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US players prepare for anything from referees

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United States' Matt Besler talks to media members in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 13, 2014. The U.S. will play in group G of the 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) United States' Matt Besler talks to media members in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 13, 2014. The U.S. will play in group G of the 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

SAO PAULO (AP) — Jermaine Jones will use a little extra caution, knowing full well his penchant for drawing cards from referees.

Even the slightest of bumps could become costly fouls at the World Cup, as seen in Brazil's 3-1 win over Croatia in Thursday's opener.

The Americans had just arrived in Brazil this week when Esse Baharmast paid a visit to the team hotel to help in preparations. A referee at the 1998 World Cup, the Coloradan is now a FIFA technical instructor. He advised the U.S. on what types of calls to expect during the tournament — such as the subtle shove by Dejan Lovren that led to Neymar's game-turning penalty kick for Brazil in the opener.

"They already say we have to watch out with the hands in the box or on corner kicks, especially with me with yellow cards, he said," Jones recalled Friday. "So we know the rules and we have to be careful. We know that. But we have to play our game. We don't have to change something. If we've got somebody and he has to take a foul for the team, maybe you have to do it."

According to Soccerway, Jones has 72 yellow cards in nine seasons at the club level — 14 alone in 2011-12.

Referee Yuichi Nishimura of Japan came under scrutiny after calling a questionable foul against Croatia, leading to Neymar's go-ahead goal on a 71st-minute penalty kick.

"Mixed emotions, obviously. That's going to happen," midfielder Graham Zusi said Friday before the team traveled to Natal on a charter flight for the Americans' opener Monday against Ghana. "The system isn't perfect, and you have to be ready for it."

Jones realizes he will be closely watched when the U.S. starts Group G play against the Black Stars, who eliminated the Americans from the last two World Cups.

U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard felt for the Croatians, who swarmed Nishimura in protest.

"It sucks for Croatia, that's what I think," Howard said. "But that's part of the game. Referees have got to get those things right. It's obviously big moments, and it's not easy being a referee, but it's important going forward that those are taken care of."

Four years ago, forward Robbie Findley was suspended for the final group-stage match against Algeria after getting yellows in the first two games. In 2006, midfielder Pablo Mastroeni and defender Eddie Pope received red cards in the 1-1 draw against Italy, with Pope ejected for a pair of yellows. Daniele De Rossi of the Azzurri was sent off for elbowing Brian McBride in the face.

For players like central defender Matt Besler who make their living protecting the penalty area, Nishimura's call was tough to watch.

"I think it's a good one to see because it's a lesson that some of us learned just by watching that it's going to be called tight in the penalty box, so we've got to be careful," Besler said outside the U.S. team hotel.

So, the Americans sure appreciate the advice from Baharmast.

"We've all been well versed on how the referees are going to be approaching the games," Zusi said. "It's something that there are little things we can take from it what the referees don't want us to do. We just have to be worried about our game, worried about ourselves, and I think everything else will fall into place."

___

AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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