Every once in awhile in South Africa we'll have one of the guys check in with their view -- giving MNT blog loyalists a look from the outside in. Today's scribe: Jay DeMerit.
It was quite the journey – I think almost 28 hours – from Chicago to D.C., a layover at Dulles and then on to Dakar, another layover, and finally the flight to Johannesburg. Oh, and then there was the bus ride to Pretoria. Guys tried to sleep as much as they could; some are better than others. So it was a long trip, but I think the Local Organizing Committee in South Africa did a good job getting us here in the most comfortable way possible. Jet lag is never fun no matter where you are in the world and this is no different. I got to see the whole Lakers game from 3:30 to 5:30 in the morning, and I was up and ready for breakfast at about 6 a.m. without any sleep. Training was a fantastic time today, let me tell you.
It's not every day that you're greeted by song, and that’s what we got when we arrived at the hotel. It was special for us. It lets us know you're in a place like South Africa, and that's fantastic. Those types of things show the spirit of this country and show exactly why they have the World Cup coming here. People seem to have a spirit and the willingness to have fun and to show that they want more people to experience what this country is all about.
When we played here last time, I was injured so I never really got to experience this country in the first place, so I didn't have too many expectations. I thought it would be hotter - I know they're in their winter season here - but to come in to wind and rain, I felt like I was back in London. That was a bit surprising, but it's something that we just have to deal with now and move on. Training today was definitely no different; it was windy and rainy, wet and cold. It's something that I'm used to of course, but maybe not something I expected.
For the most part, a lot of the players play most of their seasons in this type of weather. I don't think it's going to be that much of a difference. For us, the Gold Cups and the World Cup qualifiers are all in really warm places, so this is kind of refreshing. Playing in hot weather isn't always easy. I was talking to somebody today and they were saying this was the worst weather they've had, so hopefully it clears up by the time of the games.
The hotel is fine and they've set up a game room downstairs for us, with some video games and TVs. There's a poker table, so if guys want to lose all their money they can. Those types of things always make things a little easier, especially since there aren't very many places we can go outside of the hotel. For us it's just a matter of continuing to come together as a group during the next 10 days and hopefully not killing each other. Like I said, it's pretty tight quarters for 25 guys.
This will be my first "world tournament" beside Copa America, but this involves everybody. Of course you get excited. The champions of all the regions are here, along with Italy and South Africa. Beyond the World Cup, this is as big as it gets. To be a part of this is really a cool thing, and I'm really looking forward to experiencing it. I'm not really sure what's going to happen as far as me getting on the field, but we'll see what happens when and if I'm called upon. I'll prepare like I always do, and make sure I'm ready. If I'm not, then I'll be ready to help the guys out and cheer them on in the best way possible.
There were a lot of highs in lows in the last week with the qualifiers. Ultimately those two games are part of what gets us back here to South Africa in a year’s time, and that's the goal of everyone that's involved right now: to be a part of that World Cup next summer. Of course we were disappointed in the Costa Rica result, just like the El Salvador one before that. But everyone is under no illusions: it's a long road and those types of places are not easy to play. We should have played better [last Wednesday] and we all understand that, but coming back against Honduras and putting in the performance we did showed the type of character that we have on this team.
Coming off the back of that, it's really important for us to look at the positives and enjoy this tournament, because this is a reward for winning the Gold Cup. I think for us to come here and put in some good performances is the next big step, and that comes with playing some of the best teams in the world. If this can't prepare you for what's coming in a year's time, then nothing will.
My favorite part of the game of soccer is the atmosphere. The teams, the stadiums, the fans ... everybody that is so different comes together for one event. The passion involved is fantastic, and we get a taste of that in Europe, but these types of tournaments are unique. Playing teams that are coming from all over the world and being able to be a part of those atmospheres is something very few people get to be a part of. Being able to share that with the rest of the group by coming together for something like this is really special. We can’t wait to get started.