GLENDALE, Ariz. – A last-gasp winner was the culmination of not just a night of hard work for the US national team on Saturday, but two-and-a-half weeks of training camp in which conditioning and grasping coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s system were the two main points of emphasis.
The US’ 1-0 victory over Venezuela had Klinsmann’s methodology written all over it. No wonder the coach was enthusiastic in describing what he saw from his team, which was mostly made up of Major League Soccer players.
“When you look at that team we brought in for this camp, it’s all hungry, good players that want to make the next step,” Klinsmann said in the postgame press conference. “They want to know, "Where is my next level, how do I get to the next level?'”
Several players made compelling cases for being ready to make that jump, and Klinsmann also made plenty of substitutions. The only Americans who were in the 18-man roster and didn’t play were goalkeeper Nick Rimando and defender Jeff Parke.
“We sent them on the field with the guidance to say take charge of the game,” Klinsmann said. “Push it high up, be confident, move forward and always stay compact, always stay together as a unit, and they implemented everything we told them, exact. We wanted to give them a feeling that they can play with these nations.
“It took them 15, 20 minutes until they realized we just need to push it higher up, we just need to be more confident … and then we started with great chances. Three 100 percent ones in the first half and then six, seven in the second half.”
And when it mattered most at the end of the game, the US players had energy to burn. Enough, at least, for one final push for a winning goal that paid off when Jermaine Jones found Ricardo Clark for a header in the eighth minute of stoppage time.
"We told the players before the match, ‘You put in so much for two-and-a-half weeks, early-morning runs, two training sessions afterwards,’” Klinsmann said. “They showed tremendous attitude and effort. And we just said, ‘Now get the reward for it.’”
Klinsmann was thrilled for Clark, who got some measure of redemption for some faulty play in the 2010 World Cup.
“I’m happy for him that it worked out this way,” Klinsmann said.
Four players got their first caps for the US – starters Bill Hamid, A.J. DeLaGarza and Graham Zusi and substitute C.J. Sapong – and Klinsmann said it was important they knew they were part of the group.
“When you have your first cap you are shaky, you are nervous and it’s a very special moment,” Klinsmann said. “I think how the group helped them in that process was pretty cool to see. Graham, he seemed like he’s been here for a long time, and Bill, after a couple of minutes, he kind of settled and got more relaxed. A.J. was there from the first second on.”
Up next, the US goes on the road to Panama on Jan. 25 for a friendly in Panama City.
“And now they get another very difficult experience down in Panama,” Klinsmann said. “Those are the games we need to play. We need to have those experiences and also have our struggles … with whatever happens on the field.”