ZURICH — In the shadows of the apartment blocks and the mountains scattered around Switzerland’s largest city, the U.S. national team whirred to life once more on Friday.
There is little time to waste. The urgency does not stem from the 3-2 defeat in Denmark on Wednesday, though there is a desire to rectify those matters ahead of the friendly against the Swiss here on Tuesday (live, 11:30 a.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go). It stems from the desire to make the best possible use of the rare opportunity afforded by this double fixture date.
Instead of fixing their focus on a World Cup qualifier or preparing quickly for a friendly just around the corner, this group boasts the benefit of time to instill and hone core principles ahead of a second friendly.
The circumstances provide a rare opportunity to gather together – even with Clint Dempsey (strained right hamstring), Brad Guzan (impending birth of a child) and a few selected MLS players absent – for an extended period without the need for instant results. And it is an opportunity this group does not intend to waste.
“Now we can use those training sessions – once every day – and we can bring in tactical elements,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after the first practice in Switzerland concluded. “After a few more days, they feel far more comfortable. As we often talk about, we want to get our style out, we want to impose it on the opponent, we want to move higher up, but it can only work over time when you consistently train, you give them confidence and you give them the OK to make mistakes.”
As the affair in Denmark showed, there is still considerable progress to make in that department. The circumstances in Århus prompted a pragmatic approach to accommodate the short preparation time and combat the Danish work in possession. There were spells in that game where the Americans found their footing and posed an incisive threat on the break, but there were other times when a lack of cohesiveness on and off the ball led to inconsistent pressure, imprecise passing and suspect positioning.
Progress in that department usually arrives hand in hand with familiarity. There is plenty of experience in the side with Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley both present to establish the necessary expectations and supply the requisite thrust, but there is also a need to bring along players with scant seasoning at this level. This period allows those emerging options to adjust to the demands and ensure the team remains connected from back to front.
“We have to get to know each other because we have different mentalities, different coaches and different leagues,” U.S. midfielder Alfredo Morales said. “You have to get to know everybody on the field, how he thinks, how he wants to play his style of soccer. We have a lot of training sessions over the next few days. It’s very good.”
Klinsmann said he plans to use the next few days to harp those philosophies, reinforce the need to stay connected from back to front and touch base with his players about their wider objectives.
At this stage of the cycle, there is a pressing desire to plan for the long term without sacrificing the present. There is a Gold Cup on the horizon and a series of tournaments and World Cup qualifiers soon to follow. There are firm goals to fulfill during that period as this group seeks to secure a place at the Confederations Cup in 2017 and a place at the World Cup in Russia one year later.
As far in the distance as those events seem right now, they are approaching quickly. Now is the time to make sure everything is on the proper course, according to Klinsmann.
“One thing is the work on the field,” Klinsmann said. “The other thing is the talks. I’m going to talk to all of the guys individually — this is where you are right now, this is what you need to work on, asking them how they are doing — and getting their side of things, which is important, too. They can start to zoom in again and see that 2015 is a big year.”