JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The US completed a boot camp of sorts ahead of the World Cup with an impressive 2-1 win over Nigeria on Saturday. The match featured a majority of players in the lineup who have logged major minutes in recent weeks.
USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann has put an emphasis on his squad’s physical conditioning leading up to the first World Cup match against Ghana on June 16 in Natal, Brazil. That, coupled with training and playing matches in hot, humid conditions akin to those in some of the venues in Brazil, means the team expects the tough preparation will serve them well on the big stage.
“A lot of us felt heavy going into the game,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said after the game. “We had a really tough mentality to push through it, and everybody did and everybody has. We didn’t take it easy, we went after it this week. All the guys really pushed through it and I think once Ghana comes we really should be peaking.”
Striker Jozy Altidore, who scored both goals in the win, agreed, saying the team is “tired in a good way” and that he expects the send-off series to pay off in group play.
“I think now, obviously, you’re going to see tired legs out there like you did today, especially early on, but the team got through it and I think it’s only going to help,” he said. “I think we’re going to peak at the right moment.”
There’s no denying that the weeks of training coupled with three strenuous tune-up matches have been taxing for the team, but Klinsmann feels fortunate to have made it through the period, which included additional scrimmages, without any signficant player injuries, a factor that has plagued a number of Brazil-bound countries in the run-up to the World Cup.
“It speaks for everyone that they’re taking care of themselves,” he said. “They understand that it’s not only the game and training but that they’ve got to get treatment, go into the ice, and gotta eat right and get sleep in. All the little things add up.”
The USMNT has one more scrimmage scheduled before the Ghana match, a closed-door game against Belgium on Thursday in Brazil.