PRETORIA, South Africa – On our first day covering the U.S. soccer team training here, the NBC News team was greeted by two humorless Department of Diplomatic Security officers who told us to lay our camera equipment on the ground for an inspection by sniffer dogs.
As the two German shepherds and their local police escorts went to work eagerly burrowing through our lined up gear, an enterprising photographer took the opportunity to get down on his knees to squeeze a couple shots of the dogs in action.
One of the dogs quickly turned and started to snarl and growl at the surprised shooter, who fell flat on his rear as he beat a hasty retreat.
Despite the tight security cordon, there was an unexpected calm at the training camp in the days leading up to the high-profile opener against England on Saturday.
Set within Irene Farm, a working dairy farm in Pretoria, the team’s temporary World Cup home provides an informal setting that suits the team’s seemingly relaxed personality.
However, the players for Team USA, currently ranked 14 in the world, are extremely aware of the high expectations that are unique to the American team.
"We have a different responsibility in our country then most countries do," said Landon Donovan, the veteran mid-fielder and vice-captain of the team. "When we walk around the streets, people don’t always know who we are."
He explained how the American players don’t have the same rock-star status as international superstars like Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
"So our job is not only to play, but we're also ambassadors for our sport," said Donovan. "We’re trying to sell our sport and we understand very clear that every four years is our biggest opportunity to do that."
Though arguably the star of the team, Donovan is convinced that team-oriented, selfless play will be key to any American success against the more glitzy, star-studded teams they may encounter.
"Our biggest strength always has been our team," said Donovan. "There are no egos and everybody kind of sees this common goal…Everybody is in this together and that is sort of the American spirit and that’s what we’ve always brought."
Donovan’s confidence is encouraging, but don’t expect it to carry over to dubious sports experts and insiders. Most bookies are offering a long 6-1 bet on a U.S. win.
We’ll all have to wait and wonder until the two teams meet on the pitch on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 pm EST.
U.S. fans also can follow the team on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ussoccer