Klinsmann: 'There is a huge opportunity'
ussoccer.com: As we look at this roster there are a lot of players you’ve been building with for the last 20 months, particularly in 2013. In the past you’ve talked about building a foundation, and now you say the focus is consistency. What will be your message to the players as we start this summer?
Jurgen Klinsmann: We’ve seen a lot of players come through many different games,” said Klinsmann. “The players understand more how we’re working, what we’re looking for, the way we want to play and the way we want to challenge big nations eye-to-eye. Now you go into a stretch where you have two friendly games against Belgium and Germany and three big World Cup Qualifiers and you want to see a consistent picture. You want to see that they understand what is expected when they come into the Men’s National Team program, and hopefully they are more confident with executing it, with getting points in World Cup Qualifiers and improving the elements we’ve worked on over the last 20 months.”
ussoccer.com: How excited are you to have not only one of the top goalkeepers in the world in Tim Howard, but also Brad Guzan and all he’s been able to do this year for Aston Villa and the National Team?
JK: “We are in a great position with our goalies. We are thrilled with Tim Howard and Brad Guzan and how they are doing with their clubs in the Premier League. I’ve said it many times: Tim Howard deserves to be in the top five in the world and Brad Guzan is catching up.
ussoccer.com: You are also taking the opportunity to rotate several MLS goalkeepers through the camp who are on their way up the pipeline…
JK: “We have some excellent backup keepers starting with Nick Rimando, who’s playing an outstanding season for Real Salt Lake and has done great with us every time he’s come into our program. We’re also excited about the goalkeepers who come after him: Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson and Tally Hall. It’s exciting that we can rotate them a bit in these upcoming couple of weeks because we don’t want the MLS goalies to miss too many of their games.”
ussoccer.com: The center back position has a good mix of players who have come in and performed well. How are you feeling about the pool of players in that spot?
JK: “Over the last year I think we’ve stepped it up in terms of competition for the two center back positions. I think Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler did an amazing jump, especially with the game they played in Estadio Azteca in our tie in Mexico, and also with their club teams. Geoff Cameron has established himself as a starter at Stoke City in his first year there and has been doing really well. Then we have Clarence Goodson, who’s really an example of consistency. Whenever he comes in, he’s there, he gets the job done and he’s a straight forward guy. Obviously we have Carlos Bocanegra, who right now is in a little bit of a backup position. He knows that if anything happens to one of those center backs that he’ll get called in right away, but I think we are blessed with our center back position. We keep having players come through the ranks and it can only get better from now on.”
ussoccer.com: On the left side you have Fabian Johnson, Edgar Castillo and now DaMarcus Beasley. How valuable is it to get Fabian back in the mix?
JK: “Having Fabian Johnson back, coming off a really difficult year with Hoffenheim, means a lot to us because he has tremendous qualities. Edgar Castillo is coming from a very positive and strong season, winning the Apertura with Tijuana and now playing in the Copa Libertadores, which is tremendous experience that he can gain. Then obviously we have DaMarcus Beasley, who did an outstanding job in the last two qualifiers. We are loaded in that position now and it’s looking pretty good. On the right side we have Steve Cherundolo is still recovering from an injury and he simply needs time for his knee to get back to 100%. Michael Parkhurst has had injuries and his team is still fighting relegation in Germany, but is very experienced. He is ready to give us everything he has.”
ussoccer.com: You mentioned DaMarcus Beasley’s versatility. Bringing him in was such a revelation for those two games and he’s now on the cusp of his 100th cap. Were you surprised about how well he did and how he’s come back into the picture for you?
JK: “I wouldn’t say surprised, but I would say impressed because it just seems like he gets younger every time you call him back in. He is just such a positive personality, he lights up a room as soon as he walks in. He’s a pure giver - he says ‘coach, whatever role you have for me I’ll take it,’ so it’s just a blessing for us having someone like Beas be a part of our program and to know that whenever we need him he’s right there. With those two performances he had against Costa Rica and also at Azteca, he made a very strong case for himself going forward.”
ussoccer.com: Moving into the midfield, obviously you have two great anchors in Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. With Jermaine coming back from the injury he suffered in March, it looks like you have a lot of flexibility with the players you brought in.
JK: “The foundation there looks very strong. How Jermaine continued to play against Costa Rica with that injury is quite a miracle. He shook it off and is ready to go again. He’s back in the lineup at Schalke and they’re chasing a Champions League spot for next season. Michael Bradley is coming from an impressive season with AS Roma. He’s consistent, and he’s always on a high level. Having these two in center midfield is just great. Maurice Edu fought himself back in with his move from Stoke to Bursaspor. He’s become a leader on that team and he’s ready to go as he showed in Mexico. Sacha Kljestan comes off a strong season with Anderlecht and they are still in the title race for the Belgian championship. We have Danny Williams in there as well, who showed it in previous World Cup Qualifiers and is coming back from injury. And we are excited to see Stuart Holden back and give him time to get back into our group, to be part of it again, to evaluate him and to see where he’s at. We have plans to go with him through an entire summer into the Gold Cup.”
ussoccer.com: One other player in the midfield who’s had a great season is Graham Zusi. What have you seen out of him this year?
JK: “Graham is a great example to show everybody how fast it can go. He came into a January camp and from there he built himself into the team. He broke in and he played consistently on a very high level. He has a tremendous attitude and a very professional approach. He’s on the verge maybe to go to Europe, who knows? He made a strong case, he’s the starter on the right flank and he doesn’t want to give that away. This is just great to see the improvements he’s made at Kansas City under Peter Vermes.
We have another promising young player in Joe Corona, who I watched just recently at Tijuana in Copa Libertadores. He can only get better, he’s young and he’s hungry. So there on the right flank it looks good.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve had the chance to watch Landon Donovan coming back into the Galaxy after being off for four months. How would you rate his progress at this point?
JK: “I think Landon is catching up. We’re all excited that he has decided to continue to play. That was the first major answer that we needed to get, and now he’s just working himself back into shape and back into a playing rhythm. He will get sharper and more confident with every game he’s going to play now. So we’ll watch that, we’ll monitor that and we’ll decide then when to bring him back into our picture. It’s not going to be for these upcoming games, but maybe later on we’ll definitely expect him back in the team.”
ussoccer.com: When you start looking at the forward line you see a bunch of players scoring big goals, not only for their club teams but also for the National Team. That starts with Clint Dempsey, who you made the captain of the team for the last two games. How vital of a role does Clint play for the National Team?
JK: “Clint’s role is very crucial to our group. The qualities he has automatically give him so much respect from everybody around him because he’s an outstanding player, and he’s a player that can play on the top level week in and week out. That being said, he’s 30-years-old and we want him to take on more responsibilities within our program. We want him to lead by example. We want him to show younger players what it takes to get to his level. We want him to constantly be thinking about what we can improve. We want him to raise his voice with us coaches when there are things that he sees from the players’ perspective. Those are things that you now expect from Clint to bring in, and we are thrilled how he took that in his first two games as a captain against Costa Rica and Mexico. He led by example. We are curious to see how this continues, but I think he took it really well and we are excited about how things will go with him going forward.”
ussoccer.com: When you look at forwards like Herculez Gomez and Eddie Johnson, how valuable is it for you to have players that can bring you their type of versatility?
JK: “Every player brings certain things to the table that are special. Herc is a unique player in terms of his work load, his positive attitude, his fighting spirit, and always being dangerous to score goals. Eddie is a guy with amazing pace. He can surprise people going one against one and can create something out of nothing. So each one of those guys has different things to offer, and for us coaches it’s just great to have different cards that we can play out once they’re on the field. That is a tremendous asset for us.”
ussoccer.com: Jozy Altidore’s had a huge year for AZ Alkmaar, with 31 goals in all competitions and scoring the game-winner in the Dutch Cup Final. What have you seen that’s different with Jozy in the last year and how he’s developed?
JK: “Jozy made another big step in his path and in his development. He comes off a season now where he’s consistently been in the starting 11, where he obviously scored consistently, where he’s getting used to proving himself week in and week out, and we’re thrilled for that. Winning the Dutch Cup and scoring is very special. We want him to score as many goals as he does with Alkmaar with the National Team, but that will come. He’s getting more consistent, he’s becoming more professional, and he knows more how to live off the field, so he’s going through those tremendous experiences with his club team but also when he’s in camp with us. It just makes him more mature and more professional. The learning curve will continue for him. I don’t expect him to score five goals the next game, but I expect for him to come in and give everything he has, for example what he did against Costa Rica. It was a pleasure to watch him in that game, how he held the ball, how he was part of the first goal from Clint, how he kept that backline from Costa Rica on its toes. That’s what we want to see in every game. I think he made a huge step forward, and there’s a lot more to come from Jozy Altidore.”
ussoccer.com: Did you leave some players off this roster because you thought they had a better chance of proving themselves as starters in the Gold Cup as opposed to being reserves in these upcoming games?
JK: “There are definitely some 50-50 cases for players that we moved toward the Gold Cup where we want to have a very strong roster as well, and we are very excited about that tournament. A player like Kyle Beckerman could be in this camp, but having him in the Gold Cup is a tremendous value. We have players like Josh Gatt, Mix Diskerud, and Alejandro Bedoya, guys that are doing really well who could be ready for the upcoming camp, but will also be in a full rhythm for the Gold Cup, so in that moment we shift them over to that roster. Another player we have a very close eye on is Aron Johannsson, who’s playing now with Jozy Altidore at Alkmaar and is coming off an injury. He has dual citizenship with Iceland and the United States, and we want to have him with us in the near future. There are a lot of players out there on our radar screen. We want to watch the Under-20s play in Turkey for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. We have some players there on the list that we want to introduce to the senior National Team program one step at a time, so we work on all fronts.”