<
>

USA hope football will heal scars of Vegas and Irma

When they arrived in New Delhi on Sunday, the USA team would have had their sights firmly on the FIFA U-17 World Cup, and on their first game against hosts India on Friday. However, they had had just the one practice session under their belts before they got news of the shooting attack in Las Vegas. And though no player or member of the support staff was from the city, the team was shaken by the news.

"Praying for all the victims of the Las Vegas shooting from the other side of the world. Lord please help the world become a more loving place," forward Andrew Carlin tweeted on Monday.

For players who are still maturing emotionally, it might be a harsh proposition to switch off from the trauma and focus on the task at hand. Yet it is something that has to be done. "We live in a crazy world right now and so much is happening," head coach John Hackworth said on Tuesday.

Hackworth's team has dealt with disruption before. Less than a month ago, Hurricane Irma, one of the deadliest storms to hit the Florida coast, struck Bradenton, where the US team was training at the IMG Academy. "That forced our team to move into a shelter for three days. The big hurricane that hit Florida was just devastating. We were in Florida and basically didn't know what to do at the time. In the end we were in a shelter and were safe. But it meant that we weren't on a training field for more than three days. It disrupted the whole training camp," says Hackworth.

Simply being in India and participating at the World Cup was important. "This group has a lot of faith. We don't forget about these things but we try to focus on what we can and enjoy moments like this. It is a big group and they like being together and enjoy being around each other. We can savour this experience and not forget what our purpose is," says Hackworth (47), who'd previously coached the U-17 team from 2004-2007.

The trip is their second to the country. In May last year, they had travelled to Goa for the AIFF Youth Cup; they finished runners-up, beating India 4-0 en route.

Hackworth doesn't believe, though, that a repeat is on the cards in Friday's match. "My takeaway was, that was not a 4-0 game. India are a quality team. They are one of the hardest working teams that we have faced in the whole two-year cycle. I expect that they have developed and got better and at the same time we have too," he says.

The match will test the mental strength of both teams. "I know that the Indian team will be absolutely up for this game in the opener, at home in front of a packed stadium. But both teams have teenagers who are trying to deal with all of those emotions.

"That presents a challenge for both. Maybe India will handle the pressure at home in front of their home fans. And we will have to try and play and do what we can do and not get caught up in those emotions. I don't think there is any better setting to do it than a World Cup opener," he says.