Photo by Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports
By RYAN TOLMICH
The U.S. Men’s National Team is less than a week away from kicking off the Gold Cup, but Friday night brings one last opportunity for the team to fine-tune ahead of the crucial summer tournament.
The U.S is set to take on Guatemala at Nissan Stadium on Friday night in Nashville, Tennessee, giving head coach Jurgen Klinsmann one last chance to eye his roster before deciding on starters for the Gold Cup opener against Honduras next Tuesday.
Klinsmann is planning to feature many of the regulars from the start of the game against the Guatemalans, but also intends to take full advantage of the six substitutions that are available in friendlies. That way, he can get a real sense of who is ready for the Gold Cup.
“I think the game against Guatemala will give us a really big hint toward the starting eleven a couple of days later in Dallas against Honduras,” said Klinsmann. “In the friendly with Guatemala we have the chance to use six subs. We will use all six subs most likely to give the players minutes and give them a chance to show us what they have.
“As we get closer to the opening game we’re going to zoom in and plan through hopefully a long tournament.”
Heading into the Guatemala friendly, much of Klinsmann’s focus has been on his side’s fitness. The head coach, as usual, is looking to make sure his team is among the most in-shape in the tournament.
The summer months present the added challenge of reinvigorating the European and Mexican imports, as they look to return to peak fitness after some time off following the conclusion of their club seasons.
Klinsmann, however, is far from concerned with fitness issues, meaning the Guatemala match will see the U.S. staff look more at player chemistry than physical readiness.
“We are pleased with the shape that the players were in coming in, especially the ones that were on a break,” Klinsmann said. “They had their training plans and they followed them, but still you’re not in a team environment and you’re not in a game rhythm. It’s really our job to get them up to game speed and get them sharp as quickly as possible, and with sharpness and physical shape comes confidence.
“Overall it’s going well. We are now days away from the game in Guatemala, which is an important benchmark for us because we can clearly see where our players stand right now. We hope for a good atmosphere and a good game for our guys. It’s this kind of spirit we hope to carry into the Gold Cup from the beginning on.”
With fitness of little concern, the Guatemala friendly comes as a chance to assess players and build confidence within the group. Klinsmann is expecting his players to not only appear strong vs. the Guatemalans, but throughout a Gold Cup tournament that could give the U.S. a ticket to the 2017 Confederations Cup.
“Well the message to the team is very straight forward. We are under the expectations of winning this tournament,” Klinsmann said. “Even if we know that teams like Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico all are very good teams and can also beat us, you’ve got to be on top of things. You’ve got to be very disciplined, you’ve got to be focused, and in a CONCACAF tournament you’ve got to be patient.
“We told the players right from the beginning that it’s expected that we go through it with a lot of discipline and with a lot of aggressiveness and a lot determination, and that they represent the most amazing country in the world and that they always keep in mind who they represent and what they stand for. It’s with that spirit we want to go into this Gold Cup.”