As young athletes whose sport was soccer, U.S. national team members Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard couldn't help but notice how World Series and Super Bowl winners are invited to the White House like clockwork.
So Thursday, when America's World Cup team met with President Obama, Vice President Biden and former President Bill Clinton in a send-off before the FIFA tournament in South Africa, the players attached a special significance to the visit.
"You get more sense of that national pride because you have your president behind you, you have your leader behind you," Dempsey said after the U.S. team's practice at the NovaCare Complex on Thursday night. The United States plays Turkey at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, the Americans' last tune-up before leaving for the World Cup, which runs from June 11 to July 11.
"What more motivation do you need than that?" the midfielder added. "So it was flattering that we were on his radar and it made us feel important. Hopefully, it gives us that extra edge."
Obama told the team that he intended to have the World Cup telecast on in the Oval Office and Biden said he planned to travel to some games, American team members and staff said.
"Although sometimes we don't remember it here in the United States, this is going to be the biggest world stage there is," Obama told the players. "And you're going to be representing all of us."
Like Dempsey, Howard, a goalkeeper from North Brunswick, N.J., was awed by the trip to the White House.
"There were plenty of moments this morning when I got goose bumps. . . . It's special to be in the presence of the most powerful man, virtually, in the world," Howard said.
But while nationalism and pride in the team may have been the theme, there were lighter moments, such as Clinton remarking on midfielder Maurice Edu's flashy watch.
"It had a lot of diamonds on it - it was very sparkly," forward Jozy Altidore said.
And the former president took note of the team's caramel-colored shoes.
"For some reason, Bill Clinton loved them," Dempsey said. "He said, 'You guys are dressing sharp.' I thought we looked a little silly, but I guess he liked that type of style."
Now the Americans must turn their attention to what Obama referred to as "the biggest world stage," the World Cup, the next step is playing Turkey on Saturday.
In its last game on Tuesday, the United States lost a friendly to the Czech Republic, 4-2, in East Hartford, Conn. In that contest, coach Bob Bradley was figuring out who he would keep to fill out his 23-man roster. But against Turkey, the Americans likely will be playing their A team.
"I think there were some guys who didn't play the other day who are raring to go and we'll come out of the gates aggressive," Howard said. "We know it's our last game at home. . . . We need a strong test. We don't want to go into South Africa with any questions. We want to feel like we've done all the right things."