Jurgen Klinsmann

Even after ‘rethink’, Klinsmann should find value in U.S.’s January camps


CARSON, Calif. – You get the feeling if Jurgen Klinsmann had his way, there would be no January camp. In the wake to the U.S. men’s 2-0 win over South Korea on Saturday, the national team’s head coach pretty much said so.

Asked to reflect on his latest camp with mostly Major League Soccer-based talent, Klinsmann conceded the three-and-a-half week exercise was “very important” and “valuable,” particularly in a World Cup year. It allowed the team to get to Brazil, test the facilities ahead of this summer’s World Cup, and gather information that will inform May’s tough decisions.

More pointedly, however, Klinsmann said keeping his players in shape should not be the national team’s job.

“We have to cut [the players’] long break short. They can’t afford to have another month off,” Klinsmann said, falling back onto one of his favorite topics: The short Major League Soccer season.

“The camp was always looked at as a camp to get them back into shape … it shouldn’t be our job to cut their [offseason] shorter. That is the job of MLS. I always mention that I would like see the MLS season lengthened. Now we’re getting more teams, especially in 2015. So hopefully that happens.”

Should the league ever adopt that schedule – a change league commissioner Don Garber has described as impractical, in the near-term – Major League Soccer’s veterans will lose what’s become a valuable avenue into the U.S. squad. Among those who stood out in Saturday’s game, players like Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi, Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman, and San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski have been able to use the prolonged camps to raise their stock. Two of those players are seen be some as likely selections for this summer’s World Cup.

“I give these January camps a lot of the credit for why I’m in with the U.S team right now,” Zusi said.

A second round pick out of the University of Maryland in 2009, the Sporting midfielder has had to slowly work his way through MLS success and into the national team. Seen as a probable starter in Brazil, Zusi got his first national team cap at the 2012 January camp.

“This is how I got my start,” Zusi explains. “It’s great way for some of the guys who are kind of around the edge to break in.

“It’s why I did. It’s what other guys have done. It’s what my teammate, Matt Besler, has done. [The camps are] a great way for you to get some quality games in and impress the coaches.”

When asking players about the camp, the ability to impress coaches becomes a reoccurring theme. Unlike a normal international break that gives players a week (at most) with Klinsmann’s staff, a January call-in allows the mostly MLS- and Scandinavia-based talents to be in constant contact with the staff. Particularly with a coach like Klinsmann, for whom extended physical preparation and the ability to assess fitness levels is especially important, the prolonged period is invaluable. It allows the staff to establish a firm baseline for the players’ performance, something that can be used as a reference point for future call-ups.

source: Reuters
With eight goals in his last nine national team appearances, San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski has kept his name in the conversation for World Cup 2014. The former MLS MVP has participated in extended camps each of the last two winters as well as in preparation for the 2013 Gold Cup. (Photo: Reuters.)

“You get a month-long, day-in, day-out (chance) to show and to learn from a great coaching staff,” Wondolowski explained after scoring twice against South Korea. “That only makes you a better player, and to be honest, especially these last two camps, there’ve been some of the most competitive players in there.

“Everyday, guys aren’t taking days off. Guys aren’t taking drills off. We’re trying to win every little small-sided game; every possession game. It just makes you push even harder – makes you better.”

Under Klinsmann, seven players have started the last two winter friendlies. That group features three players with inside tracks to starting jobs in Brazil (Zusi, Besler, Omar Gonzalez). The four other range from likely choices (Beckerman) and regular selections (Brad Evans) to players who’ve emerged as competitors at competitive positions (Wondolowski, Brad Davis). All veterans who were well into their careers in 2010, the seven veterans have been able to use the so-called “Cup Cupcake” to gain new traction toward 2014.

“In the January camp you get such a long period of time to really show what you got, what kind of person you are, what kind of teammate,” explained Beckerman, a player whose work ethic and leadership has been singled out by Klinsmann. A 31-year-old veteran who made his national team debut in 2007, the Real Salt Lake midfielder has gone some periodic consideration to regular selection since Klinsmann took charge.

“It’s definitely a camp you want to be in,” Beckerman said. “There are a lot of guys who aren’t here that would love to be in our shoes. Everybody that was here took full advantage of it.”

It’s an opportunity that may not always be there for the Kyle Beckermans of the world. Should Major League Soccer’s offseason continue to shrink or if Klinsmann decides to take another direction with the winter camps, players like Evans, Davis, and Wondolowski may not get the same a look. The precious time the national team staff has during FIFA windows to evaluate the established call-ins couldn’t be spent with hopefuls. The once-per-cycle, down-year Gold Cups would be veteran’s only chance to augment their MLS results.

source: AP
Graham Zusi was a 25-year-old, three-year MLS veteran when he received his first cap in Jan. 2012. Five months ahead of Brazil, the Sporting Kansas City midfielder is considered a lock for World Cup 2014. (Photo: AP.)

Even for the Beslers, Gonzalezes, and Zusis of the world – players we think of as established contributors to the current team – like without the winter camps would have been more difficult. There would have fewer opportunities to make the lasting impression it takes to win a regular spot. While the talent each player possesses means their break through was always likely, prolonged exposure to Klinsmann’s staff accelerated their progress.

But those are effects you see at the back-end of a World Cup cycle. For 2015, the U.S. looks set to take a different approach.

“We have to rethink the whole idea of the January camp, especially for next year, where there is no World Cup,” Klinsmann said, asked to assess the future of the January camps. “There will be a Gold Cup, yes, but obviously it doesn’t have the same meaning as this World Cup year. Maybe we change some things to [next] camp …”

“Maybe in the future we will more likely look at it as a developmental camp. Maybe we’ll cut it down to younger players and see how we can develop those younger players.”

Even then, according to Brad Evans, the camp will still need its veterans. Dismissing the word “cupcake” (“that’s stupid”) while espousing the virtues of cultivating MLS’s talent, June’s potential starting right back said January will always have a place for players looking to break through.

“Even if it’s just a U-20 camp, you’ll need veterans there to compete and provide experience and guidance,” Evans explained. “[Even then], there’ll always be spots.”

Aguero injury update; Pellegrini pleased as City go top

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Relax Manchester City fans, Sergio Aguero is okay. At least, that’s how it seems right now.

Aguero, 27, started up top in City’s 3-1 win over Southampton on Saturday as the Citizens momentarily went top of the Premier League ahead of the late game between Leicester City and Manchester United.

[ VIDEO: Vardy sets PL record ]

Even though Aguero didn’t get on the scoresheet, his movement caused Saints plenty of problems and despite Shane Long halving the deficit following Kevin De Bruyne and Fabian Delph‘s first half goals, City rallied and won 3-1 thanks to a late Aleksandar Kolarov strike.

All that aside, Aguero limped off injured in the second half and with a League Cup quarterfinal and big games in the PL and UEFA Champions League coming up, fears over the Argentine’s fitness once again surfaced.

Speaking to the media after the game Pellegrini revealed that Aguero should be fine.

“Kun [Aguero] came off as a precaution. I spoke with him before the game and we said he would play 65 minutes,” Pellegrini said. “He has a kick in his heel, but nothing important. I was very pleased with the team’s reaction. It was important to get three points against a team who were unbeaten away. We were a little nervous until the third goal, but I’m happy with the performance and the result.”

Aguero missed six weeks of action from October to November after a hamstring injury when playing for Argentina and whenever he’s been out of the team, especially over the past 12 months, City have missed him desperately. In that regard it is understandable that Pellegrini took no chances when Aguero went done with a slight injury against Southampton.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Vardy ]

Pellegrini also lamented referee Roger East for a few peculiar decisions, as both his side and Saints could’ve had penalty kicks in either half for handball incidents in the box. With City facing Hull City in the League Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday, Pellegrini’s players must now recover as he hinted at the importance of making the final four of the competition he won during his first season in charge.

Social media reacts to Jamie Vardy’s Premier League history-making goal

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The Internet exploded at around 12:50 p.m. ET on Saturday after Jamie Vardy — yes, Jamie Vardy — broke Ruud van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record for most consecutive games with a goal.

[ WATCH: The goal | The game — Leicester City vs. Manchester United ]

Yes, an Englishman is back atop the charts. An Englishman who was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town before heading to Leicester.

He’s perhaps the reminder, as Rio Ferdinand Tweeted below, that the most unlikely of scenarios is still not impossible.

Well done @vardy7! You're number one now and you deserved it. #11inarow.

A photo posted by Ruud van Nistelrooy (@rvnistelrooy) on

VIDEO: Vardy sets Premier League record, scores in 11-straight games

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He did it. He actually did it.

Jamie Vardy made Premier League history on Saturday, scoring for the 11th consecutive game to become the first player in history to achieve that magnificent feat.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Vardy ]

Tied with Manchester United legend Ruud van Nistelrooy heading into Leicester’s clash against United on Saturday, it took Vardy just 24 minutes to set the new record as Christian Fuchs played a delicate ball in-behind United’s defense and Vardy did the rest.

[ MORE: Can Vardy, Leicester achieve unthinkable? ]

Watch the video below to see the King Power Stadium erupt as a truly memorable moment arrived.

Now, the next record for Vardy to break is from the 1931-32 English top-flight season, before the PL was formed. Sheffield United’s Jimmy Dunne scored in 12-straight games way back then.

Anyway, congratulations Mr. Vardy for making PL history.

WATCH: Insane finish as Everton, Bournemouth trade stoppage time goals

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This was an all-timer.

Bournemouth came back from a 2-0 halftime deficit only to watch Ross Barkley hand Everton a one-goal lead with a score in the final minute of stoppage time.

[ MATCH RECAP: Bournemouth 3-3 Everton ]

But after fans were cleared from the field, Junior Stanislas provided the dramatic answer for Bournemouth to force a 3-3 draw at Dean Court.