U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is paying close attention to the MLS playoff race, as much for the players who will compete as for those who will begin their offseason. Klinsmann insists players must stay active until December, and he considers it critical that they either go on loan to Europe or join the mandatory January camp. He also talks about the performances this past weekend of Alejandro Bedoya and Aron Johannsson, and how he views their progress.
Some important goals were scored on the weekend by MNT players, including the game-winner by Alejandro Bedoya that has Nantes in fourth place. How have
you seen him improve in the last year?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “It’s exciting to see how Alejandro Bedoya is breaking through. The way he’s adapted himself in Nantes and scoring a decisive goal in a game like that is huge. Also, with our group, you can see that he is growing, becoming more and more confident, and that he understands now it takes a bit more to get to the next level.
“Everybody sees his talent. He’s very technically gifted, he can play both sides on the wing and can cut inside, he’s got a good shot and he’s got a good smell for where the ball could end up in the box to finish things off. We are very pleased with Alejandro’s development over the last six to nine months.”
Bedoya’s move fits in with your push to have players continuing to challenge themselves to reach the highest level. Is this an important example
JK: “Alejandro’s move to Nantes is very significant because he’s playing against guys we’re going to play next year in Brazil. If you have the chance to play against Paris St. Germain with Zlatan Ibrahimovic or other players, this is big. It is what we’re looking for. We want our players to get to the highest level possible in order to have that competition, in order to meet the guys they are probably going to play against in the World Cup. When this move happened in the summer break, we were all thrilled for Alejandro.”
Aron Johannsson also scored two goals and assisted on a third for AZ Alkmaar. In addition to scoring the game-winner against Panama, have you been
pleased with his progress?
JK: “Seeing Aron Johannsson breaking through and scoring goals at AZ Alkmaar, especially the way he scores goals, is really nice. We followed him for almost two years and obviously hoped he’d play for the U.S., which he ended up doing. Now you can see his confidence is getting stronger and stronger, week-in, week-out.
“He has the qualities to be cold blooded in front of the goal. He has the quality to see through things and those two goals prove it. Also his goal in Panama was very focused, very dry. He said, ‘I’m going to put it in the bottom left corner,’ and this is really great to see for us. We hope to see him grow now every month a little bit more.”
The MLS regular season concludes this week and the playoff races have been extremely tight. What has been your impression of this final push, and are
these the type of ‘competitive’ games that you want to see your players in?
JK: “I think it’s great to see MLS going into its final round and the race for the playoff spots, but also for the Supporters Shield is real exciting to see. It’s very even, it’s very balanced at the moment and anybody can beat anybody. I think it’s exciting. The stadiums are full. There are packed atmospheres in those places that are getting more intense every year, therefore it’s going to be an exciting couple of weeks.
”It also shows the players they need to be on top of their game. What we want to see from a National Team perspective is our players putting a stamp on the playoffs, putting a stamp in their performances for their team and not just go with the flow.”
This is also the time of the year when MLS players start concluding their seasons and head into the break. How important is it for these players to
stay active in the offseason and keep making progress towards Brazil?
JK: “The situation with the MLS players with the upcoming offseason is a big topic for us from the National Team side because we need them to keep going at least until the beginning of December. If they’re not going on loan to Europe in January, then they are coming into camp with us. Our priorities are set so that the first one is if you get a chance to go on loan to Europe, do it. Compete there with good players overseas. If not, we have to find a solution for the players that maybe lose in the playoffs to keep going until the first weeks of December and then they have a well-deserved, four-week break until the beginning of January.
“It is very crucial for us that the players understand that everything they do now today has an influence on Brazil 2014 next summer. They can’t take it easy. We wish that all of them can make it to the final and win the MLS Cup, but it’s only going to happen to a few of them. So, everybody who is maybe out earlier needs to have a plan in place to bridge that offseason period.”
What do you expect the makeup of the January camp roster to look like?
JK: “Whoever won’t be on loan in January or February overseas is going to be part of our mandatory January camp. We expect everybody comes in. We’ll try to bring in some younger players, have a look at them as well because we want to get a roster together of 20 to 23 guys that is highly motivated and inspired to go into the World Cup year.
“It will be exciting. Our plan is to break it down into two periods: one in LA and one in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They will get a first taste of Brazil in January. We’re looking forward to it, but again, if a player has the option - maybe in the case of guys like Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan or Graham Zusi - go to Europe and get a European experience in and compete with the guys overseas. This is our preference.”