Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
One of the biggest lessons that U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann wants to impart on his team is that the 2014 World Cup won’t be easy.
Considering that the USMNT has to play Ghana, Portugal, and Germany in their group, it was never going to be an easy proposition on the field alone. But in this case what Klinsmann is referring to is off the field issues.
With the host nation Brazil spending more money on stadiums rather than projects like improving public transportation and hotels, there’s a high chance that the U.S., and every team at the World Cup for that matter, will have to make the best out of every situation. For example, the USMNT already dealt with the unexpected three-hour layover in Rio de Janeiro after their flight to Sao Paulo was diverted due to weather.
“It was really helpful these two weeks for the team, but also for everybody involved with U.S. Soccer to experience our team base hotel in Sao Paulo, to train at the Sao Paulo FC facility, to meet the people, to get around the city and get a feel for it,” Klinsmann told reporters at the StubHub Center. “We have a much better picture now of what to expect and what will challenge us.
“Therefore, it’s important to give the players some feedback, ‘Listen guys, not everything is going to be perfect. We have to be very tolerant and patient with things.’ If we know that in advance and we adjust to it right away mentally, then it’s no big deal. It’s no problem at all.”
While in Brazil, Klinsmann was able to visit all three group stage venues in Natal, Recife, and Manaus. The USMNT faces Ghana in Natal and Germany in Recife, but much of the narrative revolves around the USMNT’s trip to the heart of the Amazon in the middle of summer.
In addition to heavy humidity and high temperatures, the trip from Sao Paulo to Manaus will be more than 1,660 miles of traveling, nearly equivalent to the travel between Denver and New York. Klinsmann however has decided not to focus on the perceived negatives and instead let his team experience the city and everything there is to offer.
“Before (the World Cup draw) you (could) say, ‘If I could avoid the flight there and playing under those conditions that would be nice,’” Klinsmann said. “Once the draw was done, there was no complaint anymore from our end because both teams will play under the same circumstances. It’s going to be a little hotter than other places.
“The place itself is absolutely gorgeous. To be in Manaus is an experience. I want the players to take it all in. This is something unique. The people there are extremely excited. They are so excited to host World Cup games and they are a different face of Brazil. That’s what a World Cup is about, to see the different faces of a country, and Manaus is one of those different faces. I’m really looking forward to it now. The stadium is absolutely gorgeous. They have some challenges, and other places as well with training sites or hotels or whatever, but with the trip that’s what we have to adjust to.”
If the Brazil trip was helpful for the players understanding the challenges ahead, it also gave those players a chance to put themselves within arms reach of making the World Cup squad.
Players such as Sporting Kansas City pair Matt Besler and Graham Zusi and LA Galaxy pair Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez are virtual locks for Brazil. But players like Mike Magee and Dax McCarty, two MLS lifers, could find themselves suddenly in the squad with a strong showing in training camp and at the start of the upcoming MLS season.
“The good thing about this camp is we widened the pool,” Klinsmann said. “I told all the guys, ‘Listen, in soccer a lot of things happen in a short amount of time, so it’s all about timing, it’s about how you prepare yourself the couple of months before a big tournament and what you show on the field.’ God forbid other things happen with injuries or [players are] out of shape, whatever it is. Now, the door is always open until the middle of May when we cut it down to the 23 guys.
“What we see is a very competitive group in this January camp. Guys that badly want to give you an impression. The training sessions have all been intense; they all came physically prepared for this camp. We tested them right away the first week and we never had these results before, very good. We all left it to them, saying, ‘build your case’.
With only two games scheduled before Klinsmann must submit a preliminary list of 30 players (on May 13), the former World Cup winner is running out of time to evaluate his squad and make his choices. But even with time running short, Klinsmann says the USMNT’s upcoming game against South Korea will give a chance to the players to prove what they learned in the January camp.
“It’s a game at the end of January camp where you want to see the players implement the things we worked on in these three-and-a-half weeks,” Klinsmann said. “You want to see the progress they made throughout the camp to get an idea of where they are individually. It helps to finish [the camp] off with a game or maybe two because it’s something they are looking forward to.
“The couple of months before the World Cup, everybody wants to set a tone, not only for themselves individually but as an entire group you want to get positive results wherever you can because that always helps the atmosphere around the National Team. At the same time, we know it’s only part of preparation towards the World Cup, but when a game like Saturday’s comes along and then Ukraine in March, it gives you something to focus on and give the players the opportunity to prove where they are right now as of today.”