Leaving a hot and humid American training camp for cool temperatures and high altitudes, the United States team departed Sunday for South Africa and a much-anticipated World Cup opener with England.
A day after defeating Turkey 2-1 in their send-off match, the youngest American World Cup squad since 1994 with an average age just under 27 flew out from the US capital, 15 players bound for their inaugural World Cup.
“We’re young, we’re energetic, we’re excited and we’re going to surprise people in the World Cup,” veteran US midfielder DaMarcus Beasley said.
US coach Bob Bradley stressed fitness in a physically demanding training camp and intense tuneups, a 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic and a rally-required win over Turkey, have hardened the Americans ahead of the demands to come.
“When you consider everything that’s gone on the last few weeks, it puts us in a good position and now we’re ready to move on to South Africa,” Bradley said.
“We planned it out in very careful fashion. Team building, that went well. We have seen a couple things when we haven’t played well get sharper. You just push things along. We will be able to sharpen up some little details.
“We came out with everything we could have wanted.”
The Americans include a record 19 players from clubs outside the United States, seven from English clubs including top goalkeeper Tim Howard of Everton, and only six men who have played a World Cup match before.
“To win the World Cup we would be a long shot at best, but it doesn’t stop us from going and trying,” Howard said. “You really can’t think about winning it. You have to think about playing England, Slovenia and Algeria.”
Those are the Group C rivals for the US team, which will play a final tuneup match next Saturday against Australia at Roodepoort, South Africa, ahead of a June 12 opener against England at Rustenburg.
“We’re still trying to get that sharpness,” US playmaker Clint Dempsey said. “Hopefully we will get more confidence. Hopefully we don’t need to run ourselves ragged and we can do a better job of keeping the ball.
“These guys know how to leave it all on the field. Hopefully they will have the confidence to do that. We like to think we have the confidence. We’ll find out after that first game even though we know it’s not the be-all and end-all.”
US captain Carlos Bocanegra, fellow defender Jay DeMerit and backline star Oguchi Onyewu are all coming off injuries and how well they respond will be critical to American hopes for repeating a 2002 quarter-final run after a disappointing first-round flop four years ago.
That failure led to Bradley taking over the program and reshaping the squad with a constant philosophy that has paid dividends.
“Bob has been hammering into us from day one on how we want to go about things, how we bring it to training every day, and that hasn’t changed,” said Bocanegra. “He has stuck to his path and the guys have bought into it. It’s not just about the next two weeks. It has been building up since three years ago.”