Mark Abbott

Tonight's soccer 'friendly' doesn't mean players won't be giving their all

Published: Thursday, Jul. 18, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 19, 2013 - 12:22 pm

Tonight's exhibition at Raley Field between Norwich City of the English Premier League and Mexico's Dorados de Sinaloa is known as a "friendly" in soccer circles, but don't expect it to be too friendly.

After three days of two-a-day practices in the Bay Area and Sacramento, Colin Calderwood said his Norwich City players are sick of seeing orange training cones and are itching to play.

"We've been pleased with the effort and we've been very pleased with the training facilities, but the boys are looking forward to 11 a side," said Calderwood, Norwich City's assistant manager. "I'll play 11 guys for 45 minutes and a second set of 11 guys for the second 45. That'll give them a chance to work against someone other than teammates."

In a friendly, teams typically try different lineups and player combinations, but the competitive blood that has powered the athletes to the highest ranks of international soccer often takes over – and sometimes spills over.

Couple that with the difference in playing styles – EPL usually is a bruising affair while the Mexican style emphasizes short, quick passes and isolation in open space – and tonight's game could get tense.

Calderwood said the matchup against Dorados is perfect for his team's first of three friendlies in the United States. Norwich City also will play the San Jose Earthquakes and the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer over the next week.

"It's still a game, it's a pro sport and the boys realize that," Calderwood said with a heavy Scottish accent. "It will give us a standard of where we are. Tactically, we haven't really talked about that yet. But the physicality of the match will be good for us. Playing Dorados is a perfect scenario for us."

It's considered something of a coup that Sacramento Pro Soccer's Graham Smith landed the EPL and Ascenso MX teams as the featured match for tonight's Sacramento Soccer Day, the unofficial launch for Sacramento's newest professional soccer team. The name, logo and team colors will be unveiled after the first game of tonight's doubleheader between a group of Sacramento all-stars and the Earthquakes' reserve squad.

Smith, the Sacramento team's technical director, once worked for the front office of Chelsea, one of the EPL's top teams, so he's seen plenty of friendlies as a player, coach and administrator.

"(Tonight) will be an opportunity for two teams to get together to provide an exhibition of soccer while entertaining the crowd with a brand of (soccer) rarely seen here," Smith said. "The players' natural competitiveness will be on display, but can turn quite hot because they will be playing with a purpose and for pride. Nothing will be given. There will be no free passes."

Calderwood said he's tired of blowing his whistle in practice and wants to get into his game-time state of mind as much as the players do. Nothing beats the real thing – 11 on 11.

"I understand Sacramento is a huge soccer community and that's fantastic," said Calderwood, who was a defender for the Scottish national team in the 1998 World Cup and for the Tottenham Hotspurs and Aston Villa of the EPL. "When it's time to walk out onto the pitch, we'll have our adrenaline going. The boys are ready and looking forward to it."

THE PARTICULARS

What: Two exhibition matches

When: Today; gates open at 4 p.m.

Where: Raley Field

Matchups: San Jose Earthquakes reserves vs. Sacramento all-star team, 5 p.m.; Norwich City of the English Premier League vs. Mexico's Dorados de Sinaloa, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: Raley Field box office or www.ticketmaster.com

For more: www.sacprosoccer.com

Reach Mark Billingsley at editorwriter@att.net.

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