U.S. team youth need to push older players out - Jurgen Klinsmann
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann has told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview that, with the team about halfway through the current World Cup cycle, he wishes more young players were pushing for spots.
Klinsmann hailed the U.S.' highly respectable fourth place finish at the Copa America and said he was confident that his side would carry the momentum from that tournament into the last two matches of the current round of World Cup qualifying.
On Friday, the U.S. will play St. Vincent and the Grenadines in Kingstown, followed by a match against Trinidad & Tobago four days later in Jacksonville. The U.S. is expected to get the results it needs to clinch a spot in the final round Hexagonal.
In terms of the team's composition, the U.S. remains heavily reliant on veteran players. But what is concerning for Klinsmann is the lack of pressure coming from up-and-coming players, a point made more acute by the absences of Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey.
"We hoped for more push from the younger generation," Klinsmann said. "So our message consistently is when they are with us you've got to make your case. You've got to come out of your shell.
"You've got to speak up and ask questions. Push the older ones out. This is your job. In general, my experience over the last five years is that American talent takes longer, maybe because the college culture is still there in the middle of it.
"Meanwhile, you have European or South American kids at 18, 19, biting the legs off the older ones. Here [a player] needs to be maybe 22, 23, so that kind of personality jump comes a bit later with our players."
Granted, age in itself is no crime, Klinsmann said. In the heat of a qualification cycle, experience is a valuable commodity to have. But Jones is injured and likely won't play in either of the upcoming qualifiers, although he remains a significant part of the team at age 34.
And the other mainstay, 33-year-old Dempsey, has been sidelined with an irregular heartbeat, though Kyle Beckerman, also 34, is a shoo-in to play in both matches.
Klinsmann didn't sound overly alarmed by the presence of the veterans, noting that he considers this part of the normal process, and he did bring in some younger elements to his squad for the current round of qualifiers.
But out of players under 25, only DeAndre Yedlin (23) and Bobby Wood (23) are certain starters. It remains to be seen how big a role 17-year-old Christian Pulisic will be handed with progression to the next round of qualifying on the line.
Klinsmann pointed to Wood as an example of what the U.S. has to go through in terms of bringing players into the national team.
Two years ago, Wood was sitting on the bench for 1860 Munich, but Klinsmann kept calling the young forward up anyway. That provided a badly needed dose of confidence, and combined with a stellar season at 2. Bundesliga side Union Berlin, Wood has parlayed that into a move to Hamburg.
"If you tell the German national team coach to pull a kid from the second division that isn't even on the bench, they would call you crazy," Klinsmann said. "But our pool of players is just completely different to any team in Europe or South America. We don't have the luxury just to pick the players from Champions League teams.
"We don't have that. We have to be happy for a kid to sign a professional contract and then try to help him understand what it takes to become a pro, and to work his way through the system wherever he is."
The lack of young players coming through is most apparent in midfield, though Klinsmann noted that injuries have played a part. Hearts midfielder Perry Kitchen is a candidate, but Klinsmann said the player's recent recovery from injury didn't come in time for this week's games.
Bournemouth's Emerson Hyndman is another who has been dealing with injuries of late. FC Vaduz midfielder Caleb Stanko did make the trip, and Klinsmann said he had showed well during a U.S. camp last May.
One player who has made a something of a breakthrough at club level is 20-year-old Lynden Gooch, who has made five appearances for EPL side Sunderland already this season.
But Klinsmann declined to call Gooch up, saying that he's seen numerous instances of players losing their spot in the starting lineup at club level after returning from international duty, especially given the jet lag and fatigue involved.
For that reason, Klinsmann didn't want to jeopardize Gooch's spot in the starting lineup at Sunderland.
"I spoke to [Gooch], and for him now it's a case of, 'I just broke in. I've got to digest that for a second, and I've got to make sure I keep my spot.' This is World Cup qualifying right now.
"Yeah, we brought a couple of youngsters in, but we give priority to the group that got Copa America done. So we've got to get results now. This is purely result-driven the next seven days.
"So maybe in October, we have the opportunity to bring some youngsters in, give them some playing time. It's a completely different scenario."
In terms of improving the overall quality of the U.S. side, Klinsmann admitted there is no better test than what the U.S. faced earlier this summer.
"The Copa America was for us, priceless in terms of not only because it was successful, but also because of the experience," he said.
"If every two years we could have a Copa America, it would boost our program tremendously because you need to play the best nations out there, and the best nations are in Europe and South America. So that learning curve hopefully pays off two years from now."
Klinsmann added that given the level of competition that the Copa offered, he hopes the U.S. will be able to compete in more editions of the tournament in the future.
"Maybe down the road we have one Copa America in between the cycles and one Gold Cup, and not two Gold Cups," he said. "I think that would be ideal. A Gold Cup doesn't really challenge us. OK, it's Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, and us. Yeah, Jamaica here and there.
"They are strong nations, but from a learning perspective between two cycles, you want to play if possible Brazil, Argentina, Chile; or Holland, England, France and Germany.
"Now with the way they schedule, and the qualifiers, obviously the 18-game schedule of South America, we have actually no chance anymore to schedule them in friendly games. That's not good for us, because the only way we grow is by playing up."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.