CARSON, Calif. – Jurgen Klinsmann has made fitness the foundation of what he's building with the US national team. It's an integral part of every camp – but for once, it's not the focus of this year's January gathering.
This is not the “preseason” camp U.S. Soccer usually convenes to start the year, even if all but one player is MLS-based. With only 23 of the 26 training at StubHub Center slated to head next week for a two-week stay in Brazil, Klinsmann and his staff have the group focused on the actual soccer earlier than normal.
“It's not a camp where we build now fitness, fitness, fitness,” Klinsmann told reporters on Tuesday. “It's something where now we want to see them express themselves on the top level, and if you want to express yourself on the national team level, you've got to be fit. ...
"The stronger their foundation is in terms of fitness and overall shape, the easier it is for the player to express himself and have confidence in what he's doing. Hopefully, they did all that work over the last couple of weeks – we think positive – and then we want to see, obviously, their technical capabilities and their real soccer abilities.”
The team is taking near-daily morning beach runs during their time in Southern California, and there were fitness tests – the VO2 max test, speed-shuttle runs, vertical-leap measurements and so forth – on Wednesday's schedule, to set baselines for newcomers and comparative figures from other camps for the veterans. It's a valuable tool.
“It's crucial for us to benchmark them throughout the year and always have this data,” Klinsmann said last year on U.S. Soccer's website. “You need to be able to understand what players are going through, whether it's injuries, losing form, or sometimes losing focus. We can tell them what they are lacking and where they can improve.”
These tests usually are the focus the first few days in January sessions, but with the World Cup just five months away, Klinsmann expected everybody to arrive fit. Now it's about honing that fitness and building toward game fitness, which will continue in Brazil before the squad returns to Los Angeles for the Feb. 1 friendly against South Korea.
The US hope fitness can be an advantage come June.
“Some of the late-game stuff you see from our team, that's been something that we've done is close games out well, score those goals and get results,” midfielder Graham Zusi told reporters on Tuesday. “A lot of that is fitness-based and being able to go longer than the opposition.”
Added midfielder Mix Diskerud: “I feel like one of our strengths is that we have good fitness. We're very athletic – that's something Americans are known for.”
Klinsmann said it would be clear if anyone lacked the requisite fitness – “When you play a little scrimmage, already you can see after five minutes someone getting tired legs, he may not have done his homework,” he said – and surely those who aren't are going to miss the upcoming trip to to São Paulo.
It's all building blocks on the way to the World Cup, and there's more to come.
“The level in the World Cup is two or three levels higher, and the reality is that the last two years of World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup don't give you the real picture,” Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer.
“The global picture is facing the strongest nations in the World Cup, and you need to be prepared. It’s not easy to put a number on it, but it requires at least 30 to 40 percent more than what we have needed so far."