SAO PAULO (AP) — Jurgen Klinsmann is confident the return of top American players to Major League Soccer will give a boost to the U.S. national team.
As the U.S. began a 12-day training camp with MLS players in Sao Paulo, where it will be based during the World Cup in June, Klinsmann said the recent returns of Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley to the league are "exciting" and "huge for football in the United States."
Dempsey joined Seattle in the summer and Bradley signed with Toronto FC this week. Although Klinsmann indicated in the past he would rather see top American players testing themselves in top leagues overseas, he said Tuesday a stronger MLS benefits the national team.
"We said a couple of years ago that we wanted to be one day in the top 10, top 15 in the world," said Klinsmann, a German who moved to California in 1998. "We have to develop better players, we have to develop better coaches, and it's not going to happen overnight, but we will keep working and the MLS is helping us a lot."
He said MLS is sending a "serious signal" that it wants the best American players back in the United States so it can build a stronger league. "We are not there yet, and we know that," Klinsmann said. "But it's exciting. The players who are in Europe, many of them some big players, are now back in MLS.
"MLS is getting better every year," he added. "We are working at full pace, hopefully we can prove a lot of good work already this summer." Klinsmann said it has been crucial for the league to attract strong owners with the financial means to recruit top Americans from Europe.
"People jump in financially, want the best American players in America," Klinsmann said. "Suddenly they bring back a Clint Dempsey from Tottenham, they bring back a Michael Bradley from AS Roma, and they are working on other players as well. This is huge for football in the United States."
Klinsmann is using mostly U.S.-based players in the camp in Sao Paulo, including 10 who helped the Americans qualify for their seventh straight World Cup. "We can bring more players because the European-based players are not coming in, obviously," Klinsmann said. "So it gives more spots to young players who want to show how good they are. Maybe they can still jump on the train for the World Cup. They all have a point to prove. They all want to prove to me that they deserve to be back during the World Cup."
He said he wants to give the players an early chance to get to know Brazil ahead of the soccer's biggest tournament. "This is a wonderful opportunity for us," Klinsmann said after the team's first practice session at the training center of Sao Paulo Futebol Clube.
"It gives us the opportunity to be already at the facility we are going to stay in the World Cup, to get to know the hotel we are going to stay at and to get a feeling for the country," Klinsmann said.
He even wants his staff to start learning Portuguese in order to know some basic words by the time the team returns. The Americans will stay in Brazil until Jan. 25 before heading home for an exhibition against South Korea on Feb. 1 at Carson, Calif., where they began their 11th annual January training camp last week.
The U.S. opens the World Cup against Ghana on June 16, plays Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal six days later and closes the group stage against Germany on June 26.
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