Photos from the USA's 1-0 victory against the Czech Republic in Prague to open the 2018 FIFA World Cup cycle.
U.S. Men’s National Team forward Jozy Altidore has been itching to get back on the field for the past two-and-a-half months.
Altidore, who injured his hamstring in the opener of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, is fully recovered heading into Wednesday’s international match against the Czech Republic in Prague.
“It feels great. I’m so excited to be back,” said Altidore, who leads the current USA roster with 71 caps and 23 goals. “I want to get on the field and help the guys put out a positive performance.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann named Altidore the captain for Wednesday’s game. It represents the second time that Altidore will wear the armband. Altidore’s other international match as team captain was on Oct. 15, 2013, during the USA’s dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 victory against Panama to cap off the Hexagonal.
CHICAGO (March 17, 2014) – The U.S. Men’s National Team will travel to face the Czech Republic on Sept. 3 in Prague, marking the first match for the United States following the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Details for the first meeting between the teams on Czech soil will be announced at a later date.
“While we are focused on preparing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, we must always look ahead and therefore we are thrilled to get this match against the Czech Republic,” said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “Historically, they have a very good team, and they are going to be preparing for a huge challenge against the Netherlands in their opening game of qualifying for the European Championships, so we expect this to be a tough match and another good benchmark for our team.”
The United States will be seeking its first victory against the Czech Republic. The USA is 0-3-0 in the all-time series that began at the 1990 FIFA World Cup. In the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the Czech Republic collected a 3-0 win in the opening group match. Most recently, the teams met in the Send-Off Series for South Africa as the U.S. fell 4-2 on May 25, 2010, in East Hartford, Conn.
The Czech Republic has reached the World Cup finals on nine occasions, twice advancing to the championship final. Backstopped by Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and led by team captain and Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, the Czech Republic finished in third place in its qualifying group for Brazil behind Italy and Denmark. The Czech Republic been drawn into a challenging Group A in qualifying for the 2016 European Championship and opens the campaign on Sept. 9 at home against the Netherlands.
The MNT will continue its long rivalry against Mexico when the teams square off April 2 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (TICKETS). Kickoff for USA-Mexico, presented by AT&T, is set for 8 p.m. Arizona Time (11 p.m. ET), and will be broadcast live on ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMas and ESPN Deportes Radio. Fans can also follow the match live on Twitter @ussoccer.
ussoccer.com: What were your overall thoughts on the performance?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “I think the overall performance was really positive. I think it was a great team effort. We showed a lot of spirit and we showed a lot of character in that game. They were working hard for each other. Everybody tried to follow our tactical principles, playing in a 4-4-2 diamond means there’s a lot of shifting. Obviously you need to have the fullbacks come out and attack the wingers, which we did really well, and we stayed really compact in midfield. We kept the distance between our center backs and our forwards in a good way in order to always be compact and work everybody together in a defensive mode, then once we had the ball we spread it out and went into attack. I think therefore, it was a very good performance with great energy, good spirit and a lot of positives to take from the game.”
ussoccer.com: What did you think the keys were to getting this result?
JK: “I think keys for winning against a squad as good as Mexico are that you need to be prepared for their way of going at you. They usually come in a 3-5-2 and with the wingers going forward, you need to be prepared to deal with them. They have individually very good technical players so they need to get pressured; they need to get their toes stepped on. We did this; we kept their back three very busy with Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes in the first half, and also with the guys coming in in the second half. Overall, everybody tried to implement his personal job in this game and those 90 minutes, and I think we deserved the result.”
ussoccer.com: Clearly the conditions were difficult. Are you able to learn things about players in terms of how they deal with a challenging pitch, an intense atmosphere ant the pressure of a USA-Mexico match?
JK: “I think those games are really crucial and very important to us even if you don’t maybe have your top roster at your disposal, because playing with difficult field conditions is something that we’ll always face in CONCACAF when we go away from home. We always have different environments, and in a game like that where the expectations are very high because you’re playing your main rival Mexico, you have an opportunity to prove to the coaches that you’re able to deal with that. I think after the initial hectic 10-15 minutes, the players started to settle into the game and they started to combine here and there with good passing sequences on a very difficult surface, and they felt more and more comfortable. I think the crowd was exciting. There was a lot of energy in the stadium and the players kind of started to take that energy in a positive way.”
ussoccer.com: You gave a college player the first start for the Senior Team in more than 20 years. How did Jordan Morris fare, and what message does that send to other players who may not be obvious choices?
JK: “When you develop players coming through the youth system going into the U-18’s and the U-20’s, then in the Olympic team at under-23 years of age, you always kind of see the talent and the potential of a player. If he’s playing in that moment with an MLS club, in Mexico, in Europe or for a college team, that’s not the key; the key is that he really gets ‘what is the demand for me going forward,’ and I think that Jordan Morris has the talent and the potential. I think what he needs to learn now is to pick up a higher rhythm to go to the highest level possible and become consistent. He has the talent to break through, but it’s easier to do that in one game than it is to do in 40, 50, 60 games in one year. So when we talk about the development of players, we always talk about the consistency that they need to continue to have to become really good players. I think it’s a great signal to everyone out there that no matter where he plays, that it’s one thing having the talent, which Jordan Morris has, and the other thing is to prove that talent on a consistent basis in whatever environment you are in. The national team program has a little more freedom to do that and to give you a chance, and also calculate the minutes that you’re on the field. Then in your club team, you have to provide week-in and week-out at your highest level.”
JK: I think what everyone felt for Jordan Morris the moment he scored that goal was, ‘Yes!’ He proved a point because it’s always difficult to imagine being on the stage for a game like USA-Mexico, with 65,000 people and a very loud crowd, and how to handle something like that psychologically. So he then ended up scoring that goal and you just kind of go, ‘Yes!’ He showed and proved that he can do it. Now for him going forward, it’s about staying consistent at Stanford and calculating his path and his jump into the professional world sooner or later to become a consistent element in our Olympic team that strives toward Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Obviously, when you don’t know all the answers before a game on how a player like him deals with all those things and then all of a sudden he scores a goal that is very special. I think everybody on the bench felt for him, all the players, all the coaches, and certainly his coaches at Stanford.
ussoccer.com: Also getting his first start was Ventura Alvarado, who has now said he is fully committed to the United States. How did you assess his performance?
JK: “We are very lucky that we have a lot of very center backs on our roster. Ventura Alvarado is now making that step to us and he’s another very strong player into our center back player pool. The way he came into Denmark and Switzerland was very impressive, and the way he played for Club America all season now being in the CONCACAF Champions League Final is very impressive, so we are really happy to have Ventura. We’re really happy because he’s the type of player that a coach looks at that’s almost complete. He’s technically very gifted and he’s obviously physically strong because you need to be that in that center back role. He’s strong in the air and he stays very precise and he’s very grounded, so having him in our pool means a lot to us and we’re thrilled.”
ussoccer.com: A lot of people expected the crowd to be almost exclusively pro-Mexico, but there was a significant number of people supporting the U.S. Do you see us making progress in converting fans with our performances?
JK: I think definitely that our crowd is getting unbelievably exciting no matter where we play. You saw that in Brazil. We had the biggest following of all of the nations that were a part of the World Cup, and now also in all of our home games, the following of the American Outlaws and all the fans streaming to our games. With Mexico, it will always be a mixture because of their fan base here in the United States, but for us it’s huge and it means a lot to us. We feel like no matter what stadium we go into, we have our fans and they’re giving us so much support and it’s adding so much fun to it and adding so much energy to everything we do. We know there are a big amount of fans behind us and they want us to do well.”
ussoccer.com: Did you get any answers from this game that will help you in the building of the roster for the Gold Cup?
JK: “Definitely we got a lot of answers to many, many little questions that we always have. This game gave us a lot of good stuff towards individual performances, players that knock at the door and are pushing to get in. It’s going to be a very, very difficult situation at the Gold Cup because European-based players are already done with their seasons at the end of May, so how do we bridge them into the Gold Cup which is in July and is not following up their season right away? We have MLS in full swing and Mexican-based players have a different schedule as well, so it was important for us to see how eager everybody is to get into that Gold Cup roster, and they are all hungry. It will start with the weeks before the Gold Cup with our 35-man preliminary roster, which we are very comfortable with already, and then obviously to bring in a group of 23 players. We also have a chance to switch six players after the group stage, which is a lot of work for us coaches but exciting work because we can kind of schedule things maybe a bit differently and we can bring players in at a later stage, or we can also bring the European-based players from the beginning of the tournament right away into it. It gives us more options, and with that performance for many players against Mexico, it’s going to be exciting for us to calculate everything in hopefully the right way.”
ussoccer.com: What are the messages to the players in the pool between now and the summer?
JK: We had a transition phase from the World Cup into 2015 and a lot of friendly games where we tried different stuff within our player pool and we found new players that we’re excited about, but now it goes into to the real deal and the real deal is winning the Gold Cup. The message to the players has become consistent: prove your point week-in and week-out within your club environment. For the European players, finish the season on the highest note possible and you might have a shorter vacation because we need you to be a part of that Gold Cup team as well, so we’re asking now from them that they be spot on, that they be sharp, that they be leaders in their club environments and that they stand out and not take things easy and make sure that they keep their performance going into July and show it most excitingly in the Gold Cup itself.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve said there are significant challenges in putting together the roster for the games in June as well as the Gold Cup, and we also have the FIFA U-20 World Cup and Olympic Qualifying. How do you now go about piecing that puzzle together?
JK: “It’s a very, very busy year for all of us. We had the U-17’s qualify for the World Cup and the U-20’s qualified for the World Cup and they are right now in Austria playing friendly games. We are building a U-23 pool to go ahead to the Olympic Qualifiers later on this year. It is very, very important that these players, especially the U-20’s right now in camp, know that we’re watching them and we talk to each other. All the coaches are connected. We talk about every talent coming through the ranks and we try to find even more talent. They need to understand that in this very early stage of their career that they are the drivers and that they are the decision makers. They have to make the right decisions on the field, but also especially off the field. This is something that we tell our youth teams more and more, that they become personalities and that they take things into their own hands and they become accountable for what they’re doing. So it’s a huge year for U.S. Soccer with all the teams in their different tournaments and their goals. It’s always important that as coaches we send the same messages over and over again.”
ussoccer.com: How helpful is it to have the U-23’s also face of with Mexico this week?
JK: “It’s very helpful that the U-23s have that game against Mexico coming up at StubHub Center on Wednesday because we urgently need to try and build this pool and try to build a team that is getting together on every possible occasion; trying to find a chemistry, trying to find a spirit within the group and hooking them up with each other. So you try that with the opportunity against Mexico with the U-23s, and it’s a clear message to take that opportunity because there are not many before we have to play the qualifiers, and if you want to go to Rio De Janeiro in 2016, you’ve got to show that to us right away.”
On April 1, the 18 players that were a part of the U.S. U-23 Men’s National Team March camp in Europe headed home after a week of intense training and friendlies with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Denmark. For head coach Andi Herzog and assistant coach Matthias Hamann that camp may have been over, but the process of continuing preparation for the Olympic qualifications with the U-23 squad, and the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup with the U.S. MNT, was just beginning. The ensuing scouting phase would see them travel more than 7,000 miles in the course of the three weeks that followed.
In addition to being coaches for the U-23s, Herzog and Hamann are also the European-based eyes of the senior National Team, constantly tracking players and evaluating talent for MNT head coach and U.S. Soccer Technical Director Jurgen Klinsmann. However, the pair crossed the pond for this round of scouting, traveling across North America to see games and players in the United States and Mexico.
“We came straight to Texas on April 10 from our March camp in Europe to watch FC Dallas play Colorado Rapids and to see our players,” Herzog said. “Dillon Serna came in 15 minutes from the end and scored a great goal. The next day we went to see the Houston Dynamo against the Montreal Impact. Then after that we came back to Dallas and drove our cars from Dallas to Houston and then from Houston to San Antonio to join the Senior Team for the match against Mexico.”
And that wasn’t all. Next the duo flew to Los Angeles and drove 150 miles to the border before parking and walking through the world’s busiest border crossing. “We went to Los Angeles and then from LA to Tijuana to watch the U-20’s from Club Tijuana, and Greg Garza and Joe Corona for their first team. We also saw a few of the Mexican players that we will face in the Gold Cup or in World Cup qualifications, so it was an interesting game,” Herzog said.
From Tijuana it was back to Los Angeles to view the LA Galaxy and U.S. MNT players Omar Gonzalez and Gyasi Zardes, as well as U-23 MNT members Jose Villareal and Oscar Sorto.
And that wasn’t all.
“It was nice. It was a lot of games, and in the meantime because of the time difference we were watching the European games on TV,” Herzog said.
U-23 MNT members Dillon Serna (No. 21), Shane O'Neill (No. 16) and Luis Gil (No. 14) have all spent time with the spent time with the Senior MNT as well.
Herzog and Matthias take in game after game from Europe to the U.S. to Mexico. Really anywhere there is a game going on that has ties to U.S. Soccer – be that U.S. players or players that the USA will face down the line – there’s a good chance Herzog or Hamann are watching.
“Most of the time because we live in Europe we are scouting all the European-based players for the U.S. MNT and the youth teams, and for our Olympic team as well.” Herzog said. “It’s also critical that we see as many of the players based here as possible. When there’s a game in the U.S., we always try to come a little bit early to watch as many games as we can.”
That is precisely what they did again this time around, going from city-to-city and match-to-match. Seeing the games up close lets the coaches keep tabs on current players, while at the same time giving them the opportunity to scout for new talent.
“The most important thing is to scout our players,” Herzog said. “Even when the U-23 guys aren’t playing, because of my job as an assistant coach for Jurgen Klinsmann, I have to look at all of the players. It’s always good to get a lot of new impressions. You may have already had an opinion and you think, okay this guy is good, and then you get to confirm the level of play.”
It’s safe to say that when this camp is over Herzog and Hamann will be back on the grind.
“It’s always fun to watch. It’s our profession and our passion. We’re both crazy and every weekend we’re in a different soccer stadium.”