The U.S. Men’s National Team began its final training session before facing Nigeria as a large gray storm cloud began to roll over EverBank Field. Make no mistake -- the sun still shined, and the humidity was still present, but both slowly lessened as the training moved along and the cloud advanced.
For some players, such a change might have come as a relief. But for others, playing in humid conditions is nothing new at all. How the team reacts collectively to the heat against a physical Nigeria team will go along way toward its efforts for a positive result in the last game before jetting to Brazil.
“I played in Houston for four and a half years, so it’s a walk in the park,” former Houston Dynamo defender Geoff Cameron said of the humidity. “You don’t want to limit yourself from a pulled muscle or fatigue or anything like that. Any downtime you have, you’re resting, you’re drinking water, making sure you always have a bottle of water in your hand.”
Cameron delivered that last line holding, appropriately enough, a bottle of water. But besides rest and recovery, Cameron also emphasized the importance of nutrition in performing in the tough conditions.
For some, just learning to live with the conditions can play a huge role – especially for players with European backgrounds who have not dealt with these elements quite as often.
“I felt like we were training in the sauna,” said forward Aron Johannsson of the team’s first day in Florida. “It was very, very difficult, but I think it just takes time to get used to it. We’ve been here a few days and I’m already more used to the weather than I was the first day.”
The weather is only half of the physical test the U.S. will face on Saturday evening. The other comes from the Nigeria team it will be facing, which boasts a squad full of players that pose various challenges to the United States. Goalkeeper Vencent Enyeama is capable of making outstanding saves when called upon, anchoring a stingy defensive unit that allowed Nigeria to cruise through World Cup Qualifying despite not scoring a whole lot of goals.
However, the team does have dangerous attacking talent. Pacey Fenerbaçe striker Emmanuel Emenike was a constant threat up top, supported by Liverpool’s Victor Moses – a veritable Swiss army knife of an attacker that can change the game with his dribbling, runs off the ball, and has a nose for goal.
“They’re very fit, and they’re very physical, which will be good for us because I think it will give us a little bit of a wakeup call,” U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said prior to Friday’s open training. “At this point, this is what we really need. We’re still in the building phase. We still have 10 days to go, so we’re not done with all the work that we’re putting into their legs and minds.
“Hopefully we timed it the right way to get them all sharp, all light, all fresh for Ghana, but we’re still in the process right now.”