DAVID SMITH - Monday, September 12, 2011
Given three games to evaluate his new charges, USA head coach Jürgen Klinsmann believes that a mix of younger and lesser used players from recent years are ready to challenge the status quo.
Even though the first three games in charge for the former German World Cup winner have yet to yield any wins, the experience has more importantly given Klinsmann ample opportunity to see a good portion of his new cadre of players in action.
Many of the veteran players such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Steve Cherundolo, whose qualities on the international stage and presumed starting roles had already been well-proven during the reign of previous coach Bob Bradley, have featured more sparingly under Klinsmann primarily due to injuries, club considerations and other complications.
Rather than be a hindrance, this has afforded the new coach a plenitude of chances to gain more than a passing glance at several players who are either still in their dawn with the national team or were largely unused under Bradley.
"We've told the young players it's now their time to challenge the established ones," Klinsmann spoke of his approach towards giving a focus to the less senior members of his squad. "If you want to keep building, you've got to go for it. That's the message they've got and they have three years to do that."
One player who has emerged as a key player under the Klinsmann system is FC Dallas winger Brek Shea, whose two starts and standout performances under Klinsmann only mirror the MVP-caliber breakout success he has enjoyed in MLS this season.
"I think we have some very interesting youngsters coming through the ranks, and Brek Shea is definitely one of them," Klinsmann spoke of the 21 year-old midfielder. "He's full of energy, he's creative, he's fast and has a good physical presence. He's one of those kids we are going to build over the next cycle."
Klinsmann expects to take every opportunity possible to evaluate and develop young players such as Shea, albeit with a stated degree of patience, and expects to benefit from the upcoming Olympic competition in summer 2012.
"[Brek is] eligible to play for the Olympic team, and so are others as well, like Juan Agudelo who played the second half [against Belgium] up front."
"You see their talent and what we try to do is build them one step at a time. There's no hurry for them," he again emphasizes.
Another relative newcomer, born in Klinsmann's own home country, who received his first cap under Bradley but has been a defensive starter in two of the German's three games so far is 21 year-old FC Nürnberg defensive back Timothy Chandler.
In Chandler, Klinsmann sees a versatile option who is able to attack from the backfield, as evidenced by his utilization on both flanks of the defense over the last two games.
"Timothy Chandler is also very valuable for us," the coach offered. "He can play right back like he did against Costa Rica, [against Belgium] he played left back, and both positions are fine with him, so it gives us more options."
In contrast to both Shea and Chandler, Pachuca midfielder Jose Francisco Torres can be viewed as a more experienced player in the US setup despite his relatively young age of 23 years, having received his first call-up under Bradley nearly three years before in late-2008.
Despite being a consistent and often standout starter for his club team in Mexico, his place in the Stars & Stripes was always hard to define, and his more possession-style play in the midfield increasingly often left him as the odd man out, as evidenced by a complete lack of call-ups following his last national team appearance in the 2010 World Cup.
Torres has emerged as one of the early winners in the Klinsmann era, starting all three games under the new coach and looking to be pinpointed as a pivotal cog in the central midfield in the absence of regulars Jermaine Jones, Stuart Holden and Michael Bradley.
"Jose Torres is a really interesting player," the coach opined, "Obviously he was already a part of the national team, but never really had continuous chances."
"We have three or four players like him who are fighting their way through in Mexico, and it's not an easy environment for those players. They play there, they are playing really well and becoming leaders in their clubs."
"He's just maturing right now," Klinsmann returns to Torres, "you now see [his] technical qualities; he has a vision of the field, he is comfortable receiving the ball in really tight spaces which is an element which we need. He gives us another option and I'm happy to see his progress which he's making."
In incorporating players such as Chandler, Shea, Torres and the aforementioned Agudelo into his team, Klinsmann is presented with a challenge unique to coaches working within the US system - namely dealing with an increasingly international pool of players who have developed, and often still are developing, under vastly different frameworks.
This stands in stark contrast to his first experience at the head of the German national team several years before, where not only did nearly all players come through the traditional German club academy system, but in almost all cases plied their trade professionally within the country.
"You have to deal with a completely different environment in the US," he weighs of the differing challenge to keep up with and develop the ever-evolving pool of players eligible for the US as opposed to for Germany.
"The league in the US has been growing massively in the last 10-15 years and still has a long way to go. That's where a lot of our talents are now coming through."
The whole youth program is a completely different structure to what there is in Europe," he adds, "It's another challenge we have to deal with."
"We have probably 2/3 of our players based in various parts of Europe, so we've got to keep track of them all. The challenge from an infrastructure point of view is so different that it's not really possible to compare the situation in the US to that in Germany."
Even with the disparate influence of influences and backgrounds of both the established and younger players, Klinsmann still approaches the establishment of a defining style for the team as a largely bottom-up process which will be brought about the players' strengths, rather than imposed by any pre-conceived notion of a set system even from his own personal taste.
"Obviously I'm a big fan of technical [soccer] and going forward as fast as you can, but you need the players for that too," he admitted of the role of his own stylistic preferences may play in the long-term direction of the on-field product.
"We will develop a style of play that suits our players, suits their qualities and abilities, and we'll build something based on their strengths."
Now having had a full camp and three games to make a first-hand evaluation of the players, Klinsmann will once again gather a group of players in early-October when the US plays a pair of friendly matches stateside during the international window, followed by what is widely expected to be a return to Europe for two more games in November.