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April 4, 2012
Klinsmann on young Americans in MLS

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

U.S. National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann is concerned that young U.S. players are not getting enough quality playing time with their MLS teams.
U.S. National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann is concerned that young U.S. players are not getting enough quality playing time with their MLS teams.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
With the United States failing to Qualify for the Olympics for the second time in eight years, there is a rising concern that young American players are not developing fast enough or well enough to compete at the international level. U.S. National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann voiced that concern on Wednesday, particularly with respect to young American players not getting playing time in Major League Soccer.

"That is definitely a concern, and it's definitely a topic we want to bring up with Don Garber and MLS because we want to make sure that especially younger groups of players get as much exposure as possible coming through their developmental stage," said Klinsmann.

"I know that an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old is not at the same level as an experienced player and a proven player, but we've got to make sure that they get the chance to break through and get their minutes in. So it's definitely a concern."

The U.S. Under-23 team, which lost to Canada and then tied El Salvador 3-3 on their way to an early exit from the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, included a number of MLS players, some of whom, like Brek Shea of FC Dallas, play an important role with their club teams, while others like Juan Agudelo of the New York Red Bulls are often relegated to the bench.

Klinsmann said he doesn't have a solution for the problem but pointed out examples in other countries that could work here.

"The Mexican league, I think they have rule with younger players getting implemented in their first-team games," he said. "You see the systems in other leagues like in Germany, where all the first-division teams have the reserve teams playing in the third- or fourth-division leagues, which are also a professional league, to get their feet wet and to get playing time and to get competition week in and week out, which I think proves a really good point. They're maturing, they're developing, they're getting stronger, they're getting better, and when they're ready then for the first team, they can continue their progress. It's definitely a topic that we need to dig deeper into."

But Klinsmann, who said there were a lot of reasons for the failure to qualify, and did not lay the blame on coach Caleb Porter, who is the head coach at the University of Akron, or on the U-23 staff, which was selected by Porter.

"We had a long meeting yesterday with Caleb. I was actually in Chicago yesterday and discussed this whole experience," said Klinsmann. "Obviously it's a huge disappointment for all of us, not having our Olympic team going to London this summer and the way things went there in the qualifying games. It raised a lot of questions, not only from your end, from a media perspective, but also internally within U.S. Soccer. So we worked through the process, discussed the whole lead-up toward the qualifiers, we discussed the games in the qualifiers in the qualifying tournament, and I think I have a pretty good picture of what happened there and why it didn't work out."

If the issue is lack of experience for the American players, Klinsmann said the solution is not just to work with MLS on getting players more quality playing time. It might also lie with the players themselves.

"They . . . need to realize that they have to fight their way through the system," Klinsmann said. "They have to find a way to break into the team. I’ll give you an example: Juan Agudelo, who often last year was saying, ‘I want to play more. I need to play more.’ My response to Agudelo was, ‘Well, you’ve got to train harder and you’ve got to force the coach of that team until he makes you play.’ It’s not something that is given to you. It’s something that you have to work for and you have to fight your way through."

Klinsmann remembered the Bosman ruling in 1995, which forced European clubs to play players, regardless of their nationality.

"Everything opened up. The borders opened up," Klinsmann said. "Suddenly, instead of a limited amount of foreigners, there were foreigners all over in every league. Every kind of National Team program complained and said, ‘Hey, suddenly we don’t have enough of our domestic kids playing anymore and it makes it tough for the National Team programs to develop.’

"I came in and I said, ‘You know what? If I’m the player and I want to break into a team, it doesn’t really matter to me if now I have to kick out a foreign kid or if I have to kick out a domestic kid. I have to kick out somebody to play.’ That’s really the message to the youngsters. Yeah, we understand you should play more, but you have to build your case. You have to fight your way through and you have to do more than whoever’s in front of you. So if you want to pass whoever you want to pass there in the team, then you’ve got to make your case to the coach. Show the coach that you’re better and that you work harder and that you’re hungrier and you’re more aggressive than the guys in front of you. Sooner or later that coach will play you because the coach will play the players that give him the best chance to win the game.” Editor Michael Lewis contributed to this story

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