The Klinsi compromise

FC Dallas' Brek Shea ... on the leading edge of a coming wave of European training spells?

FC Dallas winger Brek Shea will soon set camp at Arsenal’s training site in leafy Hertfordshire, about 45 minutes from the Emirates.

(Sounds quite nice, eh? He told me last week that he’s a tea guy, not a coffee guy, so he’ll fit right in.)

D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid won’t be far away, training at EPL side West Bromich Albion.

I talked to Kansas City officials the other day, just after young striker C. J. Sapong put his name on Major League Soccer’s list of Rookie of the Year winners. (Congrats, C.J.! Love the Twitter handle, by the way, @BigAfrika88. It’s got panache.) Officials there say nothing is set, but that BigAfrika88  is looking at possible options for training abroad.

Expect a lot more of this. Expect it, that is, if these young fellows hope to be in Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team plans.

Klinsmann believes the Major League Soccer season is too short, compromising young players’ ability to develop at full pace. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with Klinsmann feeling this way.  But his wishes carry some potentially negative ramifications. Keep reading ...

You see, realities of the domestic sports landscape probably prevent anything from being done to lengthen the MLS season. I know some people disagree (My friend and colleague Eric Wynalda is waging war on this one!) but let’s not get sidetracked here. For now, let’s say that it’s just not the way we do things here in our blessed land.

So, is the implication from Klinsmann, who now has inherited a very influential throne in the domestic soccer kingdom, that promising young talent such as Shea, Hamid, Sapong, Teal Bunbury, etc., should find employment beyond Don Garber Valley? Should they vacate MLS post-haste?

Under-cutting MLS is surely not Klinsmann’s intention. He’s not looking to drive young players away from U.S. Soccer’s highest professional tier.  Besides the fact that upending the domestic soccer applecart does him no good, Klinsmann knows this: in the long run, a stronger domestic league will help cultivate stronger developmental inroads, which will eventually create more robust national team programs. So, there is a balance that exists here: keeping young talent in MLS is good for the league to a point; having that young talent graduate to appropriate overseas venues, at the right sale prices, can also help the league and the greater domestic soccer enterprise.

So … here’s the upshot:

Klinsmann is encouraging young talent in the pool go forth and seek these high-level training opportunities. Let me rephrase that: he is strongly encouraging it. He personally helped arrange Shea’s stay at Arsenal, phoning up Gunners manager Arsene Wenger on the FCD man’s behalf.

While these “training spells” certainly become de facto tryouts, and while some of these training-turned-trials will surely hasten MLS departures, I see this as a great and workable compromise.

Klinsmann doesn’t want anyone sitting around for two or three months. Think about it for a second. If a young MLS player takes three months off while talent overseas gets, say, one free month away from a professional training environment, a sort of “practice deficit” begins accumulating. After five or six years, that prodigy earning a living in MLS may have received a full year less training than someone overseas at a similar point of the development continuum. That deficit becomes significant at the highest levels.

So here’s how it could look now:

Shea will remain in Europe, London specifically, for about a month after the coming pair of U.S. friendlies. That means he’ll be there through November and well into December. He’ll get a couple of weeks off and then join Klinsmann’s January camp outside Los Angeles. That usually begins two or three days into the new year and goes through early February.

See how smoothly all that works? Looks to me like a terrific compromise.


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