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Klinsmann, U. S. look to qualifiers

U. S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann is readying for what probably is the biggest challenge of this life – to qualify the U.S. for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The national coach, on Jan. 7, opened the team’s first intensive camp this year at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California with 25 players, most from the MLS with many still with less than 10 international games. The team will train in California until Jan. 27, then travel to Houston, Texas for the only international friendly, versus Canada on Jan. 29, before the opening game of the final qualifying round at San Pedro Sula, Honduras on Feb. 6.

Although the former German national World Cup player led his country to a third place finish at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, qualifying the U.S. from the CONCACAF Zone is a different and much harder task. With Germany, Klinsmann had experienced internationals nurtured in the strong German Bundesliga league and with a rich World Cup tradition that includes three World Cup titles. Klinsmann’s U.S. charges are a long way from their German counterparts, but credit to the former German striker, he has made good strides with the Americans since taking over from Bob Bradley in the summer of 2011.

Under Klinsmann, the U.S. showed marked improvement in 2012, his first full year in charge, and in the process recorded historic wins. The U.S. for the first time, beat four-time World Cup champion Italy in an international match there; Klinsmann also led the Americans in their first win versus border rival Mexico in that country’s bastion of soccer, the Azteca Stadium where Mexico has not lost a World Cup qualifying game. The U.S. finished the year with a 9-2-3 record, matching its best ever record in a 12-month period set in 2008.

Amidst this success in 2012, were the setbacks mirrored in its first loss in Jamaica in the semifinal round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and a tie versus Guatemala in the late stages of that qualifying contest in Guatemala. Klinsmann has warned that his charges will have a difficult time playing in Central American venues such as Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

As Klinsmann looks to the crucial qualifying campaign, he expressed his views on the current squad. “There is a tremendous amount of talent in the player pool. We follow these players very carefully, and the group coming in is the next line to challenge the players ahead of them in the National Team,” said Klinsmann. “This is absolutely a huge opportunity, and we’re looking forward to working with them. We are getting ready for the friendly against Canada, and also the big World Cup qualifier in Honduras, so these are going to be an important few weeks of preparation.”

The final round is a six-team round robin, home-and-away tournament during 2013, with the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the midst of the qualifiers this summer. Also in the final round are Jamaica, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama. Three teams will qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth place finisher will playoff against the winner form the Oceania Confederation for a final berth in the World Cup. For Klinsmann, 2013 is a crucial year as Americans wait and watch curiously to see if the German will deliver the promise of a U. S. appearance in Brazil in 2014.

The U. S. training squad: Goalkeepers are Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire). The nine defenders are Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Connor Lade (New York Red Bulls), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes), Jeff Parke (Philadelphia Union). Among the eight midfielders we see Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (out of contract), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Joshua Gatt (Molde), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City). The forwards are Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Edson Buddle (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Messi, Wambach best in world

Barcelona and Argentina striker Lionel Messi won the annual FIFA Ballon d’Or award on Monday as the world’s best male player. The Argentine is coming off an historic year in which he scored a record-breaking 91 goals, surpassing the previous record of 85 scored 40 years ago by Germany’s Gerd Muller in 1972. The award was Messi’s unprecedented fourth straight.

At the FIFA Gala in Zurich, Switzerland, Messi beat Real Madrid and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta. The votes came from coaches, captains and selected journalists. Said Messi after the award, ‘’To tell the truth, this is really unbelievable to get the fourth award. I am so nervous.’’

In other awards, American Abby Wambach won the best female player of the year award; she scored five goals to help the U.S. win its second Olympic Gold, at the London Olympics last summer. Wambach beat American teammate Alex Morgan and Brazilian Marta.

Wambach’s former coach with the national team, Swede Pia Sundhage, who led the team in the Olympics, won the best female coach of the year award; while Spain’s national coach Vicente del Bosque won the best male coach of the year award. Del Bosque, a former Real Madrid coach, led Spain to it first World Cup title in South Africa in 2010 and first European championship in 2012.

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