With more than two months remaining in the season, Clint Dempsey has set a record for US-born players in the Premier League, scoring 10 goals for Fulham FC.
But that is not good enough for US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“A Tim Howard, or Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, whoever,’’ Klinsmann said, “you’ve got to make a statement you are going to play in the Champions League.’’
Klinsmann might sound like he is criticizing his players rather than coddling them. But his main message is for them to be ambitious, confident, and optimistic, qualities that carried him through a spectacular career.
Part of Klinsmann’s contribution to taking soccer to the next level in the US is connecting its best players with elite teams in Europe. If Dempsey, who started his professional career as a member of the Revolution from 2004-06, can move to a top-level club, Klinsmann said, “it will change the character of our team.’’
Klinsmann was hired to replace Bob Bradley in July, becoming the first former World Cup champion (playing for West Germany in 1990) to be named US national team coach, another stop on a unique career path. Klinsmann moved to Southern California after the 1998 World Cup, leaving behind the high-profile life of European soccer, and was only peripherally involved in the game for the next six years.
In 2004, despite a lack of coaching experience, Germany recruited Klinsmann for the national team in preparation for hosting the 2006 World Cup. Germany finished third, regarded as an overachievement by some, but a disappointment to Germans accustomed to their team reaching the championship match.
Klinsmann’s coaching credentials were also questioned after he was fired by Bayern Munich in 2009. But there is little doubting Klinsmann’s motivational skills and his credibility - no previous US coach can match his experience with elite teams in the Bundesliga (Bayern Munich, Stuttgart), Premiership (Tottenham), and Serie A (Inter, Sampdoria).
After a slow start under Klinsmann, the US has a 4-4-1 record with games scheduled against Italy in Genoa Feb. 29; Scotland in Jacksonville, Fla., May 26; and Brazil in Landover, Md., May 30 in preparation for World Cup qualifying.
Klinsmann will be bringing the first team to Italy. That leaves out Revolution midfielder Benny Feilhaber and New England’s central defensive pairing of Geoff Cameron and Michael Parkhurst, starters against Venezuela and Panama last month. But Klinsmann said Feilhaber, Cameron, and Parkhurst, along with Sochaux’s Charlie Davies, will be in contention for places on the team.
“They aren’t in the plans for Italy but for moving forward they are in the plans,’’ Klinsmann said during a visit to Boston for a US Youth Soccer Association meeting last week. “I had a chance to see Benny in the January camp and he did really well. He came in in very good shape, he has very good technical skills, vision on the field, and my message to him is to keep working.
“Michael Parkhurst, you could see why he’s already in Europe, and he had a very good season there. That position [central defender], it is quite amazing how deep we are there. The guys that are set there are Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu, and we are building challenges behind that with Michael Orozco, Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream, George John.’’
The Cameron-Parkhurst pairing contributed to 149 consecutive shutout minutes against Venezuela and Panama, before Cameron was red-carded.
“Geoff said he didn’t touch the guy, the guy tripped over himself,’’ Klinsmann said. “Besides that incident, he was playing really well. So, they build a strong case, every one of them. They made a statement - if you are No. 2 or 3 behind Carlos Bocanegra - we are building an internal ranking and we put it together based on strengths and chemistry and different characters and the different qualities they have.
“[Parkhurst] is a very clean, precise passer out of the back, which is really nice to see, nice to watch. He can read the game ahead of time and pass balls between people. If he reads the game he doesn’t have to be that physical, but if he’s slow in the thought process you need to be physical.
“There are pro and cons, depending on what happens on the field. If they are playing always long balls over your back line I say Onyewu will have a big advantage. If they are playing to the feet of strikers, if the ball is on the ground, it’s one-on-one, then Michael suddenly looks really good. It depends on the situation. The way the team would work right now, Bocanegra and Onyewu form this couple - we really feel like they have a lot of qualities but also that the opponents feel [their presence] in a certain way.’’
That presence won’t be felt for a while. Onyewu needs right knee surgery and will be out eight weeks. The Sporting Lisbon star was injured in Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Pacos Ferreira.
So far, it is difficult to assess Liverpool FC’s forays into the transfer market under the guidance of Red Sox owner John Henry.
The first big moves Liverpool made after Henry acquired controlling interest in the club in 2010 were to sell Fernando Torres to Chelsea for 51.48 million pounds, spending that and more on Andy Carroll (36.08 million pounds) and Luis Suarez (23.32 million pounds).
In 2010-11, Liverpool’s net profit was 3.49 million pounds, according to the website transfermarkt.uk. In 2011-12, Liverpool had a net of minus-38.59 million pounds.
Liverpool is in seventh place with a 10-6-9 record, six points behind Arsenal and Chelsea in the race for a European berth.