With the 2011 Major League Soccer season completed and months of inactivity, regeneration and rest on the horizon, U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann's message that MLS-based players need to be maintaining their match and training fitness almost year-round to stay in the mix for national-team consideration has certainly been heard.
A number of MLS players -- some with Klinsmann's direct assistance -- have recently secured training stints with top-flight European clubs to get a brief taste of the abroad experience, and all of those players are currently on either the senior national team or 2012 U.S. Olympic team radar.
Four players are getting an opportunity to soak up the German Bundesliga experience. Columbus Crew midfielder Robbie Rogers and Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman are training together at Kaiserslautern; New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo is at VfB Stuttgart and D.C. United defender/midfielder Perry Kitchen is with SC Freiburg.
Another five players are getting, or have already received, English Premier League exposure. D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid recently completed a session with West Brom; FC Dallas winger Brek Shea has the opportunity to play under Arsene Wenger's watchful eye at Arsenal; Vancouver Whitecaps forward Omar Salgado has joined Clint Dempsey at Fulham until early December; Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson is closing in on the chance to train at Manchester United; and Colorado Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz will train with injured U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden's club, Bolton.
This development isn't completely a novelty, as Americans have been training with bigger clubs overseas during the offseason for years; however, the abundance and frequency with which players are getting opportunities to gain snippets of European experience is a sure sign that not only is the caliber of player being produced by MLS and U.S. Soccer improving, but that settling for months off after a strong season will no longer be the norm for the top tier of talent.
It is important to note that none of the multiple-week training stints are official trials, despite what foreign reports might suggest. It is certainly feasible that if a player shows well and catches the eye of a manager or assistant that a potential move, or at least an increased interest, would come into play, though. Of the nine MLS players currently in that boat, only Rogers is out of contract.
For all of them, though, the training periods are like taking a brief internship. Sure, there's no guarantee of future employment, but it certainly can't hurt to bankroll the contacts and gain further exposure while growing one's own name, staying sharp and perhaps even acquiring new skills.
All of those players training abroad would surely not mind getting the chance to replicate the success a pair of MLS alums enjoyed overseas this past weekend, as former Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake striker Robbie Findley and former FC Dallas center back Clarence Goodson each found the back of the net in victories for their respective clubs in England and Denmark.
Here's a closer look at how they and the rest of the Americans actually under contract abroad fared this past week (season statistics encompass all competitions):