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May 31, 2014

Times Square visit puts pep in U.S.' step

Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman discuss the growing fan support for the USMNT and their World Cup preparations ahead of Sunday's friendly against Turkey.

NEW YORK -- As Mix Diskerud stepped off the U.S. bus a block from Times Square on a glorious Friday afternoon, he had difficulty wrapping his head around the scene.

Hordes of American fans were already filling makeshift stands hours before a scheduled pre-World Cup pep rally, and some of the ones who weren't quickly descended upon the side door of the grandiose Marriot Marquis hotel, into which the 23 men named to Jurgen Klinsmann's final squad filed before spending the afternoon hobnobbing with members of the national media.

Diskerud scored his third international goal in Tuesday's win vs. Azerbaijan.
Diskerud scored his third international goal in Tuesday's win vs. Azerbaijan.

"I think someone had a 'Mix Diskerud, Will You Marry Me?' sign," the 23-year-old playmaker told ESPN FC an hour or so later. "It's crazy."

Just over a week after surviving the final cut for Brazil, the euphoria is still fresh for Diskerud and many of the 17 other U.S. players who are headed to their first World Cup.

"It took a little bit to set in, to be honest," said 32-year-old midfielder Brad Davis, who won his first U.S. cap nearly a decade ago before being overlooked for both Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. "I thought my national team career had passed me by."

Youngster DeAndre Yedlin, on the other hand, arrived at May's extended training camp seen by many more as a prospect for the future than the present. "I was a little bit surprised," said the Seattle Sounders right back of making the team. "In my mind, I was a little bit of a long shot."

No matter their age or experience, though, claiming a spot on a World Cup roster was a moment Diskerud, Davis, Yedlin and the rest had worked their whole careers for -- their whole lives, really.

It finally came without warning after a training session on the Stanford University campus on May 22. And when it arrived, it wasn't quite as it had appeared in their dreams.

"It was different than I expected," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "It kind of just happened. At first we didn't know if this was really the team; we just knew some guys were going home. I think my first reaction was just feeling for those guys that were hurting. All of them thought they had a good chance to make it. So we knew they were hurting bad."

- Carlisle: The U.S.' fitness focus
- FC TV: Fans make World Cup predictions Video
- FC TV: Lalas on Donovan's omission Video

Of course, it's impossible to talk about the seven players who were dismissed without mentioning Landon Donovan, the Yanks all-time scoring leader and longtime face of the program who remained conspicuous by his absence on Friday.

More than a week later, invoking his name drew still strong reactions from his now-former teammates.

"He's definitely a guy that we thought was going to be there, with his experience and his leadership," Davis said. "But we as players don't make the decisions."

"We know how good of a player he is," defender Geoff Cameron said. "It's up to the coaching staff-our main focus is on the 23 guys who are here, and they're here for a reason."

Even if some of them are still getting used to the idea themselves.

Notes:

-- Beckerman, Donovan's teammate since the two were part of U.S. Soccer's very first under-17 residency class way back in 1999, also expressed surprise at the 32-year-old's omission. Still, he insisted the team has already moved past it. "The only way we can go through this [tournament] and be successful is to move on as quickly as possible," he said. "I know it's kind of tough to say-it's kind of cold-but that's what we have to do, because if we're not together we have no chance."

-- The Yanks' June 16 Cup opener in Natal is never far from Klinsmann's mind, according to striker Jozy Altidore. "Everything we've done has been about Ghana," Altidore said. "He made that clear from day one when we came in. The coaches have been constantly giving us information, video, everything to kind of get it in our brains how they play. I think it can only help us."

Cameron impressed at center back vs. Azerbaijan.
Cameron impressed at center back vs. Azerbaijan.

-- While Altidore, Beckerman, Diskerud and Davis will all have family members in Brazil next month -- "I have an army of Altidores heading down there," the 24-year-old said -- Cameron, whose father has a heart condition, will not. "He's my rock, my main man," Cameron said. "I decided that if he couldn't go, it wouldn't be right for anyone else to."

-- As happy as Yedlin was to make the cut, the fact that it came at the expense of club teammate Brad Evans -- the Yanks' starting right back for most of 2013 -- made it bittersweet. "I haven't spoken to him since," Yedlin said of Evans. "I can't really imagine what he felt, so I'll give it some time. Brad has been so instrumental in my growth but with the Sounders and the national team, so that was pretty tough, to see him go."

-- Diskerud grew up in Norway and has roots in Arizona. But he's always had a thing for New York City and said he visits about once a year. "I have 74 hats with an 'NY' logo on them," he said Friday, adding that the New York-themed fitted baseball caps, which he has in all different colors and styles, were easier to find in Europe. "I collect them," he said. "It's cheaper to collect those than cars."

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