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Klinsmann: “Nations League is a waste of time”

Former U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann isn’t a fan of the Concacaf Nations League.

The competition, which begins for the USMNT this month in matches against Cuba and Canada, is a new tournament which will serve as qualification for the future Concacaf Gold Cups and allow teams to fight for promotion and relegation amongst their groups. Klinsmann, who served as USMNT boss from 2011-16, feels it’s a waste of time in regards to the level of competition compared to other possible friendlies that could prepare teams for international competitions.

“It’s a waste of time, I’m telling you,” Klinsmann said in an interview with ESPN. “It’s a waste of time because you that need [that competition] as a country. I mean talking about Mexico, everyone is hoping for the fifth game in the World Cup. You’re not reaching that fifth game in the World Cup if you play the teams you are playing now in the Nations League in CONCACAF. You are not.”

“Because you need to play Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Holland and England. That is your competition. And when you have an opening for a national team window and you can maybe make one or two friendly games, you need to play Argentina or Germany and not a CONCACAF team.”

The USMNT are the second ranked team in Concacaf, following their Gold Cup Finals loss this summer to Mexico. Gregg Berhalter’s side have four matches in the competition over the next two months and will be chasing current Group A leaders Canada, who defeated Cuba twice in September.

It may not bring the glitz and glamour that other international tournaments do, but it’s a way for National Teams to retain that competitive nature over each international break. Fellow League A favorites Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras also begin play in their respective groups this month along with the USMNT. Despite it being the inaugural edition of the tournament, Klinsmann isn’t viewing it as close as opportunities to play the heavyweights of Europe, South America, and other federations in friendlies.

“I think the biggest challenge for the United States, or even Mexico or Costa Rica, for the key countries in this region, is you don’t really have the highest competition outside,” Klinsmann said. “That means when you play just within your own system, you don’t have the big matches against European countries or South American countries in order to grow your program, in order to grow your players.”

“So literally when you are kind of locked into CONCACAF and you don’t play Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Chile every year, or you don’t play Holland, Germany, England, Spain, Italy every year, you have no chance to grow. And that’s what I always said, you have to leave this region here in order to make your program better, to improve your players. And this a big, big handicap for all the players and all the programs, if it’s Mexico, Costa Rica or the United States.”

The USMNT remain favorites to top Group A over the likes of Canada and Cuba, despite the matches taking place during the busy period of domestic seasons. Berhalter’s side host Cuba on Oct. 11th at D.C. United’s Audi Field before traveling to BMO Field for their first date with Canada on Oct. 15th.


  1. Cuba is not a good team but the US will avoid most of the minnows of concacaf. And teams like Panama and Jamaica usually are really motivated when they play the U.S. If we play them away that is not an easy game.

  2. Haven’t we suffered enough? It’s not that Jurgen is wrong all the time. It’s that he won’t shut up. He loves to hear himself pontificate and act the role of the all-wise foreign star for gullible Americans.
    Of course, the USA should play some of the better teams from around the world, but, like it or not, the path to the World Cup involves beating the other CONCACAF teams first. What Jurgen never understood is that the USA’s task is different from that of European or South American teams. We need lineups and tactics that work against CONCACAF teams as well other tactics and lineups that we would use in the World Cup against better teams. Preparing for Costa Rica in an away match is likely to be different from preparing to play Ghana or Poland in the World Cup.

  3. I had to log on to have the only chance to say this.
    JK and I agree.
    JK please repeat after me, so we can agree again. “I should have never switched all but the top levels to calendar year based age groups”
    Keep the momentum rolling.

  4. To an extent, yeah, the CNL serves the purposes of the minnows needing to get games to actually develop a viable program, but at the same time with Euro/WC qualifying and UEFA NLs between both scheduling Euro teams is much tougher to do these days. Africa is disorganized and plays few friendlies. That leaves CONMEBOL and AFC…and both have relatively few viable options when you take into account it’s not just the USMNT needing good opponents.
    I also agree with the notion that we need to learn how to play and win in CONCACAF again first. Bad results here could go a long way…now whether that way is good or bad remains to be seen.

  5. need to learn to dominate our region again by playing and beating those teams, training to play and beat those teams, tactically and technically and physically preparing with a group of players who love each other. this had already been accomplished and was deconstructed from within led by the man telling us what we should do now. that is rich, LOL. and displays the man’s achilles ego, again. I have no issues playing against the Euro and South American powers, but not based on his perspective of ‘why’ which he gives. Again, he shows he doesn’t get our region…simply does not get it

  6. he has cause and effect mixed up, no surprise since he went through his rough patch, got fired, and in the process seemed reticent to make the necessary changes for a new era of soccer after the 2014 team got older. it is not playing the great teams that makes you good. or last year would have made us far better. it is instead the work, the selection changes, the tactical updates — what you do different to prepare, and then what you do different to adjust afterwards — that CAN make a big game helpful. but if you play Mexico, lose, and then run out a lot of the same people and tactics in the rematch, and lose again, no, you are actually not going to get anything out of trying to punch above your weight. i think he is selling the idea that it hones you into an uberself when his blind spot as well as GB’s is reacting to big games by making the changes that such games put up in neon. we are stubborn as mules. one game will be as good as another. it is fair to say if we beat Cuba, more of the same. but be real, if we lose to Mexico he won’t change much from that, either. so don’t oversell the idea of learning from it all.

    • if the coach and players learned from the big games — by, say, the equivalents of benching antonee robinson when he gets burned — then they might be useful. but if your response to such games is to excuse your players and justify your tactics and do the same thing next time, saying, well, that was just Mexico, you are going nowhere. you will leave the same tactics and mischosen players out there. you approach soccer that way and as long as Mexico is configured this way they will be your superior. their thing works, yours doesn’t, and yet you won’t change anything. definitional insanity.

      i also think that a more veteran team can use a big game as a reality check, but you already have to be doing well to bother, or you have to be willing to take the reality check and adjust accordingly. i don’t think us playing brazil or england right now — or at least very often — teaches you anything if it turns into a bunker game where we can’t complete a pass. one or two such games a year teaches the lesson of trying to man the barricades. over and over — well, are we trying to teach our players to create attacks and complete passes in some coherent fashion? give us opponents where i can see that.

      we are way ahead of ourselves. maybe try making the world cup before camping in qatar and pimping the idea that a regional schedule is beneath us.

  7. For all his flaws JK is right on this one. Playing pushovers instead of top teams won’t make you learn anything. And it deludes us in believing the Trapps of the world are good enough for the USMNT because they dominate Cuba…

    Also, people easily dismiss JK’s tenure as a waste, but objectively he did get memorable results for the USA:

    – USMNT got out of their toughest World Cup group EVER, despite people calling him out for his LD omission, and we were one Wondo miss away from beating a top 3 team in the round of 16

    – USMNT made the semis on the Centenario

    – We also won away in Mexico and beat Italy both for the first time ever

    So sure, JK in the end had lost the locker room etc… And sure, there were some fiascos and ugly games. But I think fans forget too easily that he actually got results when he was at the helm in the competitions that really mattered on the world stage.

    And I’m not a JK fanboy by any means, I thought removing him after the bad results in the Hex was a justifiable decision (though perhaps a bit hasty)… too bad the USSF blundered by bringing in Arena.

    • getting our heads kicked in didn’t make us better last year, did it? and there’s a certain arrogance and quixotishness in thinking you can wave a magic wand and disappear from your own region you sit in. we are not currently “above it all” nor should we encourage abstracted selection and tactics without regard to how they match up with the people we qualify against.

      • I understand your point Voice, but I feel like the recurrent Gold Cups and CONCACAF WCQ provide ample opportunities already for us to have these more “at our level opponents game” already, so that I prefer the cold reality checks of facing top teams, because that will be a quicker Darwinian way to see who belongs and who doesn’t.

        Because ultimately, the only thing that matters for US Soccer is progressing far in a World Cup, and in those games past group stages you will be facing the Germanys and Argentinas of the world. So might as well get used to the highest level – tells you how far you need to go and who has the x-factor to compete when all accelerates.

        Just my 2 cents, though I can easily see the other side of the story too!

      • So, you think it is better to play Canada and Cuba instead of top European or South American teams? That is the issue, not how well we did under Klinsmann or if we dominate our region or not (before 2017 we did dominate). We had one bad run in qualifying and all of a sudden some fans think we’re only good enough to play in CONCACAF Panama’s success was based on players who are too old now, Honduras isn’t so tough anymore either, and Costa Rica’s best players like Ruiz and Oviedo are just about over the hill. While I question a lot of Berhalter’s player selection, we have a lot of players in top flight leagues who are young and only going to get better. Set your sights low and you’ll never go high.

  8. Just because JK lost his team at the end of his tenure doesn’t mean some of his points aren’t valid. And just because the USMNT has been in a rut for the past +-2 years doesn’t mean it wouldn’t benefit from playing better teams than Cuba.

    JK was all about dreaming big and reaching for the next level but was lacking in technical expertise and game management without Low by his side. But it seems the pendulum has swung too far to the other side with GB who seems to be all about the X’s and O’s but is not doing much to push American players to challenge themselves in better leagues.

    We can get all depressed and say that Canada and Cuba are now “our level”, and maybe that’s true at the moment, but why would anyone dispute that the USMNT would benefit from playing up to the next level? I’d rather our boys lose some tough games to European powers than beat the Cubas and Honduras on a regular basis.

    • it’s a fib, i am sorry. when UEFA teams like belgium, france, and spain qualify for their 2020 regional tournament, or even their WCQ, someone gets Gibraltar, Faroe, Andorra, Malta, etc. kind of like anyone paying attention would notice we beat certain South American teams like ecuador every time we see them. they have their minnows too.

  9. Unfortunately, Canada and Cuba is our level now. Really amazing how far we have fallen in the past few years.

    It won’t be a total waste of time if we use these games to cap tie Dest or Ledezma .. but we probably won’t

    The day US Soccer gets their act together I hope we playing more important games than this tournament. Until then USA vs Canada is a pretty good match up

  10. Before the last Hex, I probably would have agreed with JK. But the fact is that we need to get back into the weeds of our region in order to top it once again. This stupid NL does give us the opty to see these potential qualifying competitors on their turf – lets our kids get familiar with the grind.

  11. We played better teams under klinnsman and had Copa america in us and still lost to concacaf teams that we should have beaten under his premise glad he’s gone waiting on berhalter to be fired I will enjoy that day very much.

    • Damn! That’s pretty biased, FAIRjudge! Who’s your pick for manager? It’s ok, if people, want Berhalter fired. It’s condescending to the rest of us, when you don’t say who’s the managers replacement! Again, who’s your manager, once Berhalter is fired?

  12. Yes, he screwed up qualifying with Arena for 2018. But just dismissing what he said out of hand because of your personal bias against him does no one and good.

    He brings up many valid points which he was consistent on. To get better you must challenge yourself, and that gotta for everyone. In this case, I agree with him.

    However, just because I agree with him here doesn’t mean i won’t call him out for how he completely mismanaged the team at the start of 2018 qualifying.

    • his point is bull. look at last year’s schedule. look at this year’s results. getting brained by england colombia italy etc. didn’t up our game. to me it’s more a finishing school schedule than what an inexperienced team needs.

  13. Coming from a coach who couldn’t tie costa Rica in qualifying beat Mexico at home during qualifying and lost to jamaica in gold cup semis. What about brazil 2014 where concacaf teams did fairly well. At the end of the day it’s about team style of play and how well they adapt and deploy that system as any major tournament goes on not who you played in friendlies!

  14. ““So literally when you are kind of locked into CONCACAF (playing and losing to inferior opponents) and you don’t play Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Chile every year, or you don’t play Holland, Germany, England, Spain, Italy every year, you have no chance to grow”… other words you END UP FIELDING PLAYERS LIKE WIL TRAPP, GYASI ZARDES, CRISTIAN ROLDAN, MICHAEL BRADLEY 0.5, thinking you have a team, then wonder why you get destroyed when you go up against a formattable opponent. Hahahaha we hear you Klinsy, loud and clear ??

  15. well, his story never changes even when our situation does. i think he’s on his own special planet. we can’t beat Mexico so the traditional “we’re better than our region” arrogance rings hollow. right now we need to beat our region first before getting all uppity. and if scheduling the best made us better then the buzzsaw sarachan was put through last year should have made us awesome. it didn’t. i think JK confuses what might be good for a veteran team with a stable corps of players who know their roles in a tailored system, eg, USA in 2009-10, with the stripped-to-the-studs do-over we have, playing with less than their best players in a forced formation.

    • part of me wants to chest thump and act like canada and cuba are beneath us but i think BMO away will actually be a contest we will have to earn. at which point in practical terms JK’s abstracted theory evaporates………..i also think his blind spot that there are plenty of teams worth playing from africa and asia is odd from a guy with an asian wife. ghana was a rival for a while. we used to play korea and japan.

    • THere are a few guys who obviously didn’t like JK posting on this. Say what you want, but he’s a missed sitter by Wondo from taking the team to the round of 8. Yeah, he DEFINITELY had his limitations, but up until the lat 8 months or so, we were better because he was around. He’s a lousy game coach, and probably a lousy practice coach. But he was a great recruiter, and his “push yourself” mentality is what many guys needed. But the fact is that very few leaders can be in place for a long period of time and not lose their influence over the organization/team. The ones that can stay and maintain the optimal level of production are special – Joe Torre (I am a Red Sox fan), Belichek (I think he cheats), etc. That’s why there is so much turn over in the Business world, Professional Sports, and maybe should be more in the political realm. JK lost the locker room, he had help. There were some really selfish players on that team, but he is responsible to lead them all. That’s why they paid him the big dollars. I echo the thoughts of someone earlier. To dismiss his thoughts just because you don’t like him, or think you can’t learn something from him, is foolish. “Everyman knows something I don’t know, thus every man can be my teacher.” – Dale Carnegy.


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