U.S. national team news and notes

With one day until the U.S. national team’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica, Juergen Klinsmann addressed the media this afternoon at the historic Paramount Theatre (top-notch entertainment in town!) in downtown Denver. A few excerpts:

Judging by his comments, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey will probably start in forward positions; DaMarcus Beasley is an option at injury-depleted left back; Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley will partner in central midfield; and Brek Shea (foot ailment) probably isn’t ready to play. (“He is trying really hard to get into a rhythm.”)

Responding for the first time to The Sporting News story in which players anonymously criticized his style and methods…..

“It’s just part of our environment. Journalists and people can say whatever they feel, whatever they believe, which is important. It’s a great sign. All the debates are going on in this country. It shows that people care. It shows that people really question things, that people maybe get worried about we lost one game in Honduras, one out of 10. You take that as a positive sign.

“I have always said we are a team in transition. I have always said between two [World Cup] cycles, there is a lot of work for the coaches and for the team. That being said, it is normal that we have had to move players out of comfort zones, we have to introduce them to different methods because we want to make them better. If we do things exactly the same way before, we are not improving. It’s our job to get these guys to another level, and so it’s done by using different methods.

“Obviously, I prefer if people have any problems, come to me and talk to me about it. The so-called anonymous quotes, there is no way who said it: Is it a player, is it an agent, whoever? [But] It doesn’t distract us at all.”

On personal pressure, expectations, criticism…..

“The opportunity is there now to correct the result in Honduras, get ourselves on the right track and hopefully make everyone happy. On the other side, I am not here to make everybody happy. Then I actually have the wrong job. I am here to challenge people, I am here to to improve people. By doing that, I might [take] some people out of their comfort zones. That’s what I keep doing because I want to make it better.”

On Bruce Arena’s criticism that the U.S. roster includes too many foreign-born players…..

“That’s just his opinion. It’s totally cool. The world has changed. It’s a global game. I believe Americans are Americans, no matter if they grow up in Japan, South Africa or Buenos Aires. Our job is to identify the best talents with an American passport to see if they are good enough to come into that elite group. … It’s different times now. We have a lot of kids breaking through in different countries. We want to evaluate them and connect them. America is a melting pot, not only here, but it’s a global melting pot. … It’s our responsibility to make sure we don’t lose the next Giuseppe Rossi,” who is from New Jersey but chose to represent Italy.

[It should be noted that, when coaching the U.S. team, Arena utilized players born outside the country.]

On choosing Dempsey as the captain for the next two matches…..

“It gives him a sense of becoming closer connected to the head coach, discussing things, talking about certain strategies.”

*Switching gears, I asked USSF communications director Neil Buethe about other national team matters…..

Following the announcement of a U.S.-Germany men’s friendly June 2 at RFK Stadium as part of the federation’s 100th anniversary celebrations, was a similar event proposed for the women’s team?

“We considered a lot of different options. One of them was possibly having a women’s game at home on June 2. Another was having a women’s game on April 5, which is our exact 100th anniversary. We are playing away at Germany on April 5, but we did have conversations [with the DFB] about playing it in the United States and playing in Germany at a later date. It was positive conversations, but we had set up playing away a long time ago, so it was difficult to change for both parties.”

The women are scheduled to play on June 2, but in Toronto against Canada. Why not play that game in the States?

“A lot of different factors were considered. Things just worked out that playing in Canada made more sense for everyone. We have both games on TV back-to-back [men on ESPN2 at 2:30 p.m., women on ESPNews at 4:30]. We will promote that and celebrate our anniversary in that way.”

Was there consideration for a stand-alone women’s game later in the year as part of the centennial events?

“We considered a lot of different options. If they hadn’t played on June 2, we thought of having them as part of the festivities in D.C. in a different way [instead of playing]. But we felt that having them play on the same day was an interesting concept and would promote the centennial in a unique way.”

You couldn’t have two matches at RFK?

“Again, it was something to be considered, but in the end, we felt for multiple reasons, going in this direction made more sense.”

Why has the USSF decided to install natural grass over the artificial turf for the men’s World Cup qualifier in Seattle in June? Turf is FIFA legal, and, as we’ve seen elsewhere for U.S. matches, the grass-over-turf experiment is flawed…..

“In general, we have a preference to play on grass. That starts with the coaching staff and goes to the players. Not that we would never consider playing on turf, but our definite preference is grass, so we are happy to work that out with Seattle.”

*Updated game-time weather forecast in Denver: 36 degrees, 40 percent chance of a snow shower. Cold rain could begin as early as 5 p.m.

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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Steven Goff | March 21, 2013