As the US Men’s National Team prepares for three big make-or-break games in their quest to join the world’s elite in Qatar in November, there has been some concern over a significant portion of the team.
The concern, which is nothing new, but is amplified due to the important stretch of games in late-January and early-February, is fitness; and the players question are the boys who ply their trade in Major League Soccer.
With most having not played a competitive game since the November 16th tie against Jamaica in Kingstown, there are questions about just how sharp will those MLSers be when they called upon next Friday for the game against El Salvador, and then the next two immediately following against Canada and Honduras.
“Certainly it’s different for domestic based players versus the guys who are over in Europe right now; [especially] the rhythm of playing games,” Nashville SC central defender Walker Zimmerman said in comments to the press.
“That being said, [the] December camp was important for us [in order] to maintain rhythm, and to continue to have games and training, and keep your fitness up.”
While the likes of Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic and Sergiño Dest have been clocking up the minutes with their respective teams in Italy, England and Spain over the past couple of months, their MLS colleagues played a friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina, albeit not the first team from the Balkans nation, but a collection of fringe and youth players.
“Only taking nine to ten days off right after that game,” Zimmerman continued, “and then [going] right back into it; that’s been the beauty of this camp. We’re not just preparing for some friendly, we’re preparing for three qualifiers.”
The big defender has been impressed with what the coaching staff has been doing to prepare these domestic-based players.
“We’ve had scrimmages and bike workouts in the afternoons to just increase our aerobic fitness.”
Before they join up with their European teammates, those who will make Berhalter’s next qualifying squad announced in a few days, there will be a game on Friday to fine-tune their fitness.
“It’ll be a good test, our final scrimmage against SKC [Sporting Kansas City] to kind of see where we’re at and how everyone’s feeling, as we edge closer to that 90 minute threshold. And certainly we feel like we’re ready to compete as we prepare for these games.”
Many of the MLS players at this current camp will also be playing to impress their way onto the team roster for this next qualifying window.
“I think this Friday is a really important opportunity for us to make sure that we’re going into this game with full on intensity, full competitive mode,” Zimmerman opined. “This is our chance to get that rhythm back. I think we all feel confident in our ability to make it through 90 minutes and challenge ourselves.”
“That’s the game that’s going to help us find our rhythm as we prepare for the next three.”
The USMNT will be looking for maximum points when they face El Salvador, Canada and Honduras starting next Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
Another question that has been repeated ad nauseam since the venues were announced last year is: How is playing in cold weather going to affect the team? Rather than dreading the sub-freezing weather that will await him in the upcoming games, Zimmerman is relishing the chance to create what could be a pivotal moment enshrined in the memories of fans and future players alike.
“One of the first times watching the USMNT, seeing that game in Colorado against Costa Rica sticks out in my head,” he reminisced, referring to the March, 2013 World Cup qualifying match played in shockingly snowy conditions in Denver.
“I want it to be freezing, I want it to be cold, I want it to snow, I want to be a part of something so iconic that I saw and really remember growing up.”
“That’s exciting to me, so I think the guys are ready to embrace it, the cold and it’ll be really good environment for us fanwise as well.”