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Direct from Sarajevo

ASN Exclusive: Klinsmann Speaks to ASN in Bosnia

United States men's soccer coach spoke to ASN's Graham Ruthven at training today, discussing Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Aron Johannsson, and the two September World Cup qualifiers.

BY Graham Ruthven Posted
August 13, 2013
1:38 PM
SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina—The United States men’s soccer team may be preparing to face Bosnia Wednesday (2:30 p.m.; ESPN2 and UniMas) in an international friendly, but coach Jurgen Klinsmann is already casting his mind toward next month’s crucial World Cup qualifiers.

ASN spoke exclusively with Klinsmann in Sarajevo, where his team was holding its final training session.

The players who are here will all be competing to show they deserve to play in those all-important Hexagonal matches. And at least two key players who are not here, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, are being rested so they can reach peak levels for the September matches.

Donovan, who took a sabbatical this past winter, returned to international action for the 2013 Gold Cup, turning in a number of displays that underlined his A-team credentials. Klinsmann expects Donovan to feature in next month’s qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico.

“We tried to give the MLS players a break,” Klinsmann explained of his roster choices. “In the cases of Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans, it wasn’t possible. We badly needed them to be competitive against Bosnia. But overall there was the opportunity to leave the MLS guys in the U.S., giving them some rest ahead of the September qualifiers.

“For Landon, there’s a huge probability that he will be part of the roster for those games," the coach continued. "He’s at the forefront of my thinking after the Gold Cup and if he continues to do well with his club team he should be there.”

Klinsmann also omitted captain Clint Dempsey from the Bosnia contest, as the 30-year-old attacker settles in with his new team, the Seattle Sounders. Dempsey, as most ASN readers know, last year played for the English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, and fell just short of qualifying for the Champions League.

The German coach once challenged Dempsey to better himself, telling the player that he “hasn’t made s***” despite his success in the Premier League. So now that his captain has returned to MLS, widely regarded as a level below the English top flight, has Klinsmann changed his attitude?

“I’ve not changed my mind, no," the coach said. "I’m always there to push them to the next level. That won’t change."

“In Clint’s case there are different views on his move. On one hand it’s fantastic for MLS to have him back in America. He’ll inspire kids to play soccer. The challenge for him is to keep up his standard. He has to maintain the level he’s set for himself over the past two years and I’ll be there pushing him to do that. We won’t let his game slip.

“We always take personal circumstances into consideration, and with Clint and Landon that’s a factor. But I’ll always challenge my players to push for the next level and that means playing in the big European leagues.” While Dempsey and Donovan are absent from the squad, a number of new names have been called up, including former Icelandic youth international Aron Johansson and Berlin-born John Anthony Brooks.

U.S. fans hoping to see Johannsson make his debut will have to wait a bit longer, as U.S. Soccer still waiting on the AZ Alkmaar forward’s nationality switch to be processed.

“It looks like he’s not eligible to play tomorrow night, which is disappointing,” sighed Klinsmann. “But hopefully with the World Cup qualifiers coming up he’ll be involved.

[Editor's Note: Johannsson's FIFA approval came in after this interview. He is cleared to play Wednesday.]

“He’s been brought in with John Brooks and all the players who are introduced to our team have a chance to become part of the key roster. This game is about giving them an introduction to our program and the team, giving me the chance to see how they compete and integrate themselves.

“Every time a new face comes into the group it’s because they’re good enough and deserve to be there. They have a chance to break into the first team.” One dual-nationality player who did not make the roster for Bosnia is Timothy Chandler. But despite speculation suggesting otherwise, the U.S. coach says there is no issue with the Nuremburg player’s commitment to the Stars and Stripes.

“Timmy is not here because other players are ahead of him in the ranking of the team at the moment," Klinsmann said. "It’s as simple as that. There’s no problem at all with him. He wants to play for us but at the moment other players are ahead of him.”

Klinsmann might be looking to Europe for new blood but admitted the emphatic Gold Cup win has made his job a little tougher, with so many players pushing for spots in the American roster.

“There were a lot of players at the Gold Cup who built their case for the World Cup qualifying roster. We’re very pleased with how the players stepped it up for that tournament and it makes my job more difficult as the competition is becoming tougher and tougher.

“Now those players have to reconfirm their form with their clubs, and if they perform well enough they’ll come back to us for the next game. And with every game the World Cup gets closer. Brazil is on everybody’s minds."

"The race is on.”

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