U.S. desperate to close out 2014 with a win in Ireland
DUBLIN -- Just win, baby. After squandering second-half leads in each of their past three games -- going 0-1-2 since September's impressive victory in the Czech Republic -- that's the clear message from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players heading into the national team's final match of 2014 Tuesday against Ireland (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and WatchESPN).
"We want to finish 2014 on a high note, but also as a statement for next year," midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said Monday before the Americans trained under a light rain at gorgeous Aviva Stadium here in the Irish capital. "Most of us won't be together again until I don't know when, March or something, so you definitely want to have a good showing and get a result. We want to win. The guys want to win."
There was a time not too long when the U.S. would have gladly accepted just not losing on European soil. The Yanks won just four times in 22 matches in the Old World between 1998 and Klinsmann's hiring in 2011. Since the German took over, they are 4-5-2, falling under the .500 mark following last week's defeat to Colombia in London.
"We could make it easy and play every game at home and choose [opponents] where we kind of have a big advantage, but then I'm not developing this program. I'm not getting the team to another level," Klinsmann told reporters at his prematch news conference. "Playing Colombia, playing in Ireland, playing somewhere in Europe, going down to South America -- we need those experiences to get better and to prepare for the real big tournaments."
Even against a weakened Ireland squad -- Irish boss Martin O'Neill sent striker Robbie Keane back to the L.A. Galaxy to prepare for the MLS conference finals, just like Klinsmann did with Jermaine Jones, Lee Nguyen and DeAndre Yedlin (U.S. defender DaMarcus Beasley was also released) -- Tuesday's match will be a difficult test. It will be played amid a decidedly partisan atmosphere; more than 35,000 tickets have been sold, just 500 of them to visiting fans. And although O'Neill is also expected to give two youngsters their international debuts, Ireland is also coming off a tough loss in Scotland in Euro 2016 qualifying. Surely the Irish will be looking to put on a good show in front of their fans.
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"I think Ireland is a team on the rise," Klinsmann said, noting that the hosts' roster is stocked with players from England's Premier League.
"I'm sure it will be a physical battle, but this is what Jurgen has been talking about, for the young guys to step up and be physical," Bedoya said. "I think this game will do that as another step on our learning curve and our progress."
For a U.S. team that has just one win in its past seven games, a victory to end the year would be nice, too.
- Klinsmann explained his decision to call up defender Matt Besler, who appeared exhausted at the end of the longest season of his career. "I observed a lot of stuff going on with everyone, a little bit up and down, a down period here and there, but they have to learn to deal with that," Klinsmann said of the challenges Besler and other players faced after an emotional World Cup in Brazil. "I never had any doubts about Matt. It's his first trip to Europe, which is kind of interesting. He will be excited to get on the field [Tuesday]."
- The coach was also quizzed about the ongoing club-country debate in the U.S. "For me, the biggest challenge is that the FIFA fixture calendar is not followed by MLS," he said. "I look not only at the senior team, but I look at the youth teams. If I'm not getting, in these windows, all of the players released for the U-20s, U-23s, to develop the Olympic team, then it's hell. That's what I mentioned several times, is to get the chance to get everybody on the same calendar so that the FIFA fixture dates are reserved for the national team program so that we can develop those teams.
"I'm always open to help wherever I can," Klinsmann continued. "I have certain situations that are 50-50 where I try and help the MLS coaches, because they also want us to do well. It's tricky."
- Asked by a local reporter if Irish-American Colorado Rapids defender Shane O'Neill, who participated in the Americans' last January camp, was in his future plans, Klinsmann was clear. "He's already in our plans," the coach said. "He will go with us to the Olympics in 2016."
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.