NEW YORK -- A crowd of about 2,000 filled part of New York’s Times Square to cheer the U.S. World Cup team during a televised send-off pep rally Friday night.
Fans chanted "U-S-A!" "I believe that we will win!" and "When the Yanks go marching in" after the 23 American players arrived in a red-white-and-blue bus with "One Nation. One Team." in huge letters.
"We’re excited about going down to the World Cup and doing something special," U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said.
Many of the fans who filled Broadway between 42nd and 43rd Streets wore American jerseys, and some held up signs with players’ names and photos. One raised a gold-colored replica World Cup.
Players, wearing red shirts, black shorts and black windbreakers, signed autographs and took selfies with supporters. Midfielder Mix Diskerud, sporting a New York Yankees cap, was among the players who sat on the front of the stage and waved to fans.
ESPN, which broadcast the rally, played an animation of midfielder Kyle Beckerman scoring a winning overtime goal in the World Cup final followed by Dempsey lifting the trophy.
"It’s wonderful because it gives you a sense that we’re getting closer and closer to the World Cup," said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who as a player helped Germany win the 1990 tournament. "You just count the days. You want to get down there and get this thing started."
The Americans have home exhibition games against Turkey on Sunday at Harrison, New Jersey, and Nigeria on June 7 at Jacksonville, Florida. They leave the following day for Brazil and their seventh straight World Cup appearance.
In perhaps the toughest first-round group, they open June 16 in Natal with a Bloomsday game against Ghana, the nation that eliminated the U.S. in the last two World Cups. Klinsmann said "it’s pretty much like a knockout game" and "we want we want to make them clear stepping on the field that it’s our game."
"We got to look at a payback. We’ve got to make sure we get the right result," Dempsey said, sparking chants of "Beat Ghana!"
Six days later, the Americans play Portugal and FIFA Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus.
"It’s going to be all of us trying to get around Ronaldo, pressure him, make him give up the ball," said goalkeeper Tim Howard, a former teammate of the star forward on Manchester United.
The U.S. closes the group stage on June 26 in the northern beach city of Recife against three-time champion Germany, which defeated the Americans in the first round in 1998 -- with Klinsmann scoring -- and in a 2002 quarterfinal. The U.S. has the most travel of the 32 teams, needing to go more than 9,000 miles in trips from its training base in Sao Paulo.
"We believe that we can do it," Dempsey said. "We believe that if we’re playing the best of our ability and we show our true quality that we do have the tools necessary to get out of the group."
ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas, a defender on the U.S. team at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, provoked boos from the crowd. Speaking with most of the players about 10 feet away, Lalas said "while I love and respect them, I don’t think they get out of the group."
Taylor Twellman, another ESPN analyst who played for the U.S. national team, agreed with Lalas.
American career scoring leader Landon Donovan, among seven players cut by Klinsmann eight days earlier, was repeatedly brought up by ESPN announcers during the show. Klinsmann also was asked about his selection of 18-year-old winger Julian Green, who has had just six minutes of first-team experience with Bayern Munich.
"We believe as of today that if we have to bring him (in), he will be able to make a difference," Klinsmann said. "He has the talent and he has the guts to do that."
NOTES: At a news conference before the rally, Dempsey said his groin felt better and he was on track to start Sunday. He pulled out of the lineup during warmups before Tuesday’s win over Azerbaijan in San Francisco. ... Defender Omar Gonzalez, who played the second half Tuesday, said he was completely healed from the left knee injury sustained May 3 with the Los Angeles Galaxy. ... While the U.S. trains in Brazil at the practice facility of Sao Paulo FC, the host club will play an exhibition June 20 at Orlando City of the USL PRO league. Luis Fabiano, Maicon and Alexandre Pato are on Sao Paulo’s roster.