US Head Coach and Technical Director Jürgen Klinsmann has made a habit out of challenging the established orthodoxies about Major League Soccer. His latest salvo involves match fitness of several of his US National Team players who ply their trade in the domestic top-flight league. Speaking with MLSSoccer.com, Klinsmann took exception to the fitness regime and culture around many of his players.
“It’s difficult for me now to get them out of vacation. Some of them played their last game in October. In October!” he said. “I want to help them get back into shape, get back into rhythm, but, oh, by the way, we’re going to play [two friendlies]. So some learned over time and prepared themselves really well, and some don’t have that knowledge yet.
“They don’t have that ‘Oh, okay, at the beginning of December, go to Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix and get myself fit.’ That culture we don’t have yet. What the other sports are doing really well, they use their preparation for preseason, four to six weeks prior to going into preseason with their NBA team, NFL team of whatever, they go to these fitness institutes and they get themselves fit.”
Klinsmann has stated that the players are exposed to the right techniques thanks to the US staff. However he claims, “the culture is not there. They’ve got all the material. They should have done that [work] twice a day, but reality is still different. Reality is, education-wise, we are not there yet, that they understand, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that.’ It’s a lot to discuss. It’s fine. It’s just where we are right now, and we want to keep improving.”
The level of training in Major League Soccer has long lagged behind Europe and the issue of professionalism among American players seems to be an issue every time a field player from the United States moves to a European league after playing in MLS or college soccer. The reality is clear – the culture is not there and the lack of professionalism around MLS and much of the American game is the culprit. Having said that, Klinsmann picks the team and chose to start Brek Shea against Chile — who not only flopped at Stoke but had his loan terminated quickly at Barnsley who were relegated months later. When you choose to start a player that has played only a handful of competitive matches in the last 18 months, you really don’t have much of a basis to complain. Shea, who recently signed for Orlando City in Major League Soccer, scored an early goal in the 3-2 loss to Chile last week but looked gassed and unable to fulfill his defensive responsibilities in the 3-5-2 formation the head coach opted to trial during part of the match.
Klinsmann has become an expert at diverting attention after losses. While friendly results should not matter much, the form of the United States since the World Cup is a major concern. In the last three and a half years, we have heard lots of fluffy rhetoric from Klinsmann about style of play and technical direction. Much of it is valid, but the failure to settle on a formation or playing style have raised more questions than answers.
Certainly, Klinsmann’s critiques about Major League Soccer and other issues related to American players are valid. But the big question now is whether or not those criticisms, which can be easily made in Klinsmann’s role as Technical Director, either conflict with or mask his failures as the head coach of the United States Men’s National Team.
In time, the culture of players in the United States will have to change or the national team program will not progress. Klinsmann understands this deeply, and is on the money with his publicly articulated views. But these comments cannot completely mask the failings of recent United States performances. The level of play will have to improve in the near future for Klinsmann to be completely isolated from criticism himself when he makes these sorts of valid comments going forward.
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