GLENDALE, Ariz. – When the US men’s national team takes the pitch at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday night in a friendly against Venezuela, they will see an opponent with a style of play they've yet to face.
That's exactly what head coach Jurgen Klinsmann had in mind for his inexperienced American squad when he asked to play the Vinotinto at the conclusion of January camp (9 pm ET, ESPN3, Galavisión).
Venezuela have seven points in CONMEBOL's 2014 World Cup qualifying tournament, good for a three-way tie for first place. That’s saying something about a nation more known for producing baseball stars than soccer maestros.
“They’re technically very gifted, they fight for balls everywhere on the field,” Klinsmann said in a press conference on Friday. “It might not look as clean as Brazil … but it’s a highly energetic team, so we expect them to go at us. We want to kind of pick it up with them and play face-to-face. This is the stuff that we need.”
According to Klinsmann, Venezuela's style is so unique that the Americans might not even see an actual system. What they will see, however, is a side that aggressively chases the ball.
“They go a lot through the middle and they go for second balls,” Klinsmann said. “They have a completely different way of playing, so that means our players have to be very awake and understand what’s going on. This will be interesting to see how our guys deal with it.”
The plan, it seems, will be for the US to play at high intensity, as conditioning has been the theme of the current camp.
“You train the way you play,” Klinsmann said.
With 18 MLS players on the 21-man camp roster, measuring themselves against a unique opponent isn't just a necessity for Klinsmann and his staff to further evaluate the current batch, but it also gives the players a chance to show what they’ve got.
Klinsmann has made it clear that he’s looking hard for players who can be contributors once CONCACAF's 2014 World Cup qualifying tournament begins this summer, and he wants his charges to understand that playing for the national team is like being an All-Star — they are expected to do more, be leaders and stand out for both club and country.
“The door is wide open for every MLS player,” the coach said. “Looking a couple of months ahead, when you face the first two World Cup qualifiers, you want to make sure that the messages that we’ve sent out the past couple of months and the next couple of months are received.”
Forward Juan Agudelo and midfielder Kyle Beckerman have been ruled out for Saturday’s match, as well as the Jan. 25 friendly in Panama, Klinsmann said.
Beckerman, who took part in the first part of practice Friday, is sidelined with a groin problem, while Agudelo, who didn’t participate in training, has a sprained right ankle. That leaves the Americans with 16 available field players.