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U.S. Men's National Team

Klinsmann Roundtable: The Coach Had Plenty to Say

The United States men's national team coach met with a select group of reporters Wednesday to discuss players, fitness, and much more. ASN's Brian Sciaretta had a seat at the table and has lots to share.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 12, 2015
2:06 PM
PHILADELPHIA—U.S. national team head coach met with a small contingent of reporters on Wednesday night to discuss a wide range of topics regarding the direction of the national team program as the Gold Cup approaches. The topics ranged from his recent public comments on fitness to FIFA international dates to the status of a few of his key players.

Here is an edited collection of Klinsmann's comments.


The first topic discussed was fitness and this was brought about by recent comments Klinsmann made during the January camp about how some of the players came into camp unfit for international competition.

Klinsmann was quick to point out that taking the month of December off was problematic even if some of the players deserve a vacation following the MLS season.

“The fact is that if they have a month off—let’s say it is the month of December—they deserve that month,” Klinsmann said. “You usually need two more months to get back to that level that you left off with. So if they take a four-to-six week vacation, and some of them had longer vacations, it is very difficult for them to come into camp for a senior national team program. It’s really difficult. It’s tough. The national team players coming out of Europe or South America, they have a maximum of three or four weeks vacation.”

The problem Klinsmann indicated was that he found the American culture to be too relaxed on vacation for athletes and he insisted that staying active, even during the offseason, was essential to success.

“This is another thing that is common here: ‘I have vacation, so I don’t do anything. It’s a vacation,’” Klinsmann said in his assessment. “I don’t know about the NBA or the other big sports but vacation is actually still doing something. I play tennis, I go for runs, yoga, Pilates, whatever. But I keep going. We have a culture here in the U.S. where, ‘I lay on the beach and I have a good time.’ To bring them up to speed, and that is why they kind of suffer so much, going through these double sessions a day is because they lost far too much. If they would have kept themselves going, a jog a day or ride the bike for an hour or two along the beach or whatever, then their system stays alive.

“By benchmarking them, I am not trying to intimidate them,” he added. “I am not trying to take their fun away. I am just trying to explain to them in a [beep] test, a stamina test, the benchmark cannot be lower than 3,200 meters. It’s just a norm. If you’re below 3,200 meters, then in a game at the international level, you start to struggle after half an hour. By an hour? Forget it.”

In discussing fitness, Klinsmann referred to Jordan Morris, who was called up to the U.S. national team for multiple friendlies in 2014 after the World Cup. He continues to rate Morris very highly and wanted to introduce him to the international level even if it is remarkably difficult for the college season to prepare him for the transition to the highest level directly.

“Taking the example, a college player comes into our program and is highly talented,” Klinsmann said. “I know by looking at it in training, and keeping the intensity in training sessions, I see going back and forward, and we want to defend and attack as a unit, that he falls apart pretty quickly. Does he have the talent to play with these guys? Absolutely he has the talent. That’s why he’s there. But I say, 'If I really want to bring this guy to my level, I [maybe] can give him 20 minutes.’ In 20 minutes, he will do well and everyone will say, ‘Wow, look at this kid.’ But as a starter? You would probably need to substitute him at the latest at halftime. It’s part of that building process.”

Increased use of data analytics

One thing that Klinsmann has been adamant about is using data to evaluate the fitness and performance of his players. As of now, U.S. Soccer is planning on developing a department based at the StubHub Center to evaluate this data.

“I think data helps to what extent you want to use it,” Klinsmann said. “I think it is good to use it going forward once we have that department together just to show our players based on what we expect from them and how we want them to play.”

Klinsmann then went on to discuss the use of analytics in the global game.

“I think overall, coaches are happy with getting the data,” Klinsmann said of the use of analytics in Europe. “How quickly do you release the ball? One-two touches. How quickly you get into transition? How quickly is your transition into your defensive shape? How you connect your backline right away and the midfielders and shape-wise? I think there is a lot of good data to use. The danger right now is especially in Italy and in Germany: I would say you have coaches from two different worlds—the ones that want to be on the front foot of all these ideas, data driven.” “Then you have the coach that is more out of his stomach,” he said. “He molds the right team together. It’s coming more from the emotional side instead of the analytical side. It’s pretty cool to see that because I know quite a lot of the coaches there. I see who is going which way.”

Klinsmann was adamant that his use of analytics is not going to lock his players into one particular style of play.

“You don’t look at it and say there is anything wrong with a team that builds it slower out of the back or takes more touches or if they kind of find their way to grind their opponent and get their result,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with that. But [data] characterizes teams and how they express themselves. You have counter-break teams, you have possession-oriented teams, you have teams that are physical and grind it out old-style. It’s always down to the identity of the club or the national team program—how they want to do it. It helps us to say one day we want to high pressure, one day play more in the opponent’s half, play quickly out of the back… it helps you to define your own direction. I think the data is very helpful.”

Dual national players on the horizon

Klinsmann did not wish to disclose too much about the dual-national players he is seeking out since many of the situations are unsettled. He said that it was remarkable to see how many Americans currently live abroad.

“With Ventura Alvarado, we have a kid we have watched several times,” Klinsmann said. “William Yarbrough, the goalie at Club Leon, we like him a lot. We are in touch with these two. There are a couple of youngsters in Germany coming through with the possibilities to play for us. There is one kid in England.”

Tactical deficiencies of the U.S. team

Klinsmann indicated that he has watched the U.S.—Belgium game from the 2014 World Cup nearly a half a dozen times. He doesn’t regret any of the decisions he made that day but instead places emphasis that the tactical approach from the team must be better.

Klinsmann emphasized that he was very pleased with the work his team put in leading up to the World Cup, physically, and that each of his players was at his top fitness level. For now, he said that was just the first step and a difficult path is ahead to be able to compete against the world’s top national teams.

“When you invest a lot of energy like we did for the World Cup, where we outworked the opponent but did not necessarily outplay the opponent, it shows you that we are also behind tactically,” Klinsmann said. “We build the foundation of having the physical capabilities to go full speed with them but we also at the same time need to develop smarter players and players that are capable to technically outplay them and tactically be faster.

"Shifting fast and closing down gaps and doing all those things you need to do in order to avoid 20 or 25 shots on goal from Belgium. You look at it and you say, ‘They gave everything they had. Look at that. Their work rate, it was all in.’ But the reality was we opened the game up to Belgium. That was the reality. The midfield didn’t do its job to filter a lot of balls. It was their job to go one on one against guys we told them to. The backline was just, 'Holy moly—there’s a storm coming at me.’ And Tim Howard was just [save after save]. This was just the learning curve we talked about style of play.

“In order to become more dictating and more proactive and more kind of putting your stamp on the game, the backbone will be your physical capability to do that but the next level is quicker shifting, staying compact, staying within 35 yards. [We’ve been telling them] most of the last three years to keep it within 35 yards from the backline to the attacker. The moment you open up to 50-60 yards, you give too much space away. Good teams punish you if you give them space.

“I watched this game over and over,” Klinsmann added. “Holy moly, there’ a big learning curve ahead of us.”

Julian Green

Of all the players currently in the national team pool, no one is in as difficult a situation as Julian Green who is in a dire situation at Hamburg where he is not playing for the first team. Only recently did he play for the second team but on Tuesday, Kicker questioned Green's effort in the game, saying he was only “back passing” and “jogging.”

Despite that, Klinsmann remains upbeat on Green’s long-term prospects.

“I got involved in it,” Klinsmann said of Green’s situation at Hamburg. “A couple of things were said in not the right way. He was surprised that he was suddenly asked to play for the second team. And he kind of felt not being appreciated and not being considered good enough to start for the first team. It was tough for him. He thought about that process and he talked with the club and eventually he now plays for the second team just to stay in a rhythm.

"They are keen on him that he will break through. I think it is a good learning curve right now. Yes, when you come to another Bundesliga team from Bayern Munich, you are seen different. It’s not Julian’s fault. It’s just the way it is. They expect you to be their savior and score two goals every game. That’s not Julian Green yet. He’s 19-years-old. He’s a player to be developed.”

Like he is with most of his players, Klinsmann is involved in Green's professional development. He has spoken to both Green and the club to try to resolve their issues.

“I tell him, ‘This is a learning experience. You gotta go through that. It won’t be the last time you go through those emotions. You think you should be higher up and maybe you’re right, maybe not. The coach sees this, you see that. This is just important for you just to stay on track. It’s not easy for him because he said that he set for himself the highest expectations.

“Before you hear somebody say, ‘Oh, he didn’t want to play because he thinks he’s a Bayern Munich kid.’ That’s not the case. He wants to play but he wants to understand why things happen. In this case, actually the coach didn’t tell him why he’s not playing. So I had to call Hamburg and say, ‘If that’s the case, talk.’”

Klinsmann left the door open that Green could play for the United States U-23 team during the March international dates despite the fact that the Florida-born winger has been a regular national team player for a year now.

“If you have maybe a Julian being in a tough situation, you talk through it and say, 'What is best for him in two weeks?’”

John Brooks

While Green’s situation is a problem, Klinsmann is very pleased with how John Brooks has progressed this season at Hertha Berlin. Back in October, the tall central defender when through his own issues at the club when he was sent briefly to the reserve team after a few poor outings.

Brooks is eligible for the U.S. U-23 team right now and while he could potentially be used in Olympic qualifying and the Olympics, Klinsmann said Brooks is a full national team player. “Right now, he’s with us.”

“He has played very, very impressive in the few games after the World Cup and also with Hertha Berlin,” Klinsmann said. “He fought himself through the whole up and down at the beginning of the season. Now he’s playing on a very, very high level which is very fun to watch. And I hear that from quite a lot of coaches that he made a huge step forward since the World Cup and also since the beginning of the season.

“He’s really establishing himself as a leader of that backline at a very young age,” Klinsmann later added. “That’s actually what they always told us over the last few years, the people at Hertha Berlin. There were other Bundesliga clubs after him. He’s settling in. He’s getting it.”

DeAndre Yedlin

DeAndre Yedlin was one of the breakout players for the U.S. national team in 2014 where he earned rave reviews for his play at the World Cup. He also continued to play well for Seattle and this allowed him to secure a move to Tottenham of the English Premier League. So far, Yedlin has yet to play for Tottenham’s first team.

Klinsmann believes that Yedlin has the potential and talent to make it in the Premier League but the learning curve is steep going from a second-year MLS professional to a very strong Premier League team.

Like Brooks, Yedlin is also age-eligible for the U-23 Olympic team but suggested Yedlin is still a first-team player.

“With DeAndre, you want him to play games,” Klinsmann said. “That’s why I asked Tottenham to release him for these [past] two games—which thankfully they did. He’s just now starting that learning process where maybe Julian is in the middle of it. DeAndre gets an introduction into a roster of maybe 28-30 players and only 18 can be considered for the weekend game. So he goes through that learning curve now. With his talent and potential and capabilities he’s very important for the [United States] senior team already.

“He’s in the right spot because he needs to grow,” he added. “He will grow eventually even if he’s not playing right now. He will grow.”

In the past, Klinsmann has made frequent comments on his desire for players to step outside of their comfort zones. Yedlin has done that and despite the lack of minutes with the North London-based club, Klinsmann said it was the right decision to make the move.

“It’s absolutely the right thing for him to do,” Klinsmann said. “It will take time. It will take time for Julian. It took time for Timmy Chandler. It took time for all of them overseas. Look through it. These years are learning years. There are up and downs. They are difficult.”

Alfredo Morales

Alfredo Morales has earned more and more time with the national team in recent years but the German-born central midfielder has yet to emerge as an important part of Klinsmann's team.

The coach remains very high on Morales, however, saying that at first he was skeptical of Morales' move from Hertha Berlin to Ingolstadt. But that mindset has since changed.

“Alfredo left [Hertha] and he was one of their highest-rated kids in their development program—their U-19 and U-23,” Klinsmann said. “They said this kid really is special. Then suddenly he goes to Ingolstadt. I called him, ‘What are you doing?’ [He said:] ‘Well, I don’t feel like I am getting that support because I am kind of a homegrown and I am not getting the appreciation. I gotta do it differently. I am going to go down to division two and prove myself.' I thought to myself, ‘Holy moly, you’re at Hertha Berlin already.’

“Now, he’s taking them up to the first league,” Klinsmann added. “In almost every game, he’s among the top three players when I talk to people there.”

Greg Garza

Greg Garza also drew praise from Klinsmann, especially in light of his emergence as the starting left back for Liga MX leaders Club Tijuana.

What Klinsmann found so satisfying is that Garza has been able to move into the team while taking very little time to adjust to the new environment. He recalls being impressed with Garza during a U.S. national team scrimmage against Tijuana at a January camp. At the time, Garza was on the bench behind fellow American Edgar Castillo.

“We scrimmaged them in the January Camp,” Klinsmann recalled. “I saw Greg and I said, 'Just keep going and I’ll see you down the road.’ But he was only a bench player for Tijuana until the World Cup. After the World Cup, Edgar goes to Atlas and Greg comes in and he’s like set in stone. When he comes in, he’s playing like he was always with us.”

Gedion Zelalem

Klinsmann did not have any update on the situation regarding Zelalem’s clearance with FIFA—only that it was still pending. As for whether or not Zelalem would be shifted to either the U.S. U-20 or U.S. U-23 team should FIFA sign off on his request to play for the United States, Klinsmann did leave the door open for his participation with U.S. youth national teams.

Klinsmann said that Zelalem's first call-up, once eligible, will probably be with the full U.S. national team so that Klinsmann can observe first-hand how he fits into the environment. He also said that he thinks Zelalem can help the full team right now.

“Definitely, I would like to see him with me first,” Klinsmann said. “I want to see how he interacts with the group and what level he’s at. [After that], it’s totally in the open to have him play with the U-23s or with the U-20s for Tab. But he’s a special case. I think he’s already at a level where he can definitely play on the senior team.”

State of American youth development

As the discussion shifted toward the development of young American players, Klinsmann said that the biggest challenge is to keep players hungry for more success. He laments that too often top young players become satisfied too early with only modest achievements.

It is a problem that goes beyond developing talented players and includes fixing the external environments around the young athletes.

“I just always look at a player and I see the talent,” Klinssmann said. “I kind of see the potential of him and say, ‘Ok, if everything is in place for you infrastructure-wise, you have the right attitude and the right kind of mindset—this player could become very special.' But then there are so many other pieces that fall suddenly into it—the family, the agent, the so-called friends—when does he reach the stomach-level that, ‘I’ve made it.’ For some, they say they’ve made it when they’ve signed in college, the next one for a pro league, the next one when they’re in Europe. When you’ve made it in Europe? Where in Europe? What do you mean you’ve made it?”

“What I am just trying to say is that I see their talent,” he added. “And then I think that if this kid would put everything in his capabilities to give it all he has with his coaches, with his club, but also his own approach saying, ‘OK I will do that extra work to meet the standards that are asked from me.’ Then I think for a lot of these kids the sky is the limit.”

During the discussion, Klinsmann also said that he saw the talent on the U.S. U-17 team and the potential but then even added that these players could face the struggles that have plagued many young American players.

“But then probably some of these U-17s, you probably want to talk about it in four, five years and say, 'Where did this kid end up?' It’s their entire environment that drives them. You just hope that hopefully it’s pushing it and that they’re not getting content too early or signing their first contract thinking, ‘Oh, now I am actually good.’

“A lot of that happens now in academies,” Klinsmann continued. “As soon as they commit to a Division 1 school? Boom. They’re dropping. I talk to academy coaches that say, ‘I’m so fed up with these 17-year-olds that just committed to college and now they’re done—a half a year before the academy season is over.’ They’re relaxed because they don’t have anything to prove anymore. This is kind of the social aspect of it where we don’t know how driven every one of these kids’ environment is to stay on their toes.”

U.S. Soccer advising young players

In November U.S. Soccer announced that Nelson Rodriguez would head up a new job within the federation to advise young players about how, when, and where to begin their professional careers.

While many have speculated that perhaps Klinsmann is eager to send players to Europe and bypass MLS, Klinsmann is quick to dispute that notion.

“I am absolutely not,” he said. “My highest interest is that no matter where, he is playing and that he is getting challenged and that he starts to grind it and he starts to find a way getting through it and show everybody that he has to play. You look at [LA Galaxy and U.S. U-20 forward] Bradford Jamieson, you want this kid to play and play. Show me what you have, go higher, if he does it at the Galaxy or Pulisic does it at Dortmund, I don’t really care. We need to see these guys playing games—30, 35, 40 games a year, training every day. When I talk about an 11-month season, take your four-week vacation—active vacation. But the other stuff is training, games, rhythm but obviously the higher your environment is challenging you, the more he will come at a higher level.”

Jordan Morris elected to return to college at Stanford University despite earning a cap and multiple callups for the U.S. team. Klinsmann cited him as an example of a player who would benefit from advice by Rodriguez.

“We talk about that all the time,” Klinsmann said. “I am not talking about, 'Jordan Morris—you have to sign for the Sounders now' because the Sounders want him badly. I talked to Sigi about him and I told him, ‘Sigi, whatever he does now, I’ll help. We are here to help and to push it.’ But I talk to the kids and how many games would he play for the Sounders right now? Well he has 20-25 games with Stanford where they beat the [expletive] out of him because he’s a national team player. And then he trains with the Sounders in his off time. Maybe we can give him some training time overseas just for the fun of it. But he plays games. A kid should kind of have at least the advice from our end to see where in reality would you play X amount of games?

“Nelson [Rodriguez’s] role become really important to us,” Klinsmann concluded. “That is also new to us. We built that a few months ago – his advisory office for our young players. [To answer their questions:] What should I do? What do I need to know? What if I sign a contract? What if I have an agent? How do I deal with it because there is no educational path for soccer players out there to become professionals?

"It’s not that you go to college and learn it and after four years, you know the majority of it. No, it’s just learn by doing. I signed my first deal and I was not even 16.”

Thoughts on Klinsmann's thoughts? We want to hear your take in the Comments section below.

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

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