Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – explaining Jermaine Jones

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I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast late last week with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.

Over the next week or so, we will extract one element of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.

Today’s topic: Jermaine Jones

I have written these words before: “What Jurgen Klinsmann continues to see in Jermaine Jones, only he can say.”

Well now Klinsmann has said. And his explanation makes pretty good sense.

Where we see the imprecise passes and a combustible type who is a yellow card waiting to happen, Klinsmann sees the cumulative effect of a midfield cop on the beat – the guy you want on your side when the you-know-what comes down.

Said Klinsmann: “I know that a lot of people here look differently at Jermaine Jones … but his presence is a big plus for us …. It’s just a different type of player than you are used to seeing here in the U.S., that’s why some people struggle to kind of evaluate Jermaine Jones. Which is fine. That’s no problem.”

The bottom line on Jones, the hard-tackling central midfielder from Germany’s FC Schalke 04, is that whatever technical deficiencies drag down his game, Jones makes up in presence, infectious professional approach, chemistry and a certain intimidation factor the team misses otherwise.

“If it looks nice, or not, it doesn’t really matter,” Klinsmann said. “Job accomplished.”

Klinsmann, like many coaches, is big on establishing a positive group dynamic – not one bit surprising considering that Klinsmann is such a positive fellow.  He knows that any group – your peers at work or your Wednesday poker game or whatever – has leaders and followers and a certain collective psychology.

Everything Jones does, from his attitude at the team hotel (“He’s comes here with a big smile, and he’s ready to work. ‘What is this [camp] about? Who are we taking on?’ That’s what you want.”) to the practice field to the comprehensive game-day process, Jones is a man’s man with weapons grade gravitas. Think of him as the muscled up dude you want around while walking a sketchy neighborhood; there’s a feeling that all is OK with this back alley brawler in tow.

Jones comes from a bad neighborhood, Klinsmann mentions, and he is always ready for the proverbial fight, whether that be an actual donnybrook, a fight for his starting position or a fight to keep the intensity in the red the zone in practice sessions.

Said Klinsmann: “He brings the group to another level … and he’s proud of that!”

As for game days, I see what everyone else sees: a central midfielder sometimes careless with the ball, whose sometimes-labored passing can stall the attack. Klinsmann sees that too, and they continually work the system to protect against or improve the deficient areas. (Tactically, Jones gets more freedom to take chances at Schalke. So that’s always an adjustment, Klinsmann concedes.)

But it’s the intangible that Klinsmann truly appreciates:

“He is one of those players that no opponent would like to deal with. There are payers who, when you see them on the field, the opponent struggles with. It’s like, ‘Shoot, this guy again?’ Just his presence. His hunger. [Opponents may say] ‘Shoot! Do I need that today?’ ”

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Klinsmann mentioned the historic summer win over Mexico in Azteca, how the Mexicans’ approach seems different with Jones is around. They know where Jones is –and they aren’t in a hurry to get there.

“It’s his willingness not to let go. He is always ready for the grind. He grinds you until the 95th minute. That’s something, this mental presence that exists on the field, it’s not necessarily what you see when from the stands, when you see passes completed, duels won and all that … this is what you see in terms of chemistry, in terms of grinding on the field, and it’s only something the players sense.”

Klinsmann says opponents may step back two yards when Jones is around, and that it has a dual effect. Opposition teammates notice and may hesitate similarly, primitive, subconscious traces of self-preservation at work. Meanwhile, U.S. men feed off this razor-wire intensity and sharpen their own approach.

So there you have it. It’s OK if you do not agree with Klinsmann’s rationale here – but it is nice to hear how the contentious “Jones Variable” fits into the bigger equation in the coach’s mind.

TOMORROW: Klinsmann’s coming talks with Landon Donovan

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.