WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama gave the U.S. World Cup team a presidential sendoff, greeting players at the White House on Thursday along with Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton.
"I just want to say how incredibly proud we are of the team," Obama said. "Everybody's going to be rooting for you. And although sometimes we don't remember it here in the United States, this is going to be the biggest world stage there is. And you're going to be representing all of us."
Biden intends to attend the U.S. opener against England on June 12 in Rustenburg, South Africa. Clinton is honorary chairman of the bid committee trying to bring the World Cup back to the U.S. in 2018 or 2022.
"We're going to be proud of what you do when you get to South Africa, and you will have somebody in the Oval Office who's going to be watching ESPN to make sure that things are going OK," Obama said.
Biden also gave the players a tour of the White House.
"I had been there once before with the Olympic team. This time around, it was pretty awesome." goalkeeper Tim Howard said.
While their soccer skills got the players into the White House, it was their fashion sense that caught the eye of the leaders. Clinton told the players he wants to join the team just for their stylish tan dress shoes. Obama agreed they were "good-looking" shoes.
"They had a sense of humor and gave us a real nice tour," forward Jozy Altidore said. "Overall, it was just an exciting part of the day."
After the White House visit, the team traveled to Philadelphia and worked out at the Eagles' NovaCare Complex ahead of Saturday's exhibition against Turkey at Lincoln Financial Field. The team leaves the following day for South Africa.
More than 48,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday's game, the next-to-last warmup before the U.S. opens against England.
"We've been working really hard to get ready for the World Cup," midfielder Clint Dempsey said. "I think the team is confident. It would be nice to go into South Africa with a solid performance against Turkey. We'll be ready to play Saturday, and I think the guys on this team believe in each other and what we're trying to accomplish."
While Howard, Dempsey and Landon Donovan were given the night off for Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic in East Hartford, Conn., the lineup Saturday should be closer to the team's first-choice selection.
The other first-round games, against Slovenia on June 18 and versus Algeria on June 23, are too far off to think about.
"We're focused on Saturday, first and foremost," Howard said. "Then we're focused on England. We can't worry about what might happen beyond that. I think we're in the right frame of mind as we get ready to start the World Cup."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press