liked his gig in Spain, but going home to coach Italy again with the 2010 World Championships on the horizon was too much to pass up. The interim coach is Marcelo Mendez, an Argentine who let us practice at his club in Buenos Aires, River Plate,
in preparation for the 2002 World Championships in Argentina. Spain lost a heartbreaking championship match in the European Olympic Qualifier to Serbia. Up 2 sets to none they ended up losing in the 5th set 15-17. They then lost the last-chance qualifier in Germany. If Spain were headed to Beijing there would be much better media coverage of their World League matches.

Mendez is also currently coaching a club in Spain’s Superliga where several of the current national team players are under contract. According to Mendez he will go back to his club after World League and Spain will hire a new coach for the national team.

I thought for sure I spotted Pau Gasol in the crowd today but it turns out it was a teenage girl wearing his Laker jersey.

The team has a 5am wake up call tomorrow for their early flight home.