SAO PAULO – The U.S. national team took the field for its first practice session here in Brazil’s largest city on Monday afternoon, about eight hours after arriving on an overnight flight from Miami.
“I’m surprised we weren’t out here earlier,” goalkeeper Tim Howard joked. “We had some rest, but that’s just normal for us. It’s no problem.”
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann is known for running his players in the morning or after long flights in order to better test their limits, but Monday was an exception. After a tough three-plus weeks of training, which began at Stanford University in mid-May, the U.S. has a built a solid fitness foundation and won three World Cup warm-up games.
So a lighter day was in order following a lengthy trip from Florida. Meeting with the media prior to Monday’s practice at Sao Paulo FC’s training facility, Howard said the Americans are “very” far along in their preparation for the World Cup opener against Ghana on June 16.
“Jurgen might push us a little bit, but yeah, it’ll be fine tuning [from here],” he said. “I thought the Turkey and Nigeria games [both 2-1 wins] were good tests for us. I thought we did well. Still want to perfect a few different things. I don’t know if we’ll get there,” Howard said.
When asked what imperfections came to mind, he said, “Everything. Everything. Just being perfect. Creating more chances. Being more solid at the back. I thought we did a good job against Nigeria limiting chances. But still, we can get better.”
U.S. assistants Andreas Herzog and Tab Ramos ran Monday’s practice because Klinsmann remained in Miami, where he planned to attend Monday’s friendly between Ghana and South Korea.
The manager, along with advisor Berti Vogts and scout Matthias Hamann, are scheduled to meet up with the U.S. on Tuesday. When they arrive, they’ll find a healthy 23-man squad already enjoying the spread at SPFC’s Barra Funda facility, where the U.S. trained during the opening portion of its January camp.
The complex includes three full-size fields (each with a different kind of grass) and a 700-seat stand that will host the national team’s open practice on Wednesday and then Thursday’s closed-door scrimmage against Belgium. When the U.S. has two training sessions in a single day, the players will remain at Barra Funda and make use of its restaurant, fitness center, meeting room and/or sleeping quarters.
In order to maximize their time there, the team will fly back to Sao Paulo immediately following the group stage games in Natal, Manaus and Recife.
“[It’s] beautiful. It doesn’t get much better. The guys in January said it was fantastic and it’s lived up to it,” Howard said. “It’s like Christmas morning. We’re just excited to be here and now it’s gotten real.”
GALLERY: The USA's 23-man World Cup team