JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After departing New Jersey for Jacksonville, the U.S. Men's Soccer team settled in Atlantic Beach for a week of training and preparation for their trip to Brazil and the World Cup."
We've had a little time off," Graham Zusi, a midfielder from Orlando said before practice today. "We like coming here, the atmosphere, the support we get. Plus the weather is preparing us for Brazil."
Of course this "Send-Off Series" is all about preparing the USMNT for Brazil. A win over Azerbaijan in San Francisco was followed by a 2-1 victory over Turkey in front of 27,000 in New Jersey. Nigeria is the next opponent, nearly a perfect tune up for what they'll face in their World Cup opener June 16th vs. Ghana.
"We're here to get ready for the World Cup," Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann said before practice as well. "The result is meaningless, although we'll try to win. But we'll use all six of our substitutes to get everybody into the game. It's all about being ready in 12 days to play Ghana."
Klinsmann is a pretty straight shooter as far as what he's trying to accomplish. He's a unique blend of former international superstar player and European Head Coach who also has an understanding of the American view and approach to the game.
"It's important to have the support, to grow the game. That's where our players will come from," he said when asked about the support the team is getting at home. "But it's easier for everybody when we're (the National Team) playing good and having success."
"He goes beyond just what happens on the pitch," Goalkeeper Tim Howard explained. "He talks about nutrition, training, rest, all of it. He knows what it takes to be a great player." Howard said it was always nice to come to Jacksonville based on how they're treated, the accommodations on the beach and the fan support once the game starts, but he was ready to get to Brazil.
"As great as it's been with the guys for the last two weeks, it's all about the World Cup. The weather here will help us acclimate but I'm ready to get to Brazil. Our game is just 12 days away against Ghana. We're looking forward to playing here but there are three games we know in front of us."
Michael Bradley agreed. "We know who our opponents are going to be so we're preparing. There's a sense of anticipation, excitement and some positive nerves about going. It is the World Cup after all," he added with a smile.
The mood around the team certainly appeared loose, with a very serious edge to it. In the portion of practice we were allowed to watch, it was a very focused warm up and training. No fooling around, no stepping out of your turn. It was all business.
"The chemistry on this team is so good it doesn't matter who's in there," Zusi noted about Klinsmann's substitution pattern. "We trust each other, have confidence in each other no matter who's in there."
As of Wednesday morning more than 41,000 tickets had been sold for Saturday's game. The National Team will have another closed practice on Thursday at UNF before a public workout at the Stadium at 5 p.m. Friday.