The Americans got enhanced special security at Hamburg Airport early Friday and their team bus — unlike the other 31 — didn’t have the national flag on its rear.
A few hours later coach Bruce Arena was asked whether he felt his team was a terrorist target. He was questioned on his policy of allowing families to spend time with players during the tournament at the team hotel rather than have the squad sequestered in an isolated location as many World Cup coaches choose to do.
"We were told we were stupid and crazy and ignorant in Korea as well with the families so we’ll just accept that as being dumb Americans Arena said.
U.S. players touched down shortly after 6 a.m. following a 7-hour 15-minute charter flight from Newark Liberty International Airport on an all-business class plane with 48 seats. They were greeted by a choir dressed in soccer jerseys singing "You’ll Never Walk Alone" and "We Are The Champions."
Police with automatic weapons and security vehicles surrounded the bus on the tarmac. But it was a more reserved show of force than four years ago at Incheon International Airport where players came out of customs following a 14½-hour flight from New York and were surrounded by about 500 police who formed a corridor with SWAT team commandos mixed in.
Arena doesn’t feel his team is a target.
"When security is handled properly you don’t notice it he said. "The German authorities are so efficient and so competent in what they do it isn’t as obvious to our team."
Players many carrying cameras and taking pictures and video had a 75-foot walk on a red carpet to the team bus which went directly to the downtown hotel.
Arena captain Claudio Reyna and defender Steve Cherundolo appeared at a news conference five hours later. They discussed the team’s first-round games against the Czech Republic (June 12) Italy (June 17) and Ghana (June 22) and talked about raised expectations following their quarterfinal finish four years ago.
Cherundolo who plays for the German team Hannover 96 deftly answered questions in English and German. He said the nation already is transfixed by the tournament which opens June 9.
"It’s the topic in all of the street bars and cafes he said. "There is really nothing else to talk about at the moment except for the World Cup and that’s what’s going to be so special."
At 4 p.m the Americans went through their first workout at Norderstedt the training camp of the local Bundesliga team Hamburger Sport-Verein. Asked why he had his players work out so quickly after the long flight Arena responded with a mocking answer.
"We don’t know what we’re doing. We figured we could come in here and maybe practice a couple of times before the opening game Arena said. "Why not? Just go out and break a sweat a little bit get the travel out of them. Try to get their bodies adjusted to new times zones. ... I thought it was an interesting concept to practice but perhaps I’m wrong."
The city known formally as the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg was called "Hammaburg" when it was founded in 810 by Charlemagne — which would be good moniker for a one-named Brazilian player. The Beatles got started here in the early 1960s playing clubs in the red-light district — the Reeperbahn.
"It has everything you could want and maybe too much Arena said. "We understand that and we have to have the right discipline inside our team to deal with the hopefully many days in Hamburg."
After the United States stayed in France’s Beaujolais countryside during the 1998 World Cup and finished last in the 32-nation field Arena chose to base the team in Seoul during the 2002 tournament. Four years later he picked another downtown hotel attached to a mall — one store is selling U.S. soccer smoothies with berries and cocoa and a candy store had an American flag posted with the words "We’re pleased to see you!" printed across.
"I think it suits our lifestyle our mentality Arena said. "I want our players to enjoy the World Cup. The way Americans enjoy living every day is to get out into the culture do things and not being locked up out in the country."
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller who lives in Germany traveled ahead of the charter flight. Several West Coast-based players spent their days off this week at Reyna’s home in Westhampton Beach N.Y.
"It was very relaxing very good Reyna said. "Before such a major event it was nice to kind of hang out with guys on the team."
The approach of the World Cup is noticeable throughout town. Giant luminescent pipes forming soccer goals have been erected along the swan-filled lakefront and other spots a project by illumination artist Michael Batz called — what else? — "Blue Goals."
"It’s a really big deal Cherundolo said.