The stifling São Paulo traffic splits for few. Even ambulances, with their ear-splitting high-pitched squeal, struggled to find their way through the honks, beeps and rumbles of early morning traffic from Guarulho International Airport this morning. Just about the only vehicles that found their way through the chaos were motorcycles weaving in and out between the cars; those and the U.S. National Team bus.
The USA arrived in Sao Paulo on Monday after a 4,000-plus mile trip that included nine hours of total flying – one hour-long jaunt from Jacksonville to Miami, then a nearly eight-hour overnight flight from Miami to Sao Paulo. The team arrived just past the peak of the São Paulo rush hour, boarded their bus, and a police escort guided the team through standstill traffic.
Some motorists had so much idle time, they stopped and took pictures.
"My eyes were still closed trying to get off the plane," Tim Howard joked. "I think we were quite tired, but the reception was great. We're looking forward to unpacking our bags and getting used to the hotel and our surroundings."
The streets surrounding the team's São Paulo hotel turned into an exhibition of security precautions as the bus approached for the players' first entrance into their home away from home. Brazilian military stood stone-faced with rifles at the ready. A phalanx of police guarded the sidewalks.
But the scene greeting the team in the lobby was a celebratory one; a line of hotel staff surrounded the players upon their entrance, greeting the Americans with a warm round of applause.
The team received their keys and proceeded to their rooms. For some, like defender Matt Besler, it was only then that the enormity of the situation began to dawn on them.
That moment when you land in Brazil and realize you're here to play in the WORLD CUP...yea, that just happened #USA— Matt Besler (@mbesler) June 9, 2014
There would be little time for basking in the glow. Despite head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's absence – he stayed behind in Miami along with advisor Berti Vogts to scout the USA’s Group G opponents Ghana in their friendly against South Korea – the U.S. would have their first training session in Brazil just a few hours after arriving at the hotel, and only 20 hours after leaving the country they will soon represent at the world’s most popular sporting event.
Another bus, another police escort. This time to the training grounds of São Paulo FC, the same location where the team spent 12 days training on a dry run in January – preparation for this very moment.
"It's like Christmas morning," Howard said. "We're just excited to be here, and now it's gotten real."
I got a call that every soccer player dreams of a few days after our last game of the NWSL season.
My coach at the Western New York Flash, Paul Riley, had come up to me a couple of days before that and told me that Jill Ellis might bring me into National Team camp. I was really excited and anxious then, but when I got the call from Tim Ryder, the WNT General Manager, I was sitting in my living room, doing some packing and doing some phone interviews, so it caught me a bit off-guard.
I was trying to act very cool, but on the inside I was so excited. In fact, it’s highly likely that I didn’t sound cool at all.
He told me that I was invited into the training camp for the two games against Switzerland in Utah and Minnesota, but that I had to keep it under wraps until U.S. Soccer officially announced the roster. Of course, I immediately called my parents, my sister, and my boyfriend but I told them that WE ALL needed to keep it a secret.
The roster was announced a week later after we’d won the semifinal against Portland and before the NWSL Championship. I’m not the most talkative person, but it was hard keeping that secret for a week!
Before coming to Utah, I’d only been in a few youth camps with the Under-23s, and all those girls had known each other for a long time. Everyone was nice, but I remember feeling that they were a bit standoffish until you proved yourself, so that’s what I was expecting from the senior group, except times ten. These players are professionals, Olympic champions, World Cup champions and they have tremendous confidence in the environment.
I was a bit nervous about how to fit in.
Williams helped lead the WNY Flash to the club's first NWSL title as the league MVP and Golden Boot winner.
Soccer-wise, coming off the NWSL season, I felt fresh and confident, but I knew it was going to be hard. Coming into a National Team camp any time is hard, and I knew doing it for the first time was going to be a big challenge.
I was definitely nervous about the soccer.
Naturally, the veterans gravitate towards the veterans and the newbies gravitate towards the newbies, but there were 11 uncapped players going in so I knew I wasn’t going to be by myself. Of course, I also knew my Western New York teammates Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper, so that was a bit more comforting.
What I didn’t expect was that the veterans would be so welcoming, on and off the field. When you made a mistake, they said “try this instead” and when you did something well, they would commend you for it. That support really made training even more fun. I learned a lot and every practice was awesome.
That said, training was intense. Everyone was so excited to get into camp that the first couple of days it was like a bunch of mad women running around. As Arin Gilliland said to a reporter, “WNT training is like the NWSL, on three cups of coffee.” It’s probably like five cups.
And it was not just the physical speed; the speed of thought is also so heightened. Playing in New York, sometimes I feel like I can get away with receiving the ball and then decide what to do with it. With the National Team, you have to have like three different options in your mind even before you receive the ball. I knew I needed to improve on that.
We got tons of information from the coaches. Some of the stuff you already know, but the language and the verbiage is different so you have to learn that. You have to learn how they want you to play in a particular formation, you have to learn your assignments on set plays and you have to learn it quickly. Fortunately, everyone is open to questions.
I asked Becky (Sauerbrunn) and Christen (Press) a million questions and my roommate Alyssa (Naeher) probably two million. I am sure she was thinking, “Man, this girl sure asks a lot of questions.” But I figured better to ask than not to ask and look like I have no idea what I’m doing, which I’m sure was still the case some of the time.
For me, the first few days were challenging. You’re trying to get a feel for all the players, their tendencies and how they like to play. Mentally, I think I was putting more pressure on myself that I needed to.
On the third day, I found out I would be a sub for the game. I told myself, “Lynn, stop being such a psycho, stopping being so chaotic, you know how to play soccer,” and I settled in a bit.
I thought I had a good practice the day before the game in Utah and then the day came and I told myself I needed to play even better in the game. After the game, I told myself I needed to play even better in the next practice. Of course, you can’t do that every day, but you have to challenge yourself and that’s the kind of attitude you have to have.Read more