Participating in your first World Cup is a thrill of a lifetime, but for six members of the United States men's national team, the emotions are different.
Three pairs of players will be heading to Brazil with someone they have come up with through the American soccer ranks, and all six will take in their first World Cup with an athlete they have spent a lot of time around.
The three groups of players also represent different factions of American soccer. One duo was around when a team was contracted from Major League Soccer, another pair developed together before one moved to another team, and the final two have been together since they entered the league as rookies.
For the Real Salt Lake pair of Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman, the road to Brazil has been a winding one. The goalkeeper and midfielder began their journey through American soccer in 2000 with the Miami Fusion.
"We started from, I wouldn’t say the bottom, but we started with Miami, where the league was struggling to really have its place in American sports," Rimando said during the national team media session in New York on May 30.
After the Fusion folded in 2002, the pair went their separate ways for a few years before joining forces in 2007 with Real Salt Lake, a club they have helped turn into one of the best sides in MLS.
"To see where [the league] is at now with the stadiums, the fans, the progress it’s made since I was a rookie is night and day," Rimando said.
Davis saw more playing time with the Dynamo during that span, but the national team dreams of the pair didn't become a reality until the last four years, when Wondolowski was busy scoring at will for San Jose.
"I’ve really put a lot into it. I’ve put my mind, body and soul into it, and I’ve just gone fully immersed into this program," Wondolowski said during the same event.
"It’s very special just because I’ve seen all the blood, sweat and tears that (Brad)’s put into it. It’s pretty special that we’ve had different but similar paths in the whole scheme of things. I’ve really admired his perseverance. He’s kept me going, and I think I’ve kept him going as well," Wondolowski said.
For Davis, one thing sticks out in the mentality of these four experienced players as to how they've found a way onto the national team scene.
"I think there’s a reason why my club in Houston has been successful, why Real Salt Lake’s been successful, because I think it’s the core group of guys that you build your team around that have the experience and have the right mentalities and work ethic," Davis said.
While the hard-work part of the job is not new for the Dynamo midfielder, the fact that he will be flying to Brazil with three other veterans of MLS for their first World Cup experience is something he didn't think would happen.
"I don't think any of us could have dreamed of all sitting here together at this point in our careers," he said.
The other pair of friends and teammates heading to Brazil is Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, who both entered the league in 2009 through the MLS SuperDraft.
"It’s really neat to share the moment with Matt. We obviously came into the league together. We were the only two rookies that year (with Sporting KC)," Zusi said. "We instantly bonded, lived together for a while, and it’s just great to have a familiar face here constantly."
Having a familiar face in the starting 11, and with him in Brazil, is also something that Zusi relishes.
"It can ease your nerves a bit as well; you feel more comfortable. It’s just been so fun to come up through the ranks with each other. We've had a very similar journey," Zusi said during the event.
Regardless of how much playing time any of these players will receive in Brazil, one sentiment rings true: All six are happy to enjoy the experience with someone close to them.
"When it got announced, we were so happy for each other," Rimando said. "I can see it in Kyle every day how hard he works and what this means to him, and I think he sees that in me.
"To go through that with Kyle and for him to be my roommate with Real Salt Lake and when I was in Miami, and now on the road with the national team, it means a lot."
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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