As his players walked off the training field on Friday morning, U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann stepped off to the side and took a moment to cast his view over the bigger picture.
There are instant responsibilities looming against Switzerland at Stadion Letzigrund on Tuesday (live, 11:30a.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go), but there are pressing concerns ahead, too.
Those demands inevitably warrant attention during this European excursion. It is not just about gaining experience and testing out new ideas. It is about starting to put the pieces together ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.
“It’s interesting now seeing all of these individuals,” Klinsmann said. “We’re looking now at a bigger roster. We’re trying to figure out how we put that 30-man roster together for the Gold Cup with the chance to switch six after the group stage, which it looks like we can make that change like we did two years ago. That gives you a lot to think about.”
The continued willingness to experiment with new options and tinker with the tactical setup reinforces the challenges at hand. There is a need for some pragmatism in order to perform in the present, but there is also a desire to implement a more sweeping approach before the obligations ahead during the summer.
In light of those expectations and the struggles to produce results in the wake of the World Cup, Klinsmann must still settle upon his best shape, his best side and his best squad in the months ahead.
Scheduling concerns complicate the quest considerably. This pair of games is the only time until June for Klinsmann to exercise free reign to summon players. He does receive the benefit of MLS-heavy friendlies — the two matches in January and February, plus the match against Mexico in San Antonio next month — to assess domestic-based options, but there is a limited time frame to pull everything together with everyone on hand.
It is why Klinsmann placed such importance on this extended camp here before the friendly on Tuesday and why he wants to discuss the next few months with his players during their stay here. There is a need to figure things out sooner rather than later, particularly with the extensive planning involved in this process.
“The biggest challenge is how can we bridge the European players,” Klinsmann said. “That’s the biggest challenge. It’s saying, ‘We would take these guys into the Gold Cup — which we want, because we are a better team then — but we need to find a solution. We can’t have them drop [their levels] through a long vacation because you’re not getting them back up in a short amount of time. We’re looking at ways [to address it].”
Klinsmann said he has already started to reach out to club coaches in a bid to lay the necessary groundwork. It is not an issue of releasing players for a FIFA-sanctioned tournament. Instead, it is an attempt to discern how to navigate European-based and Mexican-based players through the end of their seasons.
There are compromises ahead on one side or the other given the precarious placement of the tournament in July. Clubs might have to do without a key player or two through the start of preseason (or through a stretch during the middle of the campaign, in the MLS cases). Players might need to tailor their vacations to include training work alongside the rest and relaxation. And Klinsmann might need to amend and tweak his own plans to accommodate both of those realities, too.
It is why Klinsmann expects to delve into those topics over the next few days and weigh the willingness of his players to embrace the demands ahead.
“Those discussions are very important for us as coaches,” Klinsmann said. “At the end of the day, what are your goals? What do you want to achieve? For a European player, winning a Gold Cup is huge. You want to win trophies. This is why you’re in this job. You want to win titles. You want to build yourself a little bit of a résumé because the career goes by so fast. You don’t want to look back and say, I wasn’t on the Gold Cup team. For them, they badly want to play in that tournament.”
The next few months allow Klinsmann to cull the information necessary required to make those decisions and piece his roster together. There are inevitable alterations ahead as injuries crop up and unexpected occurrences emerge. In the end, it is down to Klinsmann to chart a course designed to give his side the best possible opportunity to retain the Gold Cup and secure a place in the Confederations Cup in two years’ time.
“I see it more like it is now,” Klinsmann said. “It will be a mixture of the strongest guys we have. There are exceptions [on this trip]: Clint has a little hamstring so he goes back, Brad Guzan is expecting a baby. I said, Brad, listen, this is bigger than any soccer game. We always have some special cases where it doesn’t work out, but, in general, we will have the best guys for Holland, for Germany and for the Gold Cup.”