I've never doubted that Jurgen Klinsmann, the worldly soccer man that he is, might help the USA reach a higher level. But his emphasis on improving the fitness level of American players, of teaching them how to eat right -- that always struck me as peculiar.
How likely is it that Bob Bradley or Bruce Arena didn’t know how to get their players fit enough? And I’m pretty sure they didn’t serve junk food at team meals.
If Klinsmann does have the secret to raising the level of U.S. players’ fitness it wasn’t evident in the scoreless tie with Canada on Sunday. The Americans didn’t look the fitter team late in the game when they should have been overwhelming their inferior soccer neighbor – instead of settling for an embarrassing scoreless tie.
THE CLARIFICATION PROBLEM. Before the Canada game, Goal.com’s Zac Lee Rigg reported that Klinsmann “clarified his comments,” made after Wednesday’s loss to Brazil, about his players needing to get nastier and willing to hurt people.
"That was not meant to be anything like hurting somebody or doing harm on anybody," Klinsmann said in Rigg’s article. "No, it's just closing down the spaces earlier, reading the game a bit faster and being ahead of the curve.”
Klinsmann was referring to his statement that "Maybe we're a little bit still too naive. Maybe we don't want to hurt people. But that's what we've got to do.”
So his clarification would have us believe that American players are so sensitive to their opponents’ feelings that they’ve resisted closing down spaces and reading the game faster?
TRANQUILITY IN TORONTO. There was, thankfully, no sign of nastiness in the Canada-USA game. The host was called for 13 fouls and the USA for 10. Canada got two yellow cards and the USA received one, predictably to Jermaine Jones, although this one for a foul not of his usual lethal quality.
THE 'TOURNAMENT.' The Canada game was the third in a month-long five-game series -- designed by Klinsmann to “mimic the circumstances the team will face in a tournament format, with meticulous planning dedicated to technical aspects, travel, nutrition, logistics and the rhythm of team movement to create a performance-driven environment,” according to U.S. Soccer.
The first two games – a 5-1 win over Scotland and a 4-1 loss to Brazil – were thoroughly entertaining and even in the loss the USA produced some impressive attacking play -- unlike the lackluster performance against Canada.
Next up are two World Cup qualifiers – the first official games of the Klinsmann era that has so far spanned 10 months and 13 games (6-5-2, win-loss-tie).
On Friday, the USA hosts Antigua & Barbuda, a country of 80,000 ranked No. 100 in FIFA’s world rankings. That’s an easy victory for the Americans, who then face a tougher foe the following Tuesday at Guatemala.
That game in Guatemala will be the true test of whether the ambitious training camp and friendly game schedule brings out the best of the U.S. players. Or whether it’s a spent squad that shows up at the Mateo Flores Stadium.