PORTLAND, Ore. – Jurgen Klinsmann was not raised on Major League Soccer. But the head coach of the US national team is adamant that the US-based league’s development is crucial to supply a pipeline of talent directly into the national team program.
In fact, in a somewhat surprising admission on Monday, he believes all American youngsters should come through MLS’ academy systems and be given a chance to progress to first teams.
“MLS has [been] a huge part of the development of the national team because it’s the foundation of the professional game in this country,” Klinsmann said in a press conference ahead of the USMNT’s Gold Cup opener vs. Belize (Tuesday, 11 pm ET, Fox Soccer, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“We want to give players a path at very early ages to go through. I think that the foundation is getting stronger and stronger. It’s not there yet, but it’s getting better and better. And we with the national team program want to kind of continue on that work that is done in MLS and also give those players the opportunity to break into the national team roster.”
Klinsmann has taken some heat from critics for his inclusion of several German-born US internationals in his squads, but he has also shown he has no problem giving prominent roles on his first team to players whose only professional experience is with MLS clubs. Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, for instance, are his first-choice center back tandem, and Graham Zusi has been a consistent starter in midfield.
The USMNT boss reiterated that his players’ choice of professional league doesn’t matter.
“I’ve said from the beginning, I don’t really care much where they play as long as they play at their highest level possible,” he said, “that they challenge themselves, if they always look for the next opportunity. If they play brilliantly in MLS, same with the players down in Mexico, they do that if they play in Europe. For us coaches, it’s important that they never get content, that they never kind of stop at a certain moment, that they always look for next opportunity out there.”