SÃO PAULO -- When the U.S. men's national team got together on May 14, it was very much in preseason mode, and the World Cup still seemed somewhat distant. The team crisscrossed the country and played three send-off games, all in the warm embrace of its fans.
Not anymore. On Monday, the team landed in São Paulo a little bit before 9 a.m. local time, and the buzz from being in the World Cup's host country was evident. Excitement was the word, even though there is still some work to be done.
"It's like Christmas morning," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard told reporters prior to Monday's training session. "We're just excited to be here. Now it's gotten real."
Howard later added: "[The send-off series] was really fun, and there was pageantry involved, which was great. Now we just focus on Ghana [and] figuring out how we're going to beat them."
The team took a one-hour hop from Jacksonville, Florida, to Miami on Sunday night and then took an eight-hour flight to São Paulo. After landing, the team was given a reception in a special lounge at the airport and was applauded by the entire staff after reaching the team hotel. Howard insisted he didn't remember much of it, after a flight he called "quite easy" but also long.
"My eyes were still closed getting off the plane," he said. "But it was good. The reception was great."
An eight-hour flight might sound like a long haul, but it's nothing new for the U.S. players. Those based in Europe routinely take such flights when meeting up for friendlies and World Cup qualifying matches. The MLS players don't have it quite as bad, but they have endured their share of cross-country flights. Granted, it helped that on this occasion, the players and staff all flew business class.
"Eight-hour flights are like my norm," Howard said. "That's the closest I can get to home -- eight hours. It's no problem."
Hitting the training field isn't either. That is standard operating procedure under most coaches, and Klinsmann is no exception. In fact, Howard said he was surprised the team wasn't out on the field earlier than the roughly 4 p.m. local start time. He noted that despite the team's impressive showing in this past weekend's 2-1 win against Nigeria, there were still some areas of the team's game that could be sharpened prior to its World Cup opener against Ghana on June 16.
"Everything: creating more chances, being more solid at the back. I thought we did a good job limiting chances," he said. "But still we can get better."
The U.S. will try to fulfill that goal at the training center of São Paulo F.C., where the team also trained during its January camp. The 50,000-square-foot facility has several training fields, a restaurant and even sleeping quarters where the players can rest between sessions.
"Everyone is happy to be here," Howard said. "We're just looking forward to unpacking our bags and kind of getting used to the hotel and the surroundings."
And they'll be hoping their stay is a long one.
-- One individual who wasn't present at Monday's session was coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He remained in Miami, along with special adviser Berti Vogts and scout Matthias Hamann, to watch Ghana take on South Korea on Monday night. The trio is expected to arrive in São Paulo on Tuesday.
-- FIFA requires that each team hold at least one training session that is open to the public. For the U.S., that practice will take place at 10 a.m. local time Wednesday.
-- A U.S. Soccer spokesman declared all 23 players to be healthy heading into the final week of World Cup preparations.
-- In addition to hosting the U.S. training sessions, the São Paulo facility will be used for the closed-door scrimmage June 12 against Belgium.