STANFORD, Calif. — On Wednesday, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann spoke to the media for the first time in a week as the team keeps going in its pre-World Cup camp ahead of next Tuesday’s friendly against Azerbaijan in San Francisco. With the arrival of Jermaine Jones on Tuesday, all 30 players are now in camp with seven cuts needing to be made by June 2.
Some highlights from the media session:
• The center back competition is wide open
Klinsmann couldn’t have said it more succinctly: “We have to figure out a couple pieces still on the back line.”
That could mean as many as three spots, since Matt Besler is a favorite for starting at center back while Fabian Johnson is likely to start at right or left back. Klinsmann added another wrinkle when he talked about Geoff Cameron, who could play at center back, defensive midfielder or right back (where he played for Stoke City most of the recent Premier League season).
“I’ve said over three years: I think his best position is center back,” Klinsmann said. “And it’s good to know he can play right back, too, and good to know he can play a No. 6, too. But his best fit, his best game for himself is the center back role.”
That’s a signal that Cameron is competing directly for the starting CB role with Omar González, who has been the incumbent starter for several months but has had some bobbles in games as well. Other players competing for that spot include Clarence Goodson, John Brooks and even Michael Parkhurst, who has been playing center back for the Columbus Crew despite being used as a fullback internationally.
• The expected date for roster cuts remains up in the air
FIFA’s deadline for cutting down to 23 players is June 2, but it’s possible Klinsmann could make his cuts earlier or cut different players on different days. He said he didn’t want to commit to anything as of now.
“We obviously discuss [the depth chart] daily,” Klinsmann said. “It’s part of our job for our work, but I don’t have a specific date in mind.”
• Klinsmann gives the U.S. players some freedom
Every national team coach is different about how much liberty they give their players during a long camp. In World Cups past, it seems like there always used to be a story about some old-school national team coach banning his players from having sex around the tournament, which seems, well, sort of ludicrous (Well, not to Mexico coach Miguel Herrera, who has banned his players from having sex and consuming alcohol during the tournament, for instance, according to Mexican publication Reforma).
We’re a week into this camp, and if the U.S. players were totally under lock and key there might be a rebellion. But that’s not the case. DaMarcus Beasley said the players would have Wednesday night free to have dinner wherever they wanted, even outside the hotel, and Klinsmann said even when players are required to eat dinner at the hotel training table they have a time window and not a set start time.
On most days, the players have been eating lunch at the Stanford dining facilities.
“That’s pretty cool,” said Beasley. “You get to interact with the kids here and eat their food. And the food’s been pretty good at Stanford. We’ve been putting in a lot of work, so [Klinsmann] knows when to give us a rest and when not to.”
Added Klinsmann: “The hotel is really top. We couldn’t be in a better place. The climate is dry and fresh, and we can push the guys. That’s what the camp here at Stanford is about, it’s to push them to their limits.”
But Klinsmann does appear to understand that the U.S. players are different from those in other countries. That’s what Beasley thinks, anyways.
“Any coach who coaches our team knows: We’re different than any other country in the world in how we go about our business and go about things on the field,” Beasley said. “We don’t wear the same thing every day. As long as it’s Nike, you can wear what you want.
“For us to be comfortable and get the best [out of the team] on the field, we have to be comfortable off the field as well.”