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."
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup