13114_isi_klutechris_usmntmj010914304 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

Cut From Squad, Chris Klute Still Has Brazil in Mind

The Colorado Rapids fullback traveled to Sao Paolo to train with the U.S. national team but did not make the final roster for Saturday's friendly. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta spoke with the 23-year-old.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 31, 2014
2:25 PM
LAST YEAR CHRIS KLUTE suddenly, and unexpectedly, emerged as one of the best left backs in Major League Soccer.

In fact, his rapid rise was so impressive that Premier League side Everton invited Klute to train with the club in December, and U.S. national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann noticed, asking the Texan to take part in the annual January training camp.

Unfortunately for Klute, he was one of the five players Klinsmann trimmed from the roster ahead of Saturday’s friendly against South Korea. Despite not taking part in the match, Klute said he enjoyed the camp and is adamant the experience had a profound impact on him as a player.

“It kind of changed me a little bit in the way I look at the game and the lessons I take from practices,” Klute told American Soccer Now. “It is small things like seeing the game a little bit better and knowing what I’m going to do before it happens.”

“It was a little tough coming off an off-season,” the 23-year-old fullback continued. “The first few weeks were pretty intense. The quality was really good and you’re playing against, and practicing with, the best U.S players. It was what I expected—maybe a little better. You have to expect a higher standard when you have good players at every position.”

The annual January camp usually features mostly MLS players and gives the coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate younger talent. With Klinsmann signed on to coach the U.S. through the 2018 World Cup, many of the younger players in camp—like Klute, Shane O’Neill, Luis Gil, and DeAndre Yedlin—may have received their first taste of the national team with an eye toward the next cycle.

Klute understands that the 2018 World Cup is a more realistic goal than this summer’s tournament in Brazil, but he is still striving to start the MLS season strong and perhaps earn another shot for the 2014 games.

“I wish it didn’t end the way it did,” said Klute. “But honestly, coming back I just wanting to push myself more. Hopefully the coaches like what they see through the year and want to invite me back to another camp to show what I can do. Making the next World Cup is a goal for me but maybe if I work hard the next few months, I can slip into another call-up in one of the last two camps before the World Cup.

“There is motivation now,” he added. “But my focus is on my club and I’m taking it one day at a time.” While he was with the national team, Klute acknowledged the impulse “to try to do everything and show what you can do.” But he was also encouraged by the team’s veteran leaders—including Landon Donovan and Clarence Goodson—who helped him adjust to the process.

Jurgen Klinsmann gave Klute encouragement about his performance but also a To Do list of things to work on during the MLS season.

“He gave me a lot of positive feedback and thought I had a good camp,” Klute said of the German coach. “There were a couple things tactically that he wanted me to focus on: staying with the backline, offside, and that stuff. He wanted to see me be a little more explosive and taking people one on one.”

Klute’s rise to prominence within American soccer circles took an unusual route. When former U.S. international Eric Wynalda was in his first stint as interim head coach of the NASL Atlanta Silverbacks, Klute was on the Silverbacks’ reserve team and held down a part-time job at the airport just to make ends meet.

Wynalda saw something special in Klute. In fact, after watching him play for just eight minutes, Wynalda told Klute, “As long as I’m the coach, you’re playing every minute of every game.”

Earlier this month, when the Silverbacks rehired Wynalda as head coach and technical director, the outspoken former striker had nothing but praise for his former player.

“What Chris has accomplished in such a short period of time is amazing,” Wynalda said. “And it’s the way it should be. It’s really unfortunate we don’t have more of these stories. He’s a very special player and an incredible person. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that he is the best left back this country has ever had. It’s just a matter of time before everyone else figures it out. He should go to Brazil. If I’m Germany right now, I’m not too worried about running past our current left backs. I think if Chris is there, teams will learn in a hurry that they couldn’t do that against him.”

With his training stints with Everton and the U.S. behind him, Klute is now back in Colorado for the Rapids’ preseason. The team’s core is young and features standouts such as Dillon Powers and Shane O’Neill, so there is an air of optimism around the club. But that is somewhat clouded because the team still does not have a head coach.

Recently retired U.S. international Pablo Mastroeni is running preseason workouts, but it is unclear if he is a candidate for the head coach position.

Regardless of how the coaching situation plays out, Klute is optimistic that he will be able to avoid the sophomore slump that plagues so many players in their second full season.

“I’ve been making sure that for this season I’m mentally ready because some people think that after having a good first year, the coaches and fans are expecting the same or better for the second year,” Klute said.

“This preseason I’m just making sure I’m focusing on the little things, and just keeping positive and not trying to think too much. I’m trying to keep my game the same but do better, obviously. I have good teammates around me. Expectations should be higher for our group. We want better results.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

Post a comment