As the busy summer schedule approaches and the start of World Cup qualifying looms on the horizon, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff have been conducting a comprehensive scouting effort, encompassing both the evaluation of the U.S. player pool as well as the five opponents on the docket. ussoccer.com first speaks with Klinsmann about the scouting the U.S. players, a process which involves a staff of five across two continents with the ultimate goal of determining which players are fit, in form, and ready to contribute in the games that matter the most. As Klinsmann emphatically states, these games are all about results.
ussoccer.com: As a starting point, what are things you are looking for when scouting the players in the National Team pool?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “When we scout our own players, if they play in the Premier League or they play in the Bundesliga, Portugal, Italy, or players in Mexico and MLS, it’s really to see where they are at that specific time to get a better insight on their roles within their club teams. Are they leaders? Are they taking over responsibilities? Are they trying to stand out as National Team players? Obviously we look at their physical shape, their technical game, and all their elements to try to see it in the bigger picture. And then when we bring the players into our camp, we know exactly how they fit into our picture. What we’re looking for, really, is a leader. We look for our players to take the next step and stand out in their club teams because only when you stand out in your club team will you get attention to determine if you’re a player that represents the U.S. team on the national stage.”
ussoccer.com: How have you gone about setting up your scouting network and the scouting schedule?
JK: “We have Andy Herzog and Matthias Hamann to scout players in Europe, and they’re constantly traveling from place to place. Then we have Carlos Juarez and Martin Vasquez, and they go into Mexico and watch games for our players and also cover MLS. We are constantly in touch with the coaches there and watch the games ourselves. We try to assign it a couple weeks in advance. We constantly update our scouting worksheet – who goes where, who watches what – so we can plan better in advance and it’s easier to implement things. The longer you plan it in advance, the better it is, but often you have to react and improvise on a shorter notice.”
ussoccer.com: How do you process all the data that you collect?
JK: “We break it down into different components of their game, their overall fitness and their role within the team they play for. Often their role at the club team is different than with the U.S. National Team. From there we go into their individual performance – how did they look, how often did they take the initiative, how did they put their spin on the game, how did they stand out, what was their body language, what was their behavioral role? We look at their precision in their technical game. How many turnovers did they allow? How often did they win back balls? Obviously it depends on the position. We go into as many details as we can and to follow through over several games, and that gives us a good picture. Therefore, we as a coaching staff stay connected and exchange all the different player observations and so we get the feeling that we are on top of what’s going on.”
“It’s not an introduction camp for players. It’s not a time period where you try things out. I want to make sure we get the best possible result out of every game … You’ve got to get a job done.”ussoccer.com: Often times you have to evaluate players who are coming back from injury in the time leading up to a National Team camp. What factors do you use in determining their readiness to be in the team?
JK: Gooch may be an example. Gooch comes back now from injury and just played his first game last week. We need to know now where he’s at. Next week, Andy Herzog is planning to go down to Portugal to see him train, to see him in his normal environment. We need to know that he’s sharp and he’s fit and that he’s already in a rhythm. There’s a big difference between being healthy and fit. When a player comes back from injury and he’s ready to go and join the team training again, it doesn’t mean that he’s fit. He’s on the way back to fitness, and that usually takes another couple of weeks. You want to wait to bring a player into camp that’s not there yet. He’s healthy, yes, but maybe he’s not fit. I look now at Danny Williams. He’s got a shoulder injury – not a very serious one – but it’s definitely something we’ll have to consider and talk to their medical staff and talking to the player and the coach and see how long that recovery time takes. If it just takes a week, then you say, ‘Okay, no problem. He gets back into a rhythm next week.’ If it takes longer than that, it might affect our planning for the May-June camp.”
ussoccer.com: How often does the scouting staff exchange information and ideas?
JK: “Almost every second day. Games are happening all over the place constantly, and we are always monitoring. We had Martin Vasquez and Carlos Juarez go down to Guatemala to watch Guatemala against Paraguay. We hook up almost every second day and exchange information, sometimes by phone, sometimes in person, sometimes just by email – especially with Matthias Hamann and Andy Herzog in Europe – but that gives us the sense that we know what’s going on with our players.”
ussoccer.com: How extensive is the use of video in scouting?
JK: “Video is a huge part of our scouting. Not only can we watch games all over the world and watch the games while players are against their opponents, but it’s especially important to break those games down or break individual players down and analyze them in more detail. It’s good for our players, so we analyze every National Team game and the players will have them at their disposal. Obviously it’s about opponents and their players. You take those images and you look at them in more detail, then you hopefully find ways where you can analyze some weaknesses in their game, in their play, that you could hopefully benefit from when you play them.”
ussoccer.com: You have emphatically said that these upcoming five games are all about results. To what extent will these scouting efforts impact the roster decisions?
JK: “It has a big impact in terms of the stretch of five games – the three friendlies plus two World Cup qualifiers. It’s really about delivering. It’s about getting results, obviously more importantly in the World Cup qualifiers but also the friendlies leading up to those two qualifiers. It’s about the momentum, it’s about performance. In such a stretch, you do not risk bringing in players who are injured. You do not risk bringing in players you think need more time to develop. It’s not an introduction camp for players. It’s not a time period where you try things out. It’s a time period now - in essence very different to all the previous friendlies we’ve had so far - where you want to attack on the field. You’ve got to get a job done, so you’re not taking risks on players. You’re not taking players into consideration that you know might be 10-20 percent away from a full international level. You go with players that you have the feeling that they’ll deliver and are going to get the job done. It’s different to a friendly, where you say you might bring in some youngsters and you run them through and you bring them in for the last 20 minutes or 30 minutes or even start them, thinking, ‘Let’s give them experience.’ You risk the result a little bit at the end of the day. These five games ahead of us, I’m not taking risks on those things. I want to make sure we get the best possible result out of every game.”