SAO PAULO – While some World Cup teams whine about withering weather and troublesome travel, American players say: Bring it on!
European teams worry they will wilt. The United States considers cauldron-like climates a regular finishing touch, as if the Americans were a Baked Alaska flambe.
And if FIFA added a Road Warrior prize to the Golden Ball, Golden Boot and Golden Glove, the U.S. would be assured of taking home an award.
“When you talk about playing in the heat, the travel, it doesn’t bother us,” midfielder Michael Bradley said Tuesday. “And not only does it not bother us, it excites us to see that now the other teams are so worried about it.”
The Americans have the lengthiest first-round trek among the 32 teams at 8,800 air miles, chartering roundtrip flights from Sao Paulo to Natal (1,420 each way), Manaus (1,680) and Recife (1,300).
That’s quite a contrast to four years ago, where the U.S. had the shortest group-stage travel in South Africa. To reach their games, the Americans took bus rides from Irene to Rustenburg (62 miles each way), Johannesburg (24) and Pretoria (11) for a total of 194 miles. They needed to pack a weekender only once during the first round, burrowing at their base hotel for the second and third matches.
This year they’ll change cities and climates repeatedly. Tuesday’s training session at Sao Paulo Futebol Club started in a 62-degree temperature with a cooling drizzle, but the Americans’ games up north figure to be played in the mid-80s or higher. And extreme humidity could make each stadium feel like a sauna.
Accustomed to an August-through-May club schedule in Europe, where players use gloves and fans insulate in thermals, some soccer officials fret. No European nation has won a World Cup played in the Americas, where Brazil has taken three titles, and Argentina and Uruguay two apiece.
Before the World Cup draw in December, England coach Roy Hodgson called the Amazon rain forest city of Manaus “problematic” and said “you have a better chance if you get one of the venues where the climate is kinder.”
“It’s going to be incredibly humid and hot,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “We must get used to it, in training and preparing.”
The U.S. opens Monday with a 5 p.m. match against Ghana in Natal. The AccuWeather forecast calls for a daytime high in the mid-80s, dropping into the 70s in the evening with a couple showers possible.
The Americans next play in Manaus for a 6 p.m. game against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal on June 22. The extended forecast calls for temperatures in the high-80s that day.
The U.S. completes group play against three-time champion Germany in a 11 a.m. match in Recife, a port city, where temperatures are typically in the low-80s.
While that might be unfamiliar for natives of Munich and Mannheim, it’s rather routine for the red, white and blue.
“I lived 41/2 years in Houston, and that’s 100 degrees every single day with humidity plus,” defender Geoff Cameron said, “so if you can survive that, you can survive anything.”
Europeans complained about heat during the 1970 and ‘86 World Cups in Mexico and were stunned by a heat wave in 1994 that turned matches into endurance tests at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Jurgen Klinsmann scored twice as defending champion Germany built a three-goal lead against South Korea, then held on for a 3-2 win.
Klinsmann, now the U.S. coach, learned from that and the February 2013 opener in the final round of World Cup qualifying, when the Americans went to Central America and wilted during the second half of a 2-1 loss.
“Dallas at 120 degrees at 12 o’clock kickoff time because of TV rights to Europe was an experience,” he said. “You want to make sure that you’re hydrated. You want to make sure that you’re not cramping up, similar to that experience in Honduras in San Pedro Sula.”
The American players who are veterans of Major League Soccer are used to changing three time zones on coast-to-coast trips.
“That’s the hope, that now something that’s being talked about in a negative way with a lot of other teams is something that we can use to our advantage,” Bradley maintained. “Jurgen said it best: It’s going to be a World Cup of patience, of knowing how to deal with the elements, of being able to suffer at times, and so I think we’re excited by it.”
Notes: American players are wearing Gold Nike+ FuelBand SEs, which track movement and also were given to players on Brazil, England and France. They retail for $149.