By AVI CREDITOR
Caleb Porter's failure to guide the United States Under-23 men's national team to an Olympic berth led some to speculate whether he has a future in U.S. Soccer.
Not Jurgen Klinsmann.
During a media conference call, the U.S. senior national team coach emphatically stated that Porter's place within U.S. Soccer is secure. Just what his role going forward will be or how he will be integrated into the program is still up for discussion, but Klinsmann said that he met with Porter in Chicago Tuesday to look back on the futile Olympic qualifying effort and look ahead to the future.
"The way things went in those qualifying games, it raised a lot of questions from a media perspective but also internally within U.S. Soccer," Klinsmann said. "We had a long meeting with Caleb and discussed the whole experience. Obviously it's a huge dispapointment for all of us not having our Olympic team going to London this summer.
"The goal is to keep Caleb connected to us, becasue we really think that he has a lot of upside. I think he learned a tremendous amount during the last four months."
Porter, who returned to his duties as head coach at the University of Akron immediately after the failed qualifying campaign, took plenty of flack for not getting the favored U.S. U-23 side out of the group stage, let alone to a qualfying berth, but that does not appear to affect his standing as an asset for Klinsmann.
"We believe that Caleb is a very talented coach, and we chose him for a reason, because he has a huge future ahead of him. Rather sooner than later he'll jump into the professional field and becomes a pro coach. We hope that we find ways now going forward even if it's not with the Olympic team that we find roles for him to improve, to grow, to mature in his coaching career.
"That could be being part of our camps with the senior team. That could be being part of our workshops that we have on a regular basis with all the coaches involved in all age levels. That could be being part of the different youth teams of their coaching staffs. It could be sending him to Europe to learn at European clubs, their models, their way of doing it, talking to coaches overseas.
"We are not going to London. He knows he was in charge of that process. There were many mistakes being done, but not all of the mistakes were done by Caleb Porter. Bottom line is we want to keep him connected to us. We want to keep him involved with what we're doing in the future."
As for the notion that Porter did not succeed with the U-23s because he had no prior professional coaching experience and came from the college ranks, Klinsmann dismissed that wholeheartedly.
"From a working perspective, from a challenge perspective Caleb was very well prepared for that qualifying process. He was extremely organized, he understood the value of all the opponents. Did his scouting, homework. I think he did a very god job. It was absolutely the right decision to make him Olympic team coach.
"Based on the results and the outcome of it, now you can argue that maybe a profesional coach would have worked out better. The reasons why it didn't work out is not because he was a college coach and not a professional coach. That is definitely not the case."
U-23 DEVELOPMENT A HOT TOPIC
For the U-23 players who missed out on the chance to go to London, the not only missed out on the Olympics but also a chance to further their development while being tested against some of their most talented counterparts from around the world.
That problem is compounded by the fact that not all U-23 players are currently receiving substantial first-team playing time at their clubs, meaning that getting this group of players — especially those based in MLS — to reach their maximum potential becomes a bit of a more difficult exercise.
"That is definitely a concern," Klinsmann said. "We want to make sure that especially a younger group of players get as much exposure as possible coming through their developemntal stage. An 18-19-20-year-old is not at the same level often yet as an experienced player and proven player, but we've got to make sure they get the chance to break through, they get the chance to get their minutes in.
"You see other examples in different leagues. In the Mexican league I think they have a rule that younger players get implemented in their first-team games. You see the systems in other leagues like in Germany, all the first-division teams have their reserve teams playing in a third- or fourth-division league, which is also a professional league, to get their feet wet and get their playing time and get competition week-in and week-out. It's definitely a topic that we need to dig deeper into."
Productive players like U-23-eligible forwards Terrence Boyd and Andrew Wooten, for example, are a product of the German reserve teams.
In MLS, young players like Juan Agudelo have struggled to receive consistent playing time despite their promise and potential. Klinsmann's message for those players with the system the way it is: Work harder.
"It is a big concern," Klinsmann said. "We need to find a way to get our 18-23 year-olds more playing time, but they have to fight their way through the system and fight their way into the team.
"My response to Agudelo was, 'You have to train harder and force the coach to make you play. It's something you have to work for.' We understand you should play more, but you have to build your case. You have to do more than whoever is in front of you. The coach will play the best players that give him the chance to win the game."
YOUNGER PLAYERS AND THE SENIOR TEAM
With Olympic qualification in the rear-view mirror, it remains to be seen how some of the younger players fit into Klinsmann's senior team plans going forward.
Players like Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, Brek Shea and Agudelo were singled out by Klinsmann as he touched on the topic.
"How far along are those players involved in the Olympic qualifying campaign?" Klinsmann said. "How mature are they really for the senior team level? You look at these players and say, 'OK, they couldn't get the job done, so where are they in the bigger picture going into our May/June camp?'
"The process for these players is getting even tougher, it's getting even more difficult. They do not have the jumping board of the Olympics. If you play in the Olympics, this is a huge shwocase. This is where the whole world is watching and evaluating you. They're missing out on that. They don't have the opportunity to gain such valuable experience in a big competition, so they have to prove it somewhere else, so where else can they prove it? They have to prove it on their club teams.
"The expectations now that they perform on the highest level for the club team are even higher. Agudelo (once healthy) has to break into the starting XI, and he has to play week-in and week-out with the Red Bulls. Brek Shea has to prove with FC Dallas week-in, week-out he's one of their best players in order to get a chance to become part of the senior national team. There are many lessons you take from the process of the Olympic team and the lessons are a bit tougher than if they would have qualified."
GOMEZ ON KLINSMANN RADAR
The most in-form American player right now hasn't been to a national team camp since August, 2010. If Herculez Gomez can continue his scoring streak, that could very well change next month.
Klinsmann delved into the Santos Laguna striker's run of form — he has scored in seven straight games, tallying nine goals in that time — saying that Gomez is very much on his radar.
"I've seen quite a few games of his over the last 6-7 months," Klinsmann said. "I know Herculez. I know his qualities. He's constantly being watched. Hopefully he continues that goal-scoring period, and the more he scores … the bigger his chances to get a call. It's as simple as that.
"Herculez is on the radar screen, but he's always been on the radar screen. Hopefully he can keep making his case stronger and stronger over the next couple of weeks."
SENIOR TEAM MATCHES ON HORIZON
The senior national team will congregate in a little more than a month ahead of friendlies against Scotland, Brazil and Canada that will lead into the start of 2014 World Cup qualifying. After eight months of friendlies during his tenure as head coach, Klinsmann is undoubtedly looking forward to getting into matches that truly matter.
"Friendlies are nice to play and nice to have, but it's not the real thing," Klinsmann said. "The real thing is qualifying and going to Brazil 2014."
Klinsmann divulged that he will be calling in a 23-man roster with 20 field players and three goalkeepers and that he'll also be compiling what he called a "standby" list of players who "know if something happens in the camp, I'm there within a day."
As for the size of the roster, Klinsmann does not plan on expanding to include any more than the 23.
"I don't want to go with more numbers, because it reduces the quality of training sessions," Klinsmann said.