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.”

Brad Davis announces retirement at the end of the MLS season

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 27:  Brad Davis #14 of the United States in action against Azerbaijan during their match at Candlestick Park on May 27, 2014 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The 15-year career of Brad Davis will come to an end at the end of the MLS season, Sporting Kansas City announced Sunday.

The 34-year-old has spent his entire career domestically, currently with Sporting KC for a season after spending ten years with the Houston Dynamo where he won two MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007. The club made it to the final again in 2011, but Davis missed it with an injury and the team fell to Los Angeles.

Davis also collected 17 caps with the U.S. National Team. He debuted in 2005 in a Gold Cup win over Cuba, but was a late bloomer with the national team, making 12 of his 17 appearances from 2013 or later. He earned his final cap for the Stars & Stripes in the 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup.

“I can’t believe that the last 15 years have gone by so fast and that this journey has come to an end,” Davis told the official Sporting KC website. “Along the way, I have met a lot of great people and have had the privilege to play alongside many great players. There are so many individuals that I look forward to thanking who have made me the person and the player I have become.”

The announcement came just hours before Sporting KC finishes its regular season against San Jose in front of the home fans at Sporting Park. With Kansas City teetering on the edge of the playoff picture, it’s likely they wanted to allow Davis the opportunity foir a sendoff should they fall short of extending the season.

Sporting sits in the final playoff spot on 44 points, level on points with Portland but above on goal difference by a single goal. The Timbers finish their regular season on the road at 9th-placed Vancouver.

VIDEO: Chelsea’s Pedro capitalizes on Manchester United error 30 seconds in

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: Pedro of Chelsea celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on October 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Just 30 seconds into Jose Mourinho’s return, Manchester United trailed.

A long ball over the top from Marcos Alonso seemed ill-fated with three defenders surrounding Pedro, but Chris Smalling never collected himself and Pedro snuck through, snatching the ball and rounding David De Gea to put the Blues up almost immediately.

WATCH LIVE: Chelsea vs. Manchester United live on NBCSports.com

His goal is the fastest in the Premier League this season.

The game exploded open following the goal, with Manchester United looking for an equalizer almost straight away. Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed over and Marcus Rashford caused problems down the left inside the opening 10 minutes.

WATCH LIVE: Chelsea vs. Manchester United (Lineups & Live Stream)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United reacts during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge for the first time after being let go by Chelsea last season as the Blues host Manchester United live at 11am E.T. or live online at NBCSports.com.

The Special One returns to Stamford Bridge two places and two points back of the Blues, with Manchester United in seventh with 14 points. Paul Pogba retains his place in the starting lineup after bagging a pair of penalties in the midweek Europa League win. There is just one change for the Red Devils, with Ashley Young making way for Jesse Lingard on the wing.

WATCH LIVE: Chelsea vs. Manchester United live online at NBCSports.com

Henrikh Mkhtariyan misses out after a thigh injury, while Chris Smalling recovers after coming off against Fenerbahce with a slight injury.

For Chelsea, John Terry is still only fit enough for the bench as Gary Cahill and David Luiz in the middle of defense as they look to extend a streak of 10 games unbeaten for the Blues against Manchester United. Willian and Oscar are both on the bench to start after they each spent time away after family losses. Meanwhile, both Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic miss out with injuries, the latter of which forces Conte to play a back three with Cesar Azpilicueta deputizing as a central defender, which will limit their width moving forward.

The visitors have struggled at Stamford Bridge, with just a single win there in Premier League play since 2002. This will be the first time these two managers face off, with the two matching up in Serie A play in 2009 but both were serving touchline bans that day.


Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Hazard, Costa.
Subs: Begovic, Oscar, Willian, Batshuyai, Terry, Chalobah, Aina.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Blind; Fellaini, Herrera; Rashford, Pogba, Lingard; Ibrahimovic.
Subs: Romero, Rojo, Mata, Martial, Carrick, Young, Darmian.

Manchester City 1-1 Southampton: John Stones error leaves City winless in five

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Nathan Redmond of Southampton scores the opening goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Southampton at Etihad Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester City remains winless in its last five across all competitions after an error by John Stones at the back sent Nathan Redmond in on net, but Kelechi Iheanacho came on at halftime to salvage a point for the visitors.

Both teams were sloppy early on, with a number of poor wayward passes on either side. Nobody had an effort on goal in the opening 15 minutes, with the only chance coming on a cross from Kevin De Bruyne that flashed across the face of goal just out of Raheem Sterling‘s reach.

City slowly gained control of the match, with poor touches the only thing that let their possessional hold of the game down. Leroy Sane and De Bruyne looked dangerous on the flanks early on.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Unfortunately for the hosts, it would come undone due to a massive error at the back by John Stones. The young defender under-hit a poor back pass to goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, and Nathan Redmond pounced, touching it past a committed Bravo and into the back of the net.

City continued to push forward, and Stones thought he had immediate redemption, finding himself on the end of a beautiful set-piece delivery to tap the ball into the back of the net, but the assistant referee’s flag went up for offsides. Replays showed Stones was onside, but Sergio Aguero was not, and the Argentinian’s attempt to head the ball in the middle of the pack was illegal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Pep Guardiola yanked De Bruyne at halftime in favor of a second striker in Kelechi Iheanacho. It did little out of the gates, as Southampton held much of the meaningful possession out of the break. Eventually, City worked their way back level, with Iheanacho the man to finish it. Fernandinho found Sane with a long ball to the left edge of the box who picked out Iheanacho, and the young Nigerian finished smartly past Fraser Forster on 55 minutes.

The game appeared to open up in the final 15 minutes. Southampton had a big chance to go back in front, but after substitute Sofiane Boufal found Charlie Austin all alone with space to shoot, the striker gunned his chance straight at Claudio Bravo. On the other end, Aguero charged forward but pulled himself into a tight angle and dragged his shot harmlessly across the net.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The draw sends Manchester City to the top of the table on goal difference, but they are tied with two other clubs on points as the Premier League appears set for a fantastic title race. Southampton, meanwhile, stays in eighth with 13 points, moving just one behind Manchseter United with the Red Devils about to play.