I have defended Jurgen Klinsmann on many things and I believe that Jurgen Klinsmann is still the best man for the USMNT manager job. I agreed with Klinsmann when he decided to leave Landon Donovan off the Brazil World Cup roster and I agreed with him when he stressed the importance of Americans to play in Europe instead of playing in MLS. Having said that, I have to draw the line somewhere and say that his recent comments on fitness between the USMNT players is rather short sighted and stubborn.
Some context, the USMNT has had a rough go since the end of the World Cup. Many US players struggled after they got back to their club teams. For the National Team, they have only won once in their last seven games and have gone winless in six straight. What’s even worse, the US gave up three of those games by allowing goals after the 85th minute and have allowed 9 of 11 goals in the second half.
Klinsmann has blamed fitness, or a lack of fitness, as the reason for the struggles. He thinks some USMNT players aren’t training enough before the preseason to effectively compete. In a recent interview, Klinsmann highlights that plus a lack of education among the USMNT players.
“It’s an educational topic we try to talk them through. You’ve got to understand again to take these things in your own hands, and whatever you lack in that moment, when these phases happen, that you have to work yourself back: ‘OK, I understand that I’m not where I should be now … for sure I’m behind now, so I’ve got to get myself back into pole position,’ and that’s what they’re going through right now. They’ve lost their pole position because [the World Cup] was a lot for them. [And] our players are not yet in an environment where they actually get put into line right away.”
“It’s difficult for me now to get them out of vacation. Some of them played their last game in October. In October! I want to help them get back into shape, get back into rhythm, but, oh, by the way, we’re going to play [two friendlies]. So some learned over time and prepared themselves really well, and some don’t have that knowledge yet.”
“They don’t have that ‘oh, OK, at the beginning of December, go to Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix and get myself fit.’ That culture we don’t have yet. What the other sports are doing really well, they use their preparation for preseason, four to six weeks prior to going into preseason with their NBA team, NFL team of whatever, they go to these fitness institutes and they get themselves fit.”
The culture is not there. They’ve got all the material. They should have done that [work] twice a day, but reality is still different. Reality is, education-wise, we are not there yet, that they understand, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that.’ It’s a lot to discuss. It’s fine. It’s just where we are right now, and we want to keep improving.”
Klinsmann was on America’s Pregame on Fox Sports 1, where he clarified his comments saying that it’s a “couple of guys” who came to the camp a step behind in fitness.
“The MLS season goes nine months and they should take a month off but then they should go back to preparing themselves for the next year and a couple guys haven’t done that and that’s why they’re looking a little bit shaky right now. But we’re going to get them back on track and hopefully they learn out of it.”
I understand that fitness is important and that players need to be fit to compete at the high level but cut the players some slack. Yeah, some players haven’t played since October and those players need to adjust their training schedule accordingly. Some players ended their season in November and December. When Sporting KC won the MLS Cup in December 2013, Matt Besler had about a couple weeks in between the MLS Cup and US Soccer camp to get married and go on his honeymoon. That’s not much of an offseason.
Klinsmann also has to understand that a US soccer season is different than a season in a European country. For one thing, the longest distance anyone has to travel in the EPL is Southampton to Newcastle, which is a six hour drive. Sporting KC’s closest opponent is the Chicago Fire and that is an eight hour drive. Obviously, teams fly to games but MLS players are logging in more miles than European based players. With the extra travel, it would appear as if that would strengthen Klinsmann’s argument about fitness. On the other hand, when you’re traveling throughout the US and only having a break for a couple weeks, in addition to doing three practices a day for a month leading up to the World Cup, something has got to give.
Klinsmann states that his plan is for MLS to have an 11 month season “like the rest of the world.” Not even mentioning the obvious issues regarding winter in the United States and Canada, MLS doesn’t have a longer offseason than the top European leagues. For example, the current MLS offseason lasts 92 days as long as there’s no strike in March. We can talk about that later, one thing at a time. This summer, top European leagues like the EPL had an offseason that lasted 95 days and La Liga which lasted 96 days. The Bundesliga, the league that’s in Klinsmann’s native Germany, which is the league for the majority of the German National Team players who won the World Cup and who, like MLS, has a 34 game season, has an offseason of 103 days during the summer and a 41 day break during the season for the holiday season. Even if an MLS team doesn’t make the playoffs, their offseason will be 132 days, 12 fewer days than the Bundesliga’s combined 144 day break. Maybe Klinsmann should look at his home country before comparing the MLS schedule to Europe.
What I’m saying is that Klinsmann can stress fitness but it’s more complicated than just being fit. You can have the fittest horse in the world but you can only work that horse for so hard and so long until the horse finally gives up. There is such a thing as training too much in that it becomes a detriment to the team because everyone is so wiped out. Players can get tired and get injured by playing too much and that helps nobody. Yes, fitness is important and Klinsmann may be right that some players need to step up the fitness game, but Klinsmann needs to realize that there’s a fine line where too much fitness can be just as bad as not being fit at all. Getting the best performances out of the players Klinsmann has is what being a manager is all about. Whatever the reason why, Klinsmann must share a part of the blame for the USMNT struggles and he did do that in tonight’s interview. The great thing is that this is the perfect time to struggle and learn. I would much prefer to lose in friendlies in January than in a tournament. Just get it together for the Gold Cup and we’ll all feel better.