By MARC SERBER
CARSON, Calif.– Ever since Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez played an integral part in the 0-0 draw against Mexico at Estadio Azteca, the two central defenders have looked like a formidable pair capable of anchoring the defense at this summer’s World Cup.
However, due to their relative inexperience at international level (fewer then 30 caps between the two), U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann remains adamant that there is still a lot to work on.
“With Matt and Omar you see two center backs that have matured. They have become calmer, they have become more responsible,” Klinsmann said when asked about their progress during the pre-match press conference.
“They had very strong seasons with their respective club teams and they have done very well with us when they came into the national team environment. So we are pleased with that.”
Meanwhile, both players continue to have their feet planted firmly on the ground, knowing that players such as Clarence Goodson, and all of a sudden, Oguchi Onyewu are snapping at their heels.
Klinsmann believes Besler and Gonzalez are still getting used to the speed of play at the international level. Not just in terms of the game itself, but rather the mental aspect.
The former German forward knows something about beating slow-minded defenses and he believes Gonzalez and Besler can improve on their ability to, “read things ahead of time, to position yourself already into areas where the ball is going to come.”
Anticipation and being alert for 90 minutes is so crucial because any mistake at the international level, especially at the back is going to be heavily punished.
“You can’t make passing mistakes in the defensive area because the transition is going to happen so quickly from those teams that we are going to face this summer that you are pretty much done,” Klinsmann warned the press as if he was speaking to his defense.
At the same time both center backs are being urged to have more confidence with the ball at their feet because Klinsmann does not want his defense to kick the ball long.
“Nine out of 10 (long) balls will be gone. In training sessions we tell them that, but also in real games,” Klinsmann. “We don’t want to see anymore balls just played long because I (the defender) don’t know what to do anymore because I’m kind of getting closed down. We want them to stay calm and find a solution. It’s been a process but we still have a way to go.”
At practice on Thursday, Gonzalez admitted that he and Besler have been paired together at times, but have also worked alongside other center backs. The two-time MLS champion said it has been a good experience for both central defenders because they have had to focus especially hard on their communication.
“I feel like my progression has been pretty good,” Gonzalez said. “I’m definitely getting better every single day and I am just looking forward to hopefully getting on the field and hopefully putting together a solid performance with these guys.”
“We have a great relationship,” Besler said. “I think we push each other. We’re competitive with each other, but in a good way where we realize that we’re a team and we form a partnership.
“Everything we do we are competing with each other still, but also realizing that we are pushing each other to make each other better, because it helps the team.”
MAGEE MAKING MOST OF FIRST USMNT CAMP
Klinsmann said he is impressed with the work Mike Magee has put in throughout the January camp.
“Mike (Magee) was an easy transition because he’s been around the block for a while so he was not really nervous about it.” Klinsmann said. “He was happy, he was thrilled that he is part of the group and he kind of fit right in in the training scrimmages that we had and in the group anyway. He is a guy that adjust easily to his teammates and is part of the group right away.
“We are happy that we are able to finally have a closer look at him and hopefully he gets a chance tomorrow to show this also on a bigger stage”.
Despite two and a half productive seasons with the Los Angeles Galaxy and his nonstop scoring for the Chicago Fire after his mid-season trade, it’s hard to believe that Magee is still waiting to receive his first cap.
“Camp’s great, obviously the most important day is tomorrow.” Magee said in the tunnel before the team headed out for its final practice on Friday. “I’m excited and a little nervous at the same time and more than anything, anxious to just get the game underway.”
When asked if he had any regrets, the 29-year old was adamant that he was satisfied with his efforts.
“I’m content with my ability and happy with my camp and know that no matter what happens there’s still a lot of work to do between now and June and work to do for my club team. So its going to be a good day no matter what.”
Magee has spent the whole camp playing up front and agreed with his coach that the transition to the National Team camp was easy.
“It’s a great group of guys and the level was high. I played well and I’m happy with my camp. I just need to keep going from there. It was good to get my foot in the door and I just need to keep getting better and keep improving.
KLINSMANN EXPLAINS CHOICE OF SOUTH KOREA FRIENDLY
When asked why the United States Soccer Federation picked South Korea for its first friendly of 2014, Jurgen Klinsmann responded by saying that the Asian side, “is a team that will high pressure you, that will interrupt your rhythm.”
It will be good preparation as USMNT fans will most likely witness all three of the USA’s opponents to come out with a similar defensive mentality in Group G this summer, but there is another reason as well.
“We might end up playing them this June after passing the group stage and South Korea passing as well.” Klinsmann said. “It will give us a lot of valuable information and we will get a real test here tomorrow.”