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May 14, 2014

Klinsmann: MLS players at disadvantage

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati previews the USA's chances of advancing past the group stage at the World Cup.

STANFORD, Calif. -- U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann says that compared to his team's group stage opponents, the U.S. is playing catch-up in terms of fitness.

Jurgen Klinsmann oversaw his first day of pre-World Cup training camp on Wednesday.

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The U.S began training camp on Wednesday on campus at Stanford, with 21 of the 30 players that Klinsmann named to the preliminary World Cup roster in attendance. The remaining nine -- Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, and Aron Johannsson -- will report later in the week.

Half of the players on the current roster are affiliated with MLS teams, whose regular season began just two months ago. Klinsmann insisted that was why he opted for a start date that is roughly a week earlier than most other teams in the tournament. Given that the U.S. will go up against Ghana, Portugal, and Germany in Group G, the Americans will need every advantage they can get.

"A lot of our guys don't have the same foundation that our opponents have," Klinsmann said at Wednesday's news conference. "We have to be clear about that. [Our opponents], they are coming from 10-, 11-month seasons where some of them are playing in a Champions League final, they have 'X' amount of games in their legs. Their foundation is different to ours, so we have to catch up, and that's what we have to do now over the next four weeks before we start our tournament.

"Hopefully we catch up and add a little bit more on top of it. That's what starts today and we are very excited about that."

Klinsmann's viewpoint goes against conventional wisdom that says MLS players are fresher since they have played fewer games over the past eight months, and fitness has rarely been an area where the U.S. has fallen short against international competition. Of course, it might be just a case of the U.S. manager playing some mind games.

But the U.S. will be playing its group stage games in extreme heat in the venues of Natal, Manaus, and Recife. With local temperatures hitting the 90s in California on Wednesday, the players were already being tested by the weather. Perhaps that's why Klinsmann said the U.S. has to reach a higher level of fitness.

"We have some work to do," he said. "We combine it all in an exciting way, with the ball in small-side games, with a lot of action. We're not going to be running through the forest, even though it's a beautiful forest here."

U.S. midfielder Brad Davis, who plays for the Houston Dynamo in MLS, interpreted Klinsmann's comments not as a slight on the league's players, but reflective of the greater demands made of their European counterparts.

"I think maybe there's maybe more of a training demand in Europe, it's a little bit more difficult," Davis said. "We don't know necessarily what's coming. So we'll get to see it here shortly. If that's the case and we have to do it, that's what we'll have to do."

The U.S. will practice in California for two weeks ahead of three warm-up matches, against Azerbaijan on May 27, Turkey on June 1, and Nigeria on June 7.

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