Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Clint Dempsey’s form may not be where it was a year ago, but Jurgen Klinsmann is seeing progress nonetheless.
The U.S. Men’s National Team head coach recently sat down with ussoccer.com to touch on the current standing of several players and said that he saw improvement from Dempsey during the recent three-day camp ahead of the Ukraine friendly earlier this month. Dempsey was not an overwhelming force as the Americans lost that match, 2-0, but Klinsmann said there were positives to take away from how the 31-year-old veteran performed in camp after a two-month loan stint at Fulham that was not as productive as many had expected.
“Clint is on the right path,” said Klinsmann, who looked and sounded relieved at the tail end of his Dempsey comments. “Clint is looking a lot sharper, a lot better than at the end of last year. He struggled with injuries, the whole transition back from Europe into MLS, different type of a game, turf field in Seattle. All those things you can see now are left behind.
“He prepared very professionally these two (months) in Fulham. It didn’t work out on the field the way everybody hoped because the team is in a different stage right now than it was maybe 2-3 years ago when he was at Fulham. But for him personally, it was very, very important these two months at Fulham, getting back into a rhythm, getting back into shape and he looks a lot, lot better than at the end of the last year. We are very positive on Clint’s path and it makes us feel a lot better towards the World Cup.”
Jozy Altidore was another player Klinsmann discussed in depth. Klinsmann acknowledged that the 24-year-old forward is still going through some tough times at Sunderland, but added that Altidore has evolved as a result of these struggles.
Altidore has not scored for the relegation-threatened and offensively inconsistent Black Cats since December and has recently been in and out of the lineup, missing the past two weeks’ cup matches.
“Going now also through stretches of kind of a bit of negative moments is maturing, is understanding more and more what this job is about, to be a professional soccer player, it’s a real 24/7 job,” said Klinsmann. “You can see it in his way how he deals in training sessions, how he articulates himself off the field, how he lives this profession now is very, very different than 2-3 years ago. He went through this big learning curve and you want now to see him get rewarded for that as well because he knows now what it is, he’s putting the work in there, but at the end of the day obviously it’s his club coach who decides if he’s playing or not.
“Making the jump from Holland to the Premier League is a huge jump, and he knew that and he took that risk and it is a risk when you move from one club where you feel like, ‘I’m in my nest,’ to a big Premier League team that you leave your comfort zone basically and now he has to fight his way back into their way of doing it. He has to convince that coach and that team – which is a new coach since he came in actually – and go through that period and it’s just part of professional life. We are sure that he’s going to go through that difficult moment and he’s going to win that battle, and we’re going to have a very, very strong Jozy Altidore going to Brazil.”
Klinsmann also spoke about what he saw from young phenom Julian Green. The 18-year-old forward has been garnering lots of attention this season after making his way through to reigning German Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League winners Bayern Munich’s first team.
Green took part in his first U.S. camp ahead of the friendly with Ukraine, but did not play in the match so as to not cap-tie himself. Green, a German-American, is currently provisionally tied to Germany after playing its Under-19 team last year, but has not decided on where his long-term future lies just yet.
Klinsmann, however, is hoping the recent camp and American camaraderie left enough of a lasting impression on Green to the point he winds up choosing the U.S. in the not too distant future.
“We learned definitely about Julian Green, I mean we knew it kind of already, but we got it confirmed in these two days training with us that this is a very, very special talent,” said Klinsmann. “This is a player that has a tremendous potential going forward. He’s very skillful, both-footed, he’s very calm on the ball, technically, very, very gifted, has tremendous pace, he’s calm in front of the goal, so we did a lot of specific exercies because we had those two days to work with him in certain areas and he’s a good character, too.
“We have this big hope that he will down the road chose his path with the United States instead of with Germany. We explained to him how things work with us. I think he had a good feel for all his teammates, future teammates hopefully. They welcomed him with open arms, and so we’re building a strong case. He has to make the decision, he and his family, and we hope that he makes it pro the United States, but he has tremendous potential.”