Jurgen Klinsmann stands behind comments on U.S. player fitness
CARSON, Calif. -- Jurgen Klinsmann clarified and reiterated his recent comments that some players participating in the national team's ongoing camp aren't fit enough.
Speaking to ESPNFC.com ahead of the United States' match versus Panama here Sunday [4 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN] in an international friendly, the coach expanded on remarks he made after a Jan. 28 loss to Chile and again earlier this week regarding what he saw as the less-than-optimal physical condition of a handful of his players.
"Some were very well prepared," said Klinsmann. "But in a team, you're only as good as your worst player. Whoever was not prepared brings down the level. And then it's a chain reaction throughout the whole group."
On the surface, having a few players who weren't fully ready doesn't seem surprising. While World Cup veterans like Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones are here, many others named to the original roster had never worked under the German manager, whose grueling training methods are notorious.
When asked whether the experienced players thrived because they knew what to expect, whereas the youngsters struggled, Klinsmann indicated that wasn't the case.
"Not necessarily," said the U.S. coach. "Some saw it like, 'I'll be OK after a couple of weeks in the camp', maybe underestimating the [toll] of flying to Chile.
"This camp was never seen as a preseason camp. But these players may be looking at it like preseason changed the dynamic. What I kind of wanted to bring across is, if part of the group is not prepared physically for international games, the whole team will suffer."
The way the 3-2 loss to Chile played out -- the U.S. conceded two goals after the 60th minute -- has Klinsmann considering the future of the January camp.
"Maybe we have to rethink the approach and say that it's not fair to them. Maybe we leave the friendly games out. But if they don't have friendly games on the agenda, they don't really have a goal to work for, and we don't have any benchmark to see where they are."
In the past, with most regulars European-based and therefore unavailable, the first month of a new year was used to identify unproven MLS talents. Now, with many of the top Americans having returned to the domestic league, the landscape is different.
The coach said he'll have an "open discussion" after the Panama game with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati about what changes make sense.
Next year's edition could be limited to Olympic-eligible players, assuming the Yanks qualify later this year for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Or it could include only those senior players who pass a fitness test upon arrival.
"Coming off the offseason and trying to get them up to speed playing international games, it's simply not doable," Klinsmann said. "So we'll figure out now when this thing is done what is the best way to go forward with this January camp."
What's already clear is that Klinsmann isn't backing down from his comments or his critics.
One of the coach's loudest detractors this week has been former U.S. defender and current Fox analyst Alexi Lalas, who noted that work ethic is a longtime hallmark of the U.S. team.
"Alexi maybe thinks it can't be that our guys are not fit," Klinsmann said. "Well, Alexi, I can show you actually the [test results], and you'd have the opposite opinion. The truth is on a piece of paper. I've seen the numbers."
Even though Klinsmann wouldn't name names, he refuses to let it slide, even if he concedes that for much of his team, this is a de-facto preseason.
"My comments aren't meant to criticize anybody, it's just where we are right now. It's understandable," said Klinsmann. "But I think it's important that the players are not getting away with it."