The U.S. Men’s National Team continues its preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil with a match against Ukraine – FIFA’s highest-ranked team not to qualify for this summer’s tournament. U.S. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has called in a squad of primarily European-based players for a final personal evaluation before the provisional roster is announced in May and the final preparation camp ensues shortly thereafter.
Klinsmann sat down with ussoccer.com to address what he and the coaching staff are looking for from the players during and after the match against Ukraine, the core and potential players that make up the current squad, what he expects from a talented Ukraine team and the excitement of feeling the World Cup just around the corner.ussoccer.com: You haven’t had a chance to call in the European-based players since November. How are you viewing the opportunity this camp presents?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “Having this Ukraine game is a huge opportunity, mainly for our European-based players. You want to give them a chance to show where they are at and what’s going on in their specific situation. It’s great to call in players like Oguchi Onyewu, Will Packwood – his first time to come in – Tim Ream, who is playing consistently well at Bolton, Danny Williams, who has now kind of made his way through at Reading and playing week-in, week-out, and Juan Agudelo, who is now in Holland.
“It’s a huge opportunity for all those guys to prove to us that they are eager and hungry to jump on the train to the World Cup. We will get a good picture of them over those couple of days, and therefore, we left almost all the MLS players back in the United States.”
ussoccer.com: There will be two MLS-based players on the roster, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley. What was the thought process behind bringing them?
JK: “This is a huge game. We play Ukraine, which barley missed out on going to Brazil. They had a playoff against France, one of the best teams in the world. So you want to have a very strong team against Ukraine, and as I often mention our team is defined in its spine. The core group of the team is Tim Howard and then Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones in midfield, Clint Dempsey in front of them and then Jozy Altidore up front. These five players build our spine.
“Having Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey in for Ukraine is very important to us. Clint has played these two months at Fulham and Michael is coming off preseason camp with Toronto, so for us it’s very important to see both back in the team and putting their stamp on the game.”
This is the only game in which you will get to see the European-based players before the provisional roster announcement in May. What messages will be
delivering to these players?
JK: “It’s difficult for us coaches to prepare everything for this summer’s World Cup only having this game on March 5 before going into preparation camp. It’s very little time to work with the players. Therefore, for the European-based players, in these three or four days we are together and the game against Ukraine, t’s even more important they have a good showing.”
“The coaching staff is doing a lot of scouting at their club teams. Whether it’s going to visit guys in the Premiership and Championship in England, the Bundesliga, going to France to see Alejandro Bedoya … these opportunities are very crucial to us.
You have invited eighteen-year-old Julian Green, who plays at Bayern Munich, to train with the team for two days in Frankfurt. What are you hoping to
accomplish with him in his first introduction to the Senior National Team?
JK: “We are thrilled Julian accepted our invitation and comes into these two days in Frankfurt. We want to show him how things work with the United States team and with our environment. We want him to meet the players, to meet the staff, obviously to meet us coaches, and we want him to feel comfortable in our environment. With a lot of players who come through the ranks with dual citizenship, it’s going to be very difficult for those kids to choose which country they want to play for if they have this enormous talent to play at the highest level possible.
“Julian has this talent. Julian is an exceptional talent not only because he’s playing for Bayern Munich, but he’s shown that already over the past two years in the senior team environment there against the “older guys.” We are happy to welcome him for those two days. It’s a big step for him as we try to emotionally connect him to our program, because it’s not only a World Cup coming up this summer. Next year there’s a Gold Cup, then you have an Olympics, then you have Confederations Cup hopefully and soon comes the next World Cup around the corner in Russia. At the same time we have our eyes on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we also have our eyes on developing the next generation of players, and Julian is a very important part of that.”
Ukraine narrowly missed out on going to this summer’s World Cup after losing a UEFA playoff to France. What do you expect from FIFA’s highest-ranked
team not to make it to the World Cup?
JK: “I expect a very difficult game. If you look at their team, it’s a very high-quality team that they have. Obviously, they are highly disappointed in not going to Brazil, so when they get the opportunity to play against teams that are going to Brazil they want to beat them, so they want to beat us badly. We need to be prepared for that, and to prove again away from home that we can play with the good teams of the world. It’s going to be a great benchmark for us and a difficult game, but those are the environments that we need to go to in order to mature and improve.”
This is a chance for players to make their case for a spot on the World Cup roster. What answers can you get from this game as the World Cup
JK: “We want to see them preform on the field, but also over four days, we have time to sit down with them for a cup of coffee and discuss their individual situations. We just want the players to understand that every week really counts, every week matters. We want them to pick it up with their club teams. Some players like John Brooks – he sits on the bench right now. Because of injuries he lost his starting spot, and has to fight his way back into the team.
“So, the message to all the players is get a starting spot with your club team, to play week-in, week-out. Add to your schedule, on top of your club’s training, maybe one or two sessions a week on your own in order to get yourself a jump start when we go into World Cup preparation camp because it’s going to be very demanding. The message also is that we are on top of them in terms of scouting them, watching them, knowing exactly what’s going on. We talk to their club coaches. It’s a lot of monitoring work that goes on now over the next two-and-a-half months until we start preparation camp for the World Cup.”
You haven’t seen a lot of these players since November and a lot of key guys will be at this camp. Does that make you feel like the World Cup is right
around the corner?
JK: “It feels already a little bit like that. We had the January camp where we went down for two weeks to Sao Paulo to try out the infrastructure there. I went myself last week again. Now having the European-based players coming in for the Ukraine game, it gives you the feeling that the countdown is on. We really count every day now to our first game against Ghana in Natalon June 16. It’s a long stretch of four years between World Cups, and once we get close to the tournament, it gets more exciting every day.”