The U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team enters its final training camp of the 2012 calendar year from Nov. 17-24 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. On the schedule are two international friendly matches against Canada on Nov. 21 and 23, while head coach Javier Perez has called in a handful of new players in an always ongoing evaluation of the talent pool and an effort to push the team’s core group to keep developing and working hard to stay in the team. Perez took time to chat with ussoccer.com about the training camp roster, the state of the team as the year nears its end and why more international teams don’t travel to play friendlies in the U.S.
ussoccer.com: It has been two months since your last camp in the Netherlands, but the players have all maintained their fitness in the Development Academy or with their other clubs. What are looking for in this camp?
Javier Perez: “This is an interesting camp because we have the players for a week. We wanted to have the international experience. In the last two camps, we brought the players to Europe because we thought it was an extremely competitive environment, it was good for them to progress. We saw in the last camp that the team beat the Netherlands in the Netherlands and the progression of the team was excellent. We have to remember that we’re a CONCACAF team, so we have to have the experience competing against CONCACAF teams. We organized two games with Canada on the 21st and 23rd of November. We only have these two games because we want the players to be really focused on one or two specific games because at the end of the day, that’s what happens in a World Cup. In the clubs, it’s different because they play several more games and if you lose one it’s not that important. With the National Team it’s completely different, you play everything [in the mind frame] that it’s only one game and we want to start building that mindset in our players.”
ussoccer.com: Are there any technical aspects that you saw from the last camp that you’d like to work on during this camp?
JP: “We want to keep capitalizing on goal-scoring opportunities in our style and system of play. We did that very well in our last camp. If we can be consistent doing this, we’ll be very competitive. For the defensive side, we want to be more effective on set pieces. We want to increase the concentration of the players during the game and prevent conceding goals on set pieces. We want to implement these two elements under the other technical objectives.”
ussoccer.com: You can certainly expect some good competition from Canada?
JP: “I think they are always very competitive. In the U-20s, we played them in Marbella (Spain) and it was a very difficult game, so I don’t expect anything easy in the U-18s, either.”
ussoccer.com: Why don’t we see more international competition coming to play matches in the United States?
JP: “On one hand, the players are based there [in Europe] and it’s difficult to release them for a long period of time. It’s one of the issues we have, as well, to call players to bring them here for the domestic camps. They have their competitive games close. France can play Spain and it’s a one-and-a-half hour flight. The Netherlands can play Germany and they can even drive there. It’s so close there; they don’t need to go anywhere else. There hasn’t been anything prepared in the past [aside from the Nike International Friendlies for the U-17s], but we are working to prepare something for the future to invite teams from Europe and through our connections maybe we can organize something in the future. The main reason is to be pragmatic. For them, it’s easy to compete there rather than coming here to the U.S. where they have to have a long flight.”
ussoccer.com: There are a couple new names on the roster for this training camp. What can you say about how the roster is structured?
JP: “We are expecting 24 players – 16 are part of the core group and this is a great opportunity for some of the new players based here in the U.S. to come and to prove that they are good enough to be in the National Team. We have several new players. We wanted to bring at least one new player into each one of the different positions – goalkeeper, outside back, center back, center mid, wingers and the strikers.
“At outside back, we called in Christian Sady. He’s going to be in the same position as Suliaman Dainkeh. Suliaman did very well in the last camp, so it’s going to be challenging for Christian, but we are looking forward to having him in the camp. For the center backs, another Red Bulls player is Matt Miazga. At center mid, we’re working with Valeriy Saramountin. He’s a No. 6, very strong defensively and plays very well offensively out of the back. Bryan Iloski is a creative attacking midfield player. He’s going to be in the same No. 10 position as Piakai Henkel. We also called two wingers in Justin Dhillon of the LA Galaxy and Amando Moreno from the Red Bulls. Both players have been playing extremely well and have been under the radar for a very long time. Right now, because this is a domestic camp, we can bring some more players from the U.S. It’s going to be very interesting and challenging.”
ussoccer.com: How did these players come to your attention?
JP: “This is something that has been coordinated with the scouting department and Tony Lepore and the Technical Directors. They’re all doing a great job recommending new players, following the progression of players. These new players were all recommended by them, so it’s always good to know that players are very fit and are in a good moment in their play. Tony and the scouting team recommended them and we want to challenge the rest of the players as well. Everybody that wants to reach the status of a National Team player has to also be working hard to keep that status. It’s a great opportunity for the new players to come and prove that they are at the National Team level and for the core group of players to keep progressing. In our scouting calls, we discuss the progression of the core group of players and every time they come from a National Team camp or tournament, the evaluations are very high. We can see the benefits of being in a National Team camp and we want to provide that opportunity to other players.”
ussoccer: Now that you’re close to the end of the calendar year, can you give us a brief rundown of the U-18 MNT progress in 2012?
JP: “In the first camp we had 36 players in February and it gave us the opportunity to see a lot of different players and styles and to see how they can adjust to our style of play and our system of play. From there, we had the tournament in Lisbon that was our first experience in an international tournament. That was very competitive and the team was very consistent there and strong. The camp in the Netherlands was also a very good camp, we beat the Netherlands, Feyenoord, Borussia Dortmund and we could see a really good progression of the team in that camp. Now this is the last camp of the year and it gives us the opportunity to see a few new players in the U.S. We still called the core group, but at the same time, we can bring a few new players and see how they fit in the style of the National Team. In 2013, we plan to have a few tournaments, most of them in Europe because it’s there we can have more competitive games. This group is progressing very well. By the second half of next year they’ll be entering the U-20 National Team with Tab Ramos and hopefully we are building a very good group and Tab can lead this team into the new U-20s for the next cycle.
“I feel extremely happy with the group and how they’re working. I feel very confident, as well, because when Tab came to the Netherlands he saw the group and was delighted. Different coaches have made comments that this is probably one of the strongest groups we have in the U.S. National Teams. It’s always good to hear these positive comments. I’m very proud of the players and the work they’ve been doing so far.”