The US men’s national team has already made history in Brazil five months before a ball is kicked at the FIFA World Cup™.
When Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man squad touches down in June, for some, it will be a homecoming of sorts instead of a foray into a foreign land.
For the past two weeks USA have been training at Barra Funda, Sao Paulo's ground, and staying at the base hotel they will be using during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
Traditionally, the US team have used the month of January to hold a one-month trial period in Los Angeles for MLS-based players during the domestic league’s off-season. This year, Klinsmann, his staff and the US Soccer Federation arranged for the entire January camp to have a “dry run” in Brazil to acclimatise to all aspects of the country, including food, travel routes, pitches, and notably, the weather.
One player who will be hoping to be on the plane to Brazil in June is Real Salt Lake’s 31-year-old midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who believes the training camp will help all aspects for any player involved next summer. Beckerman, who has 33 caps for USA, faces stiff competition in the deep-lying midfield role against Toronto's Michael Bradley and Schalke's Jermaine Jones.
“It will help anybody to know what you’re getting into, what the training days will be like and just feel comfortable,” Beckerman told ussoccer.com. “A lot of things you hear about Brazil, you don’t really know and your mind starts to wonder, but coming down here and getting to see it, it definitely will help anybody who’s here in June.”
The good thing for us is we don’t start the World Cup with a group game, we basically start it with the World Cup final.
Klinsmann and his staff believe familiarity with their surroundings and the Brazilian culture will aid their preparation for the challenging journey they will navigate in Group G against Ghana, Portugal and Germany. And while the trip is useful for logistical purposes, Klinsmann is also using the camp to assess non-European-based players.
In total, Klinsmann brought 26 players to Brazil, who played Sao Paulo in two closed-door friendlies. The Brasileirao side won the first match 2-1 but the US won by the same scoreline the next time around.
“We're training here in Sao Paulo, because it gives us the opportunity to be at the facility we are going to stay at during the World Cup, to get to know our hotel, to get a feeling for the country,“ Klinsmann said.
“At the same time we can bring in more players, so it gives us more spots for younger players that wants to show us coaches how good they are. Maybe they can still jump on the train for the World Cup.
“They all want to prove to me they deserve to go to the World Cup, so there’s a lot combined in the two weeks we are here.”
Killing two birds with one stone
Klinsmann sees two clear objectives from the unprecedented trip.
“On the technical side there’s a lot we can achieve,” he said. “On the organisational and logistical side, there’s a lot we can experience. We want to build friendships with Sao Paulo FC, the people at the hotel, with the people that we meet and I’m sure that’s going to help us five months down the road when we see each other again.”
The trip also aides the psychological aspect of competing in a major tournament in a foreign country, and Klinsmann made it clear that the group his team has been drawn in has enough challenges in itself.
“The good thing for us is we don’t start the World Cup with a group game, we basically start it with the World Cup final,” he said. “We need badly three points against Ghana and then another one against Portugal and we’ll see what we’re going to do against Germany, so it puts you on your toes from the first second.”
Klinsmann has already had site inspections in Natal, where his team play Ghana in the opener on 16 June, and Recife, where he will face his home nation of Germany on 26 June.
He then visited Manaus, the site of their meeting with FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal on 22 June, before heading back to Los Angeles.
“We’re working on every piece already in order to be right there when we have our first game in Natal,” Klinsmann said. “In a tournament we can’t take it one step at a time! We have to win the first game no matter what and that’s what we’re hopefully going to do.”
The US returns to home soil to prepare for their friendly with Korea Republic on 1 February in Carson, California.