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Jun 3, 2014

Inside: U.S. Soccer descends on New York

After the silent toil of training camp in Palo Alto comes the descent into the chaos and passion of New York City. The United States men's national team arrived under the cover of darkness with a dual agenda: one, to continue to edge toward World Cup readiness by meeting the intelligent threat posed by Turkey, and two, to blow out their national profile by engaging the national media.

The latter challenge started within hours of landing. Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan ventured onto the set of "Good Morning America" in Central Park. The trio met an imperious 50 Cent. "In those moments, you feel kind of small because you are with a guy who is really a world megastar," Howard admitted minutes after giving the performer a fist bump.

In the afternoon the roles were reversed. The players were the ones dispensing the high fives to adoring admirers as they entered a raucous Times Square to sit down with ESPN's analysts and meet their fans at an naively named "Pep Rally."

- McIntyre: Change of plans for diamond

- Carlisle: Chances abound in win vs. Turkey

- Davis: Altidore stock rising

As the entire squad stood five feet before him, Alexi Lalas was put on the spot and asked whether he believed the U.S. would emerge from the opening round. "Part of my job is to say things that are at times are unpopular," he admitted as the crowd began to howl. "While I love and respect them, I don't think they will get out of the group."

Reflecting on the awkwardness of the moment later, Howard reinforced his respect for Lalas while explaining, "Their words are hollow. Everyone's words are hollow," he said. "It's their job. They get paid really good salaries to sometimes rock the boat."

Kyle Beckerman grinned as he was shown this vivid EA Sports footage that prophesied he would strike a 65-yard wonder goal to win the World Cup, but his mindset remained as realistic as Howard's. "It is just words," he said of Lalas' comments. "We are the underdogs. People will doubt us. It is just fuel to the fire to get us more motivated."

Tim Howard guested on ESPN FC during U.S. Soccer's media blitz on New York.
Tim Howard guested on ESPN FC during U.S. Soccer's media blitz on New York.

At a heavily trafficked press round table, the major preoccupation revolved around the identity of the back line. "It is you guys who are making the defense such a big story," aspiring center-back Matt Besler suggested before explaining how he expected to play Cristiano Ronaldo In Manaus. "How do you stop him," he asked himself. "You steal the ball away from him ... He's human. He is not a superhero. At the end of the day, we are all soccer players..."

After the hectic media frenzy, the arrival of game day came almost as a welcome respite -- a moment of silence stolen in the clutter. The players arrived at a sold-out Red Bull Arena in sweltering conditions. Aron Johannsson and Mix Diskerud charged directly onto the field, finding a release by chucking a baseball around one half. As they did so, they took care not to hit Michael Bradley. With headphones on, the midfielder slowly prowled alone around the areas of the field he would soon patrol and seek to dominate. Expressionless yet methodical, like a great white shark patrolling its territory.