Former Duke defender Jay Heaps, the 1998 National Player of the Year, was named to the United States squad for the Gold Cup, a tournament involving teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean, Thursday morning. The Gold Cup kicks off Saturday.
Heaps has been called up to national team squads in the past, but has never appeared in an international game, which in soccer parlance is called a "cap". At 32, Heaps is older than most every player looking for his first cap, but he is thrilled with the opportunity nonetheless.
"It feels great," Heaps told MLSnet.com before joining up with the squad. "I'm as shocked as anyone. I'm as excited as anyone as well. For me, it's something you hope for and dream about, but it's been a long time. You stop listening for the phone to ring."
Heaps earned the call-up from U.S. National Team head coach Bob Bradley with his excellent performances as part of the New England Revolution defense this season in MLS. Heaps and fellow Duke alum Darrius Barnes have anchored the Revolution backline this season.
The United States, the defending Gold Cup champion, opens group play Saturday against Grenada in Seattle. It continues group play against Honduras in Washington, D.C. fourdays later, and closes out the round July 11 in Foxborough, Mass. against Haiti.
The Gold Cup involves three groups of four teams. The top two finishers in each group advance to the quarter finals, and the two best third-place finishers join them there for single-elimination play.
As most soccer fans know, the United States is coming off one of its best performances of all time, advancing to the finals of the Confederations Cup before falling to world power Brazil, 3-2. The U.S. is also in good position to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.