U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann is once again rankling Major League Soccer supporters, suggesting that if the league had an 11-month schedule like most of the world, and if MLS players were under as much pressure to stay as fit as NFL and NBA players and Europe-based soccer players, the U.S. team might not have lost 3-2 to Chile last week.
Klinsmann cited lack of fitness as a factor in the loss. The United States gave up two goals after the 60-minute mark. The team is back in action Sunday against Panama (4 p.m., ESPN) as preparations for this summer’s Gold Cup continue.
“What happens here is that maybe soccer is not as far yet as American football, baseball, basketball, where athletes in their offseason basically go then specifically in their own preparation before they join the preseason with their professional teams,” he said in an interview with Fox Sports.
“We don’t have that culture yet. The MLS season goes nine months, and they should take a month off but then they should then go back to preparing themselves for their next year. A couple of guys haven’t done that and that’s why they are looking a little bit shaky right now. But we’re going to get them back on track and hopefully they learn out of it.”
One solution, he said, is lengthening the season.
"My wish is that the domestic league here, the MLS, is going to an 11-month season like the rest of the world. Just extending that season of MLS would solve my issue that I have right now.”
The United States has just one win in its past nine matches with a challenging schedule of exhibitions ahead. After the Panama game, the team plays at Denmark (March 25), at Switzerland (March 31), against Mexico in San Antonio (April 15), at Netherlands (June 5) and at World Cup champion Germany (June 10).
Klinsmann hopes his MLS-based players will get in tip-top shape and rise to the challenge.
“At the end of the day, you are a little bit a child of your environment,” he said. “And soccer is not there yet where the NFL or the NBA or the NHL are in terms of peer pressure. They don’t have that same sense of accountability here in the U.S. that they would have in Europe.”
One domestic-based player Klinsmann is high on is midfielder Miguel Ibarra, who plays for Minnesota United FC of the NASL, the second-tier U.S. league. Klinsmann told MLS.com that Ibarra is “getting closer and closer to a starting spot.”
Ibarra, the first lower division player to be called into the national team in more than 10 years, was the NASL Most Valuable Player last season.
“He has a lot of cards in his pockets,” Klinsmann said. “He’s an endless runner, he can tie up [defenders], he’s technically very gifted, he has a great vision, he sees through people to play the killer balls, he’s not afraid in front of the goal to finish things himself. There’s a huge amount of talent there.
“So for him, the biggest step is develop the personality and the confidence to show everybody who you are. Every camp, he gets stronger. Every time he comes in, he's another level. And this is what we want to see from Miguel. It’s fun to watch that kid.”
Ibarra is a native of Los Angeles who played at UC Irvine and was drafted by the Portland Timbers in 2012, but the Timbers let him go.
▪ U.S. women face France: The U.S. women’s team is also playing Sunday, opening its 2015 World Cup year with what should be a tough match at France (11:50 a.m., ESPN2). The French team went unbeaten in World Cup qualifying with a 10-0-0 record, scoring 54 goals and allowing only three.
The United States beat France 3-1 in the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup, but it wasn’t easy. Two of the goals came late by Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. It was clear then that the French have evolved into one of the most technically sound teams in the world. Gaetane Thiney leads France with 14 goals in 10 games.
Hope Solo is serving a 30-day suspension and will not play for the U.S. team. Megan Rapinoe and Christie Rampone also will be missing because of injuries.
▪ Bedoya signs extension: Weston native Alejandro Bedoya, a member of the U.S. World Cup team, signed a contract extension with French club Nantes that will keep him there through 2018-19. Bedoya, 27, scored against Paris St. Germaine and has been a key player for Nantes this season. There were reports that Bundesliga and English Premier League teams were interested in him, but Nantes extended his contract to keep him.
▪ Weston Cup: The youth soccer club for which Bedoya played, Weston FC, is hosting more than 600 South Florida teams for the Weston Cup and Showcase on Friday through Feb. 16. It is one of the largest tournaments in the area, along with the West Pines Kickoff Classic, Wellington Shootout, Orange Classic and Miami Mega Cup. Matches are being played at seven parks across Weston, Plantation and Miami Lakes.
English Premier League: Chelsea (53), Manchester City (48), Manchester United (43), Southampton and Arsenal (42).
La Liga: Real Madrid (54), Barcelona (50), Atletico Madrid (47), Sevilla (42), Valencia (41).
Serie A: Juventus (50), Roma (43), Napoli (39), Lazio and Sampdoria (34).
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (46), Wolfsburg (38), Monchengladbach and Augsburg (33), Bayer (32).
Ligue 1: Lyon (49), PSG and Marseille (47), ASSE and Monaco (40).
On the tube
Sunday: West Ham vs. Manchester United (11:15 a.m., NBCSN), US women vs. France (11:50 a.m., ESPN2), Pumas vs Leon (1 p.m., Univision), Olympique Lyonnais vs. PSG (3 p.m., BeInSport USA), US men vs. Panama (4 p.m., ESPN).