Jurgen Klinsmann

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

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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.”

Relegation picture: The situation for Newcastle, Sunderland, Norwich

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This is tight, tense and getting horrible for the three teams battling it out at the bottom.

We know Aston Villa has already been relegated but three teams — Norwich City, Sunderland and Newcastle United — are in a dogfight to avoid relegation.

Three into two doesn’t go.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Just two points separates the three aforementioned teams going into the final two weeks of the season. Plus, Crystal Palace isn’t out of the picture either as they have 39 points but Alan Pardew‘s side should be fine. Just.

Newcastle United is the form team as Rafael Benitez’s side is now unbeaten in four games and grabbed a huge 1-0 win against Palace on Saturday, while Sunderland is solid under Sam Allardyce and have lost just once in eight games but have six draws in that span.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | standings

Norwich is reeling after three defeats on the spin and Alex Neil‘s side is running out of time as they lost 1-0 at Arsenal on Saturday despite a brave, battling display.

Below is a look at the relegation picture, plus the remaining fixtures for all three teams as Newcastle have just two games left, while both Sunderland and Norwich have three.

Who do you think will survive out of these three teams?


Newcastle United – 17th place, 33 points

May 7 – Aston Villa (A)
May 15 – Tottenham Hotspur (H)

Sunderland – 18th place, 32 points

May 7 – Chelsea (H)
May 11 – Everton (H)
May 15 – Watford (A)

Norwich City – 19th place, 31 points

May 7 – Manchester United (H)
May 11 – Watford (H)
May 15 – Everton (A)


Looking at the schedules above, Newcastle has a great chance of getting at least three points from their remaining two games with an away trip to Aston Villa up next, plus if Tottenham is out of the title race heading into the final game then it may be a great chance to pick up another three points at home.

Sunderland will find it tough going against Chelsea and Everton but home advantage will be key, while the final game away at Watford, a team who has nothing to play for, could be the crucial one. They hold their own destiny in their hands. Win all three and they will stay up.

As for Norwich, they won’t expect much against Manchester United next up but they will fancy their chances of picking up at least four points against Watford and Everton in their final two games. Simply put, nobody knows which of these two teams will go down and it’s likely to stay that way until the final minutes of the season.

Arsenal 1-0 Norwich City: Amid protests, Welbeck pulls Gunners third

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Danny Welbeck of Arsenal celebrates scoring the opening goal with Olivier Giroud (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images
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  • Gunners scoreless streak ends at 200 mins
  • Welbeck subs on to score
  • Norwich stay 19th

Danny Welbeck‘s second-half goal was enough to give Arsenal a much-needed three points from Norwich City’s visit on Saturday.

The Emirates Stadium started with protests, and the Gunners didn’t do a ton to quiet Arsene Wenger‘s critics in the 1-0 match.

Arsenal does, however, pull three points clear of fourth place Manchester City, which plays Sunday at Southampton.

Norwich, meanwhile, is two points back of Newcastle and one point back of Sunderland as the race for 17th continues in England. Newcastle has played one more match than each of its competitors.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal couldn’t find a way through Norwich City’s defense in the first half, entering the break without scoring a goal in 187 minutes. After taking a 2-0 lead in the 38th minute against West Brom, the Gunners were blanked in the second half, then in a 0-0 draw with Sunderland.

Norwich had a chance or two during a late 10-minute run of play, but couldn’t beat Petr Cech. Both sides had 7 shots, but Norwich was the only to put any on frame with three.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Welbeck subbed on for Arsenal, joining Olivier Giroud up top and quickly making an impact with a shot that deflected to beat John Ruddy and give Arsenal the match’s first goal.

The Gunners still carried the play, though the chance for a pivotal point lurked with every Canaries moment of possession.

Mohamed Elneny took a phenomenal shot that Ruddy met with a similar save, when, in the 83rd minute he used the outside of his foot to swerve an effort that forced Ruddy into flight just to force a corner. Good-looking stuff.

PHOTOS: Supporters protest, support Arsene Wenger before Arsenal-Norwich

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Arsenal supportes hold banners 'Time For Change' during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images
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“Time for Change” read the sea of placards outside the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, as Arsenal fans protested the continued employment of its legendary manager.

Many consider this season a wasted opportunity for Arsenal to lay claim to a first Premier League title since 2003-04, and have laid the blame at the feet of manager Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: Everton’s moving tribute to Hillsborough 96 ]

There were some expressing support for their beloved boss, and we’ve got all that and more below. The match is scoreless as halftime, as Arsenal continues to have trouble scoring against relegation threatened rivals.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Arsenal supportes hold banners 'Time For Change' during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was processed using digital filters) Arsenal supporters hold a banner saying 'Arsene Thanks for the Memories But It's Time To Say Goodbye' prior the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: An Arsenal supporter holds banner 'Proud of Arsene Ashamed of Fans' during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: A banner protesting to Arsene Wenger is seen prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

And some had some pretty good fun with the protests:

Sunderland hail “brilliant point” but Allardyce fuming at refs

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Sam Allardyce, manager of Sunderland reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Sunderland at the Britannia Stadium on April 30, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
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Sam Allardyce was fuming with the officials as Sunderland drew 1-1 at Stoke City on Saturday.

The Black Cats netted a last-gasp penalty kick via Jermain Defoe to move onto 32 points but slipped into the relegation zone courtesy of Newcastle United’s huge home win against Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Deeney “sticks it to Villa” ]

Sunderland have a game in hand over Newcastle but they are a point behind. Things are getting very tight as two from Sunderland, Norwich and Newcastle will be relegated.

Speaking after the game, Allardyce feels his side continue to get unlucky with calls from officials and it is starting to wear thin with Big Sam.

“The disappointment is, how many points do they take away from us in this battle against relegation that cost us so dear?” Allardyce told Sky Sports. “All this rubbish about people saying it evens itself out, that’s the biggest load of rubbish I’ve ever heard in my life.

“We’ve had countless opportunities ourselves to win games, so we’ve got ourselves to blame as well but the last thing we want at this stage of the season, with so few games left, is to not get what we deserve. In the last two games, today and last week we certainly didn’t get what we deserved off the officials as far as I was concerned. But I am pleased he was brave enough in the last minute to give a penalty in against Jermain Defoe.”

On reflection, Allardyce agreed that it was a “brilliant point” for his team and but he still couldn’t resist another moan at the officials.

From the BBC:

“It is a brilliant point in the end but for me one that could have been a win rather than the draw,” Allardyce said. “Obviously they didn’t deserve their goal because it was a blatant foul on Younes Kaboul and we should have had a penalty when Geoff Cameron flicks the ball with his hand and referee and his assistant don’t see it. Those things have gone against us today which has not allowed us to be in a position to win it. It is a very precious point and in the end the referee was brave and good enough to make the right decision for us for the penalty.”

The incidents in question are certainly debatable. For Stoke’s goal it did appear that Peter Crouch had his arms on Kaboul when he nodded down for Arnautovic and Allardyce can have complaints about that. Last week a handball decision against Per Mertesacker didn’t go Sunderland’s way and if you add up those two calls, that’s an extra four points for the Black Cats.

[ VIDEO: Townsend scores screamer

However, with Sunderland not really at the races at Stoke and still managing to grind out a point to keep their PL fate in their own hands, he has to be happy enough.

They now have home games against Chelsea and Everton coming up, with the final game of the season away at Watford. Seven points from that will see Newcastle unable to mathematically finish above them.

It’s a big ask but what if Big Sam starts getting some big decisions in Sunderland’s favor?