Clarence Goodson will be the only member of the U.S. back line with World Cup experience as a defender. (Tony Avelar/AP)
STANFORD, Calif. – The U.S. national team’s road to the World Cup began here at Stanford University on an unseasonably sweltering Wednesday in the Bay Area, where 21 of the 30 players named to coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s preliminary roster gathered for the first day of training.
While some joked that the conditions might be good preparation for Manaus, the Amazonian city where the U.S. will meet Portugal on June 22, Klinsmann made it clear that his players would be sweating regardless. There are spots to win on the final 23-man roster. The manager said here that there are “50/50 cases all over the place,” and ample work to do to reach the level of the Americans’ Group G opposition. Ghana, Portugal and Germany will be a step ahead, Klinsmann argued.
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“Every day that we now have at our disposal here at Stanford is really, really important to us and that’s why I was discussing with many club coaches and with MLS to get the players out here as early as possible because a lot of our guys do not have the same foundation as our opponents have. We have to be clear about that.”
Klinsmann named 15 MLS players to his 30-man team. MLS clubs are around 10 games into their seasons.
“Their foundation is different to ours. We have to catch up and this is what we have to do now in the next four weeks before we start our tournament, hopefully to catch up and maybe even a little bit more on top of that,” Klinsmann said.
“We know we have to catch up. We’re behind … Some [on the other Group G teams] play in cup finals, some play in the Champions League final … We know where we stand in this whole comparison and that’s why we need to start earlier and work a bit harder than they do.”
Klinsmann said he and his staff might adjust the workload for a given player over the first few days of camp, depending on whether they were coming in from Europe, Mexico or MLS.
“By next week, we’re going to have them all going the same speed,” he added. “We have Ghana to play on June 16 and that’s all that matters at the end of the day. Whoever is a little behind, he has to catch up quickly.”
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Defender DaMarcus Beasley, who’s vying for a place on his fourth World Cup squad, said this was the “deepest national team pool that we’ve had” and that there easily could have been 40 players invited to Stanford.
“Everyone’s working for the same goal and that’s to make the World Cup team, but at the same time to have a good showing in the World Cup,” Beasley said. “It goes a long way, these first weeks, whether its fitness, whether it’s with the ball more, whatever Klinsmann has us doing, it all goes for one goal … today’s the first day of a long journey for the U.S. team.”
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The entire 30-man squad won’t be together until early next week. Midfielder Jermaine Jones, an expected starter in Brazil, was one of eight players missing on Wednesday. He will likely be the last to arrive. His Turkish team, Besikitas, closes out its Süper Lig season on Saturday and still has a shot at a berth in the group stage of the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League. Besiktas must overhaul Istanbul rival Galatasaray, which has a one-point lead in the standings.
Clint Dempsey and Mix Diskerud are due in Thursday. English Premier League players Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Geoff Cameron were given a couple extra days of cushion after a long season that ended last weekend. Forward Aron Jóhannsson has games Thursday and Sunday with AZ Alkmaar, which will play off against Groningen for one of the Netherlands’ spots in next season’s UEFA Europa League.
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Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi and Matt Besler are scheduled to leave for California following their match against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday and Michael Bradley will do the same after Toronto FC finishes up with the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship.
The injured Omar Gonzalez (knee) and Maurice Edu (concussion) are in camp but will receive further treatment before training fully with the team.
Are you experienced?
Clarence Goodson traveled to South Africa with 2010 World Cup team and didn’t play a minute. That makes him the most experienced World Cup defender on Klinsmann’s squad, since Beasley’s 439 minutes came as a midfielder. So often, a back four’s performance is about chemistry and communication, and Klinsmann has a month to find the right combination for Ghana.
Considering the versatility of Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron, the inclusion of right backs with minimal international experience like DeAndre Yedlin and Timmy Chandler, and the form and fitness issues facing Gonzalez, the defense remains very much in flux as the tournament approaches.
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“We’ll work on those pieces. We will guide them through all the different things that happen during a game, prepare them the best way possible for the opponents they’ll face,” Klinsmann promised. “There’s always a first time in life in whatever you do … I’m not worried about the inexperience. I just hope that they can get up to the task now quickly in the next couple of weeks and that they feel confident in themselves.”
Goodson, who spent more than five years in Norway and Denmark before joining the San Jose Earthquakes in 2013, said experience was in the eye of the beholder.
“We’ve had some phenomenal results against some very, very good opponents. We’re all professionals,” he said. “People make a little bit more out of, ‘Have you been or haven’t you been [to a World Cup]?’ What kind of games have you played in? I think that’s what’s most important.”