SÃO PAULO—U.S. men's soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann played down the long distances and muggy climate his team will have to face at this year's World Cup, saying that American players are used to both.
The U.S. team will be based in São Paulo, South America's biggest city, and will travel for first round matches to the Amazon heartland city of Manaus, as well as the northeastern coastal cities of Natal and Recife. That means the U.S. will have to travel some 14,000 kilometers in the first round alone, the most of any of the 32 teams that will compete in the league play round of the monthlong event that starts in June.
"We have the worst travel schedule of all teams," Mr. Klinsmann told reporters after a brief training session at the training grounds of São Paulo Futebol Clube, one of the continent's top teams.
Twenty-six players arrived in Brazil Monday as part of the men's team annual January training, and Mr. Klinsmann is using the opportunity to get to know the training center as well as a chance to pick new talent for the team. The squad is made up of players from Major League Soccer except for Norway-based Mix Diskerud.
"American players are used to traveling long distances, but we want to minimize the problem," he said, mentioning th possibility of traveling between game sites directly, rather than making the long slog back to São Paulo between rounds.
After two weeks in São Paulo, the 26 players head back to Los Angeles for another week of training. The final group of 23 players Mr. Klinsmann picks will be back in Brazil in June to prepare for a crucial first match on June 16 against Ghana in Natal, some 1,800 miles northeast of São Paulo.
"We have to win our first game no matter what," he said. That's because after Ghana, the U.S. will face Portugal—whose star Cristiano Ronaldo this week won the prestigious Balon d' Or title as the world's best player—and then plays soccer powerhouse Germany in the final group match. Germany clinched second place in 2002 after losing to Brazil, and came in third place in the following two World Cups.
With such a tough group, it will be a challenge for the U.S. team.
"We still have a long way to go and we know that, but we are getting better and hopefully we can prove that in the World Cup," he said.
The rapid growth of soccer in the U.S. following that country's hosting of the 1994 World Cup has helped improve the quality of American soccer, Mr. Klinsmann said, but they are still some years away from ranking with the best.
"We need to develop better players and better coaches, but that's not going to happen overnight," he said.