USMNT: Peter Vermes said what?

You heard, Peter (sportingkc.com)

You heard, Peter (sportingkc.com)

USMNT editor Austin Fido has another look at Peter Vermes’ views on player fitness…

If you’ve been following USMNT recently, you’ll know media coverage in the US has been increasingly at odds with Jürgen Klinsmann’s tactics, thoughts about MLS, about young players exploring options outside the USA, about how long a season should be, and…well, just about everything Klinsi says these days.

In part, this is because recent results haven’t been great. Since bowing out of the World Cup in the second round, USMNT has played seven friendlies, won two, drawn two and lost three.There are all sorts of excuses for the mixed results, mostly relating to the fact these are friendlies at the beginning of new World Cup cycle and Klinsmann doesn’t seem to have much coherent thought about what he’s doing with the team beyond exploring the player pool. So there has been a lot of chopping and changing of players and tactics.

More indulgent media coverage might chalk this down to a sensible inclination to experiment before competitive fixtures start up again. If there is a time to take a risk on a fringe player or a formation that doesn’t seem like a great idea but might just work, it is now.

But the media is not inclined to be indulgent with Klinsmann these days. So USMNT’s first tentative steps toward the 2018 World Cup have been livelier than expected, as various reporters and soccer writers unleash their fury on the head coach.

You can take it (alldhacdo24.com)

You can take it (alldhacdo24.com)

The most recent brouhaha followed USMNT’s loss to Chile on January 28. Klinsmann doesn’t help his cause a great deal (if he at all cares about the ill wind blowing at him from the nation’s esteemed soccer writers) by being quick to reach for his own excuses.

In the greater scheme of things, losing to Chile in Chile in a January friendly is no big deal. USMNT came up against a weaker-than-usual La Roja because January is not a time when the bigger clubs around the world have to release players for friendlies. So it was B, maybe C, team for the Chileans.

But it was a similar story for USMNT: the January camp is mainly composed of MLS players, who are in their off-season, and traditionally calls up some fresh faces. The Yanks were hardly at full strength, and Klinsi compounded the level of difficulty for his players by deciding to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation. USMNT came out hot but faded down the stretch, twice coughing up a lead and losing 3-2.

It happens. Chile had lost to Uruguay at home in November 2014, but that was the first home game the team had lost since 2012. Call it a B-team if it pleases you, but don’t expect to walk into Santiago (or Rancagua, in this case) and bounce a couple of goals past the Chileans without a fight.

Getting to the point as quickly as I can here, Klinsi (news.yahoo.com)

Getting to the point as quickly as I can here, Klinsi (news.yahoo.com)

Anyway, no one needs to make excuses for USMNT or Jürgen Klinsmann, because he is very good at doing that himself.

After the Chile game, he got quizzed about the team’s run of results (one win in nine games at that point, if you were inclined to try to bracket the last two matches of the World Cup as part of the same syndrome affecting the subsequent friendlies), and Klinsmann didn’t say, “Well, we’ve been experimenting with players and formations, and while results are disappointing because you always want to win, these guys are learning about themselves and their place in this team and we are developing a pool we can use for the challenges ahead.”

Nope. Klinsmann instead talked about the natural tendency for intensity levels to drop after a World Cup, and went to describe issues he was facing with getting MLS players match fit in January:

“They don’t have that ‘oh, OK, at the beginning of December, go to Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix and get myself fit.’ That culture we don’t have yet. What the other sports are doing really well, they use their preparation for preseason, four to six weeks prior to going into preseason with their NBA team, NFL team of whatever, they go to these fitness institutes and they get themselves fit.”

Oh, Klinsi. He took a hammering in the press. “Klinsmann continues his blame game…” thundered Yahoo Sports. “You can never argue that US soccer players are unfit,” Alexi Lalas declared (puzzlingly, since Alexi Lalas has staked out his career in the media on a willingness to make any argument worth having an argument about). Grant Wahl chased down a former USMNT fitness coach to talk about how exemplary USMNT fitness used to be when he was a USMNT fitness coach.

We'd all have preferred it if you'd stayed out of this, Matt (kansascity.com)

We’d all have preferred it if you’d stayed out of this, Matt (kansascity.com)

And then Matt Besler, a regular for the national team under Klinsmann, chimed in with some comments to the Kansas City Star:

“My goal is to be in my peak fitness on March 1…That’s when my season starts. It goes from March to December. So on Jan. 15, we devised an offseason plan for me to hit my peak fitness on March 1, and I think that’s what most of the guys did.”

Fair enough, Matt. That’s pretty much what Klinsmann was saying too, as it happens: MLS players aren’t gearing up to be fit for the January camp.

Besler steered clear of contradicting his national team coach. But his club coach, Peter Vermes, has no need to mince his words, and didn’t:

“I have a lot of respect for Jürgen. Obviously he was a great player, and he’s done tremendous things as a coach, as well. But that doesn’t mean every time someone opens their mouth, they’re right. And I completely disagree.”

Fair enough, Peter. From this we deduce you endorse the idea that fitness training for the MLS season starts sometime in mid-January and is designed to deliver match-fit players by March. And if you were national team coach, you’d be cool with that and wouldn’t be complaining about players being on the wrong schedule for your priorities. Not a problem. It’s a big world of soccer and there is plenty of room for all sorts of coaching methods.
Yeah, they don't just listen to what you say, they write it down as well. (commons.wikimedia.com)

Yeah, they don’t just listen to what you say, they write it down as well. (commons.wikimedia.com)

Except…well, those comments were reported on February 13. On February 24, it was announced Sporting Kansas City had parted ways (“by mutual termination“) with Honduran midfielder Jorge Claros, who signed for a team in the second tier of Chinese football less than a year after joining KC.
A couple of days later, Vermes went out of his way to explain Claros had not departed on his own terms, but because KC no longer wanted him:
“He didn’t come into camp fit, after being here for six months – knowing what we expect – and just wasn’t good enough. We’re not waiting around for someone who couldn’t figure out what we’re trying to do, and so it was time for him to move on because he wasn’t the right fit for us.”
Really? Sporting Kansas City opened its training camp on January 23. Claros played 30 minutes in the team’s opening preseason friendly against Portland Timbers (it was a match in which Vermes rotated many players in 30 minute stints) on January 31.
KC’s next preseason game was on February 9. Claros didn’t play because he was on international duty with Honduras: he played the second half of a 3-2 loss to Venezuela in San Pedro Sula on February 4, and he was sent off in the 32nd minute of a 2-1 loss to the same opponent in Venezuela on February 11. He played no further part in KC’s preseason schedule, and when the rumor popped up that he was on his way to China (on February 22) some observers noted it wasn’t clear whether Claros had ever returned to KC after international duty.
Hmmm…this would suggest Vermes made his call about Claros some time between Jan 23 and Jan 31: the first week of training camp. Aka: about two weeks after Matt Besler started trying to get fit for March.
So we take Peter Vermes at his word: Claros didn’t turn up fit enough for training camp. And we assume that must have been dreadfully unfit, since Matt Besler apparently meets the standard Vermes expects, and by Besler’s own admission, he didn’t draw up his off-season training plan until mid-January. And although Claros’s lamentable fitness was apparently good enough for the Honduras national team, it wasn’t cutting it for Peter Vermes.
You do you, Jorge (heraldscotland.com)

You do you, Jorge (heraldscotland.com)

And this is entirely consistent with his opinion on what he appears to have taken to be a criticism of Matt Besler’s preseason fitness schedule. And if you think that the common thread here is a coach defending what he perceives to be a slight on one of his players and defending his team from the perception that it might have been ditched by a player it spent considerable time pursuing (and who was once deemed a “perfect fit”) in favor of a Chinese second division club…well, that is also an opinion that may have some merit.
What does all this mean for Klinsi and USMNT? Not a great deal, except the point that the fever pitch analysis of Klinsmann’s every comment perhaps ought to do a better job of picking out competing agendas in all the noise that is reported.
Klinsi is by no means a perfect coach, and he seems to have lost the confidence of a large section of the media that covers his team. But when he makes excuses that don’t seem to stand up to scrutiny, he’s doing what a great many coaches do – coaches like Peter Vermes, for example.

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Follow @OTFSoccer

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Austin Fido is OTF Soccer’s USMNT and CONCACAF editor. Follow him @canetop

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