CARSON, Calif. — When the U.S. faces Korea here in a friendly Saturday, it’ll likely be a team of 10 MLS players taking on 11 K-League players. So how is the international match going to keep its teeth and not feel like an exhibition match between two leagues?
Pace and style.
Seeing different styles of play is “probably the biggest difference” between playing in a MLS match and an international match, said Sporting Kansas City and U.S. defender Matt Besler.
“MLS has a style, and it’s usually the same style every single game, but when you play an international match, it’s a different style depending on who you’re playing. Some countries play differently than others, so you have to make adjustments and you have to be able to play different styles to compete with them.”
Coping with another team’s style of play is especially important for defending players on the international level. USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann consistently speaks of the need for defenders to adapt to the speed of the match and did so again at a news conference Friday when asked about what goes in to getting a team ready to transition from the MLS level to an international match.
“I would say for players like Omar (Gonzalez), Matt (Besler), other ones coming through the ranks here, the biggest challenge is getting used to the speed of play on the international level, but also the mental speed,” Klinsmann said. “To read things ahead of time, to position yourself already into areas where the ball’s probably going to come, to read your opponent ahead of time. Their biggest challenge is just to anticipate things, you know, and be alert and never allow really mistakes because mistakes, one or two on an international level will get punished and you’re going to go home.”
Dealing with teams capable of forcing a turnover in the opposition’s half in hopes of forcing a quick scoring chance are particularly vexing, and Klinsmann said his team can’t afford to falter against that style of club at the World Cup this summer.
“There’s some (teams) where you’re pretty much done if your number six or your center backs make a passing mistake in the defensive third, this is an open invitation,” Klinsmann said.
Korea is not one of those teams, though the U.S. manager said the main reason the match was set up with Korea is because the visitors often play a high-pressure style that will test the confidence of a back line that still looks to play the long ball too often for his liking.
“Confidence is a big issue, to have the confidence to play out of the back because we don’t want to kick the ball long because 9 out of 10 balls will be gone,” he said. “This is something that challenges them. In training sessions, we kind of tell them but also especially now in real games. We want to see that improving. We don’t want to see any more balls just played long because I don’t know what to do any more because I’m kind of getting closed down. We want them to stay calm and find a solution.”
The first match of the year is meant to do exactly that and provide a confidence boost to a young group of players who may soon be wearing the national team crest in a game with much higher stakes. When the summer comes, Klinsmann hopes they’ll be ready.
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