Fans wait in the Home Depot Center for the USMNT open training session to start.
Last night I had the privilege of being one of the first members of the public to witness new US Soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann run a training session with the U.S. Men’s National Team. All this week, the USMNT has been training in Carson, Calif., in preparation for their upcoming friendly against Costa Rica at the Home Depot Center. Yesterday, Klinnsman, who has expressed that he wants to form a stronger connection with the fan base, held an open training session at the HDC, and about 2,000 eager fans showed up to watch their team practice.
When the team was announced, and subsequently walked onto the pitch, the fans applauded and cheered for their beloved national team. The players were all smiles, clearly very pleased to see the turnout and definitely feeling the love. Before the practice began, Klinsmann addressed the crowd, explaining his new mission of getting closer to the fans. He plans on having an open training session like this before every home match. So last night will certainly be the first of many opportunities for fans to get close to their favorite players.
The USMNT trains at the Home Depot Center.
After his address, the session began. Of course, this was far from a grueling practice and much more of an exhibition for the fans. The players went through warm-ups and stretching before getting into some passing drills. Next up were drills focused on crossing and finishing. Finally, in a combination of both the previous skill sets, Klinsmann set up a short-field scrimmage. It was entertaining, and the fans in the stadium were absolutely loving it. Every save from Tim Howard or Bill Hamid was met with cheers, and every goal had the same reaction. Everyone just wanted to see their players in action and performing well. They got that, for the most part.
For me, this was a very unique experience, one that I will cherish and certainly not forget. There were certainly the expected stand-outs; captain Carlos Bocanegra, and USMNT veterans Landon Donovan and Tim Howard. Other players who, despite the fact that this was a more relaxed training session, seemed focused and worked hard were Sacha Kljestan, Chris Pontius, Robbie Rogers, Bill Hamid, Jose Torres and Jeff Larentowicz. I was impressed with all of these players; it was exciting to see such great work ethic. Unfortunately, I can’t say there weren’t some disappointments as far as the quality of the play goes.
USMNT training at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA in preperation for their upcoming friendly against Costa Rica.
My disappointment came from one unsurprising source, and another that took me aback. The first was Jozy Altidore. Like I said before, this was a laid-back practice, but that didn’t mean the players needed to train like it was. Lots of U.S. Soccer fans complain that Altidore is lazy in games, and in all honesty, I saw much of the same in the training session. The effort just wasn’t there; not that he was goofing off, he just didn’t seem to care enough to make good finishes or run at full speed, while other players were. It is very possible that in regular training sessions, this isn’t how Jozy plays, but it didn’t give me much confidence in him, despite his recent flurry of goals for his club, AZ.
Aside from Altidore, I also noticed Juan Agudelo practicing with the same kind of attitude. He and Jozy were attached at the hip throughout training. This worries me. Agudelo, in my opinion, is much quicker and has better skills than Altidore. Agudelo has so much potential, and I would hate to see him become the same kind of striker that Altidore has shown himself to be.
USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann walks over to greet fans at the Home Depot Center.
Now, that being said – Jozy and Juan were fantastic with the fans. They signed autographs, took pictures and were overall very sweet with everyone. They seemed genuinely happy to be interacting with people, so it wasn’t all negative. Of course, all the other players signed and took photos too, but Jozy and Juan seemed especially excited about it.
Practice last a little more than an hour, and afterward, Klinsmann and every player went along the concrete wall to meet the fans. They stayed for more than half an hour signing for everyone they could. U.S. Soccer and Klinsmann’s new mission to get the players and fans closer seems to be off to a great start.
The only piece of negativity I sensed yesterday was from a few members of the American Outlaws I was standing with while waiting to get into the HDC. They had just received an e-mail from AO explaining that U.S. Soccer won’t be allowing banners behind the goal for Friday’s match in reaction to foul chants at the recent US-Mexico match in Philadelphia. U.S. Soccer has been promoting a Respect Campaign, asking fans to maintain their class and respect while still being the passionate and loyal support that we all know and love.
I think this is a wonderful idea, and a plan that should be followed by U.S. Soccer fans everywhere. I have no issue with the American Outlaws and other U.S. Soccer supporters starting to clean up their chants, and becoming more creative instead of using curse words. The problem I have with what U.S. Soccer is doing for Friday’s match is that they are punishing fans for chants at a previous game by not allowing banners behind the goal. What is the point of this? From my understanding, the banners and the chants are two very separate issues. The banners are beautiful and creative, unlike some of the chants. Why is U.S. Soccer punishing AO chapters like the Southern California ones that designed and created this amazing banner for Friday? They weren’t the ones in Philadelphia chanting curse words. It just doesn’t make sense.
I understand asking the AO chapters to ease up on curse words for future games; I fully support this. I don’t understand not allowing the banners behind the goal. Punishing your fan base is not a good way to get close to them. The open training sessions are great, but this type of “crackdown” by U.S. Soccer is the opposite of what they want to be doing. We all want to grow soccer in the U.S., we need to work together to make it happen.
Stay with Aerys Sports for coverage of the game against Costa Rica Friday evening!