U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his team are coping with heat from critics, and with South Florida’s sweltering humidity, as they head into the first two qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup.
The team gathered at Barry University in Miami Shores on Monday for a three-day camp to prepare for a Friday match against St. Vincent and the Grenadines in St. Louis (6:30 p.m., ESPN2) and a match next Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago.
Klinsmann chose Miami as a training site because its climate is similar to what the team will face in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and later in Guatemala. It is also easy to fly into Miami from Europe, where seven players are based.
“The players are coming from all over the place, as usual,” Klinsmann said of his 23-man roster. “Especially in Europe, winter is coming along, so we said, ‘Let’s meet here, have three days of nice training and hot weather.’ It gives them a little bit of a sense of [what to expect in] Trinidad and Tobago.”
The U.S. team is under pressure to win both games after losing four of its past six matches on home soil — to Jamaica, Mexico, Brazil and Costa Rica. Jamaica stunned Team USA in the Gold Cup semifinals, and Mexico eliminated the U.S. team from the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Klinsmann said he “totally accepts” the criticism from fans and the media, and vows to turn things around.
“Criticism after bad results is part of your life, part of your job,” Klinsmann said. “You take those criticisms positively, discuss them with staff, say, ‘What can we do better? How can we get the positive results we were used to for three years?’ ”
Jermaine Jones, one of the 11 holdovers from the 2014 World Cup team, agreed.
“[Criticism] is part of the business of what we do,” Jones said. “All we can do is put the mistakes we made away, then get wins and shut them up. We try not to look back, try to look forward.”
The roster includes familiar names such as Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman, Tim Howard and Fabian Johnson, who is back after Klinsmann publicly questioned his commitment to the team when he asked to be removed from the game at a critical time late in the loss to Mexico.
It also includes 11 players under age 25. Clint Dempsey, the 32-year-old captain of last year’s World Cup team, was not invited.
Klinsmann explained his decision:
“We want the young players to come out of their shell more and more and make a point. We know Clint inside out, what he gives the program, and he’s always there. But we also have a longer bigger picture of Russia 2018, so we need the Bobby Woodses, Jordan Morrises, Gyasi Zardeses to make an impression, to fight their way through and prove it in World Cup qualifying. We can’t start this process two years from now.”
He said he told Dempsey to “take a step back for a second” and let the youth get a chance.
“We told the more experienced guys we need to see if the younger ones are able to take your spot one day, or not,” Klinsmann said. “If not, then obviously you rely on your experienced guys and they have to carry it through again. But they’re not getting younger. Sooner or later you have to force these pieces, and make difficult decisions.”