With the 2015 slate now over for the U.S. Men’s National Team, Jurgen Klinsmann sat down with ussoccer.com for a two-part Q&A. In Part One, the MNT boss discusses the team’s accomplishments, player progression and lessons learned in 2015. Part Two of the Q&A in which Klinsmann previews the challenges and excitement of a busy 2016 calendar for the MNT will be available on ussoccer.com in the coming days.
ussoccer.com: Going into Port of Spain, Trinidad to face the Soca Warriors was a tough match. Are you pleased with how the team dealt with the challenges of that game on the road?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “I think with the game in Trinidad & Tobago, we all knew it was going to be a tricky one. It’s a good team that proved that in the Gold Cup. And away from home, there’s a rule: don’t lose. At least get one point and don’t give the home team the three points. I think we achieved that. Did we want to win both games? Yes, it would have been nice to have six points now, but four points is ideal going into the two games now with Guatemala. Winning those two games would mean that we are qualified for the next round, so our big goal for March is going to Guatemala and get three points right away, at home in Columbus, one of our favorite places to go, and then look forward to the next round.”
ussoccer.com: Throughout the first two qualifiers you were able to get a lot of young players opportunities. How valuable was it to get them that experience at this stage?
JK: “For coaches, but also for the fans, one fascinating topic is always, ‘how do young players progress? How do they learn? How fast do they learn? How fast they can make a real improvement on the senior National Team?’ When you talk about young players, we talk about DeAndre Yedlin, we talk about Gyasi Zardes. Both of them had a very busy 2015. Gyasi played 19 games for the MNT, which is pretty amazing, but the most important part there is that everybody can see a learning curve. Everybody can that they are maturing. Everybody can see that they are growing and becoming senior players. This is what this path is about, bringing younger players, give them time and give them moments where they don’t perform or have a bad game and carry them through. Teach them during this path and what they have to improve and hopefully see the benefit later on. At the end of 2015 we saw a lot of good answers from Gyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin and I’m sure we will see even more good stuff in the upcoming year.”
ussoccer.com: Bobby Wood finished with four goals in his last eight games. What changes have you seen in him in the last year?
JK: “With Bobby Wood, we’ve developed a player over some time. Even if he wasn’t a full part of the National Team program yet, we were in touch with him, following his path in Germany in the 2. Bundesliga. We explained to him that it’s not going to all happen in a short period of time. When he came in the first couple of times, he was shy and nervous, which is totally normal for the young players when they join the senior National Team. He had to get a feel for the thin air on the higher level. He tried to learn as quickly as he could. He developed more personality, more confidence. For a striker, confidence is always connected to scoring goals. After the first couple of games came the moment when he came on the field against Holland and in the last minute scored the winning goal for us, which was huge, not because you beat Holland in their own country, but it was huge for him that he started to believe in himself. A couple days later he scores the winning goal against Germany in Germany where he plays, which is another big confidence booster. He’s becoming used to the pressure, the expectations of scoring. The expectations for a forward are to score, not every game, but try to score every second game or at the very least every third game. This is his learning curve now and hopefully he keeps learning, keeps improving, keeps helping us and keep on going through that transition of a World Cup cycle between the two World Cups.”
ussoccer.com: In these last two games you also expanded the team’s options at key positions, including both fullback spots. What type of flexibility does this provide moving forward?
JK: “2015 made it clear that we struggled in a couple of areas. The most difficult area for us is the fullback positions. We moved the center backs to the fullback position. We moved Fabian Johnson from left back to right back, which is the position he played in the World Cup – and was probably one of the best right backs in the World Cup in Brazil last year. But he ended up in his club team in Germany playing left winger. So moving him constantly from left winger to left back or to right back, it doesn’t really help him. And for us, one question remains: how do we fill in those left back and right back positons with a high-quality solution? In the last games, we had Tim Ream helping us out as a left back. He plays center back in Fulham. We had Michael Orozco out as a right back, which he did tremendously well, but he’s playing center back for Tijuana. Hopefully in 2016 it will help us develop younger players in the fullback positions. For us, the next important team to look at is the Olympic team and see what Andi Herzog brings through that team in order to develop a younger player into that full back position for the senior team.”
ussoccer.com: A lot of people had positive things to say about Darlington Nagbe. What did you learn about him from this camp?
JK: “We found a player that is really good handling the ball in both directions. He is responsible defensively, to always go behind the ball and to defend, and help out. When we go forward, he knows when to pass, when to dribble, when to keep things racing forward, and also when to take some risks in a certain moment. He has a change of pace in one-on-one situations when he goes at defensive midfielders. He has the confidence to get past them and to get closer to the box. Darlington is a real nice option now going forward. He had to wait a long time, and we’ve been waiting for him as well, but it’s a great fit and we are glad to have him on board.”
ussoccer.com: You spoke of the importance of having Brad Guzan and Tim Howard on board for the next three years. How did the initial phase of rotation work out?
JK: “Having Tim Howard and Brad Guzan on board is huge. Both are top goalkeepers in the English Premiere League, very experienced and especially they are great teammates. We’ve got to keep them rotating toward Russia 2018. Then we’ve got to make some decisions once games come up, but having both of them gives us a huge boost of confidence and the backline feels real confident having one of them in goal.”
ussoccer.com: The challenge to younger players has been to push the established guys for starting spots. What is the importance of that process and how has it gone within the team?
JK: “When asking the younger players to step up and challenge the experienced ones, you want them to challenge themselves on a higher level, whether it’s going to the highest club level as quickly as you can and become a starter there and make your statement, like DeAndre Yedlin does now at Sunderland. In camp, we want them to fight harder to push established players for the spots, because if you want to steal the spot, you have to do more to try and move him out. This is an interesting process between two World Cups. Taking the example of Jones, he’s not ready to give his spot up. He’s 34 years old, but he’s a rock. He’s in there every time it matters, he stands his man. He makes it clear to the younger players that he’s not giving up his spot. These kind of competitions are real important with the team.”
ussoccer.com: How do you view the midfield partnership between Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones?
JK: “It’s real critical between Bradley and Jones, like all the fans know, they are important to our team. These two always coordinate themselves on the field. They are experienced and know what to do in specific situations. We constantly go over their tactical approach in a game because they can play many different ways. Now you can complement a Jermaine Jones or a Michael Bradley with a more defensive midfielder, like a Kyle Beckerman, or you can complement them with more offensive midfielders, like a Darlington Nagbe or Mix Diskerud. But the heart of this team is always in the center of the park, which is Bradley and Jones.”
ussoccer.com: What did you see from Jozy Altidore throughout 2015?
JK: “2015 for Jozy Altidore has been a transition year, but it has become a year where he has gotten stronger toward the end. He had some injury issues. He had some fitness issues in the beginning of the year. We had the episode in the Gold Cup where he was not in the shape where he needed to be. Toward July, August and September he got more into a flow. He started to score goals for Toronto and he got stronger for the National Team, as well. This is a very positive sign for us to have Altidore playing well. We plan to bring him into a very busy 2016 with the biggest highlight of Copa America next June.”
ussoccer.com: What has been your impression of the MLS playoffs?
JK: “Watching the MLS playoffs has been tremendously exciting. The games in the first round with the penalty shootout, to Portland and Kansas City, to games that were very close, very tight and hard fought. It’s been very exciting. The stadiums are packed, the fans are fully engaged and the teams battle themselves through. Sometimes you have your favorite pick then you realize after a game or two, your favorite is not there anymore and out of the playoffs. It’s at another level this year and I can’t wait to see the MLS Cup final!”Read more
U.S. MNT Head Coach JURGEN KLINSMANN
“As we expected it was a very tricky game. Trinidad & Tobago started well in the first 20 minutes, and I think after 20-25 minutes we took over. There were chances on both sides – I think we had the clearer ones. We should have put one of those in, but overall a tie is alright. It’s keeping us in first place in the group and I give a compliment to the guys. It was what we expected, a very tough Trinidad team to play against. This is what you get here when you come down and at the end of the day if you take one point away that’s alright.”
On the team getting through the opening 15-20 minutes of the game:
“We told the players it’s going to be important the first 15-20 minutes to stay very focused, compact and just organized and disciplined in everything they did. They took a little bit to find the balance in midfield with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, especially going forward, because they were too often next to each other instead of actually staggering. We corrected that after about 25 minutes and we told Michael to go higher up so we would find better outlets there. Another problem was that we couldn’t kind of play into the feet to Jozy Altidore and Gyasi Zardes. In the first half they were too far away from each other. We told them to get closer so they could play off each other, which in the second half worked out a lot better. There were kind of little things that we corrected and I think after 20-25 minutes we settled in the game. There’s always a chance that either team scores a goal, and in the second half I think we were definitely closer to scoring that goal.”
On Jozy Altidore’s overall performance:
“It was a very, very hard and good effort. You hope that when you create chances in a game like that, that the ball will drop in front of Jozy because he’s calm in front of the goal. He finishes things off. He had good energy, he tried really hard and he always had two or three guys on top of him. That’s why we tried to explain to them that they had to play off each other – both Gyasi and Jozy – so they could make more space."
On whether it was a concern that Gyasi Zardes didn't finish his chances, and the deployment of Yedlin, Orozco and Johnson:
“I think Gyasi, as long as he gets on the end of those balls, that means he has the smell for it. He makes the right runs, he knows how to move and then gets the opportunity to score, so next time he will score those ones that didn’t go in today."
"We simply wanted to bring DeAndre Yedlin as a right winger tonight and adjusted that with Michael Orozco at right back. I think Michael Orozco played an outstanding game there -- very calm, very kind of simple and just get the job done as we always know how it is from Michael. With Fabian Johnson, we had that option on the left side going forward. After Tim Ream got that knock, we weren’t sure if he was staying in the game. We didn’t want to make a mistake there, so we subbed him out and moved Fabian back. I think with Darlington Nagbe you saw in both games now that we found a player that knows how to play, knows how to take care of the ball and is very comfortable in either direction on the ball. It’s nice to see. It gives us a bit more of a flow in the game because he simply connects the passes and that gave it a bit more life. Next time we have to score the goal and get the three points.”
On his sense of the group standings after two matches:
“The sense is that we want to go into Guatemala in March and get the three points and then beat them at home and make it clear that we finished the group as the number one team. We know that it’s not easy in any place going away here in CONCACAF, but our goal here is to make a huge step in March with six points and then go through this group. It’s important that you don’t give anybody an advantage here, and by tying this game even if you wanted to win it, a tie means you leave them behind you. This is very important.”
On the play of central midfielders Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley:
"In the middle of the park, especially in the first 20 minutes, we had some issues and I think then it got much better. With Jermaine it was crucial that he went through that game all 90 minutes. He had this little injury that he brought in, but he just stood his man and carried us through all 90 minutes. Kyle was warming up the whole second half, but we didn’t need to bring him in that role as a number six. Michael had his ups and downs. He lost some balls, but he’s also the one that makes the surprise move and the surprise pass, and all of a sudden you might get a goal out of that.”
On how he sees Darlington Nagbe and how that adds options:
“I see him similar to how Caleb Porter sees him in Portland. I think he could be very effective in the middle, but it also needs to fit our team. It also needs to fit with how we put our players together. With Jermaine and Michael we have to central midfielders that just keep on going. It depends what shape our wingers are in and how we want to play the wings. Do we want to play Fabian as a left winger or do we want to play him in behind? I think DeAndre, with his age right now, is still better as a right winger than he is as a right back because he has a lot of learning ahead of him as a defender. We all know that he’s learning that every day now in the Premier League. Having Darlington now as an option – he doesn’t have a problem with jumping in on the wings either, but I think him coming through the middle as well is nice to have.”
On the play of the center back pairing of Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler:
“I think they deserve a huge compliment, both of them. They had Kenwyne Jones pretty much under control, even if it’s a guy that could score at any moment, especially when you don’t expect it. For both it was a very good performance. They made themselves a strong case, there’s no doubt about it.”
On the play of full backs Michael Orozco and Tim Howard:
“Michael had a strong game as a right back. Very solid, very focused and make any mistakes at all. At the end, he could even go forward a little bit, which wasn’t his job. We just told him to keep his side under control. With Tim, it was very calm, very focused and with all the experience he has a very controlled 90 minutes from Tim Howard. Everything that came towards him was absolutely no issue at all. It’s just great to have him back.”
U.S. MNT captain MICHAEL BRADLEY
On if a tie on the road in Trinidad is a good result:
“These games are always the same. You know that they’re going to be hard games, that they’re not always going to be pretty – the conditions, the field. If you’re able on the day to take your chance, then obviously the result can look different and you can come away with three points. If you don’t take your chance, it’s vital that you’re defensively solid and at worst come away with a 0-0 draw. In those ways I thought it was a professional performance."
On what he learned about the MNT the last two games:
“We continue to move ourselves forward. The reality is that we have a pretty strong mentality and even when things aren’t going great, we’re able to look at ourselves and know that things have to be better. When we win a game or two, we don’t necessarily think we’re the best team in the world. We’ve got to keep ourselves going. Four points in these two games was important and now we know when we come back in March, home and away with Guatemala will be huge, but we’ll be excited for it.”
U.S. MNT Goalkeeper TIM HOWARD
His thoughts on the game:
“It’s exactly how we figured it would go. A tight game, a point on the road and all is well I think. We had the better chances. I thought their threat was aerial, we dealt with it really well. I thought defensively we were good and didn’t give them very much.”
On if the match was any different than previous games he played in Trinidad & Tobago:
“No. We knew it was going to be close. We were hoping it wouldn’t be, but we knew it was going to be close. Win the home game, get something on the road and I think we’re in first place, so that’s helpful.”
On the difficulty of playing qualifying matches away from home:
“It’s just tough going away from home. I think in some of these smaller countries, these games are everything. It’s such a big deal for them and it makes for a tough environment. I keep saying the competition is getting better. It’s for us and Mexico to be careful and make sure that we put them in their place.”
On having the experience of Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler in front of him:
”I think aside from the goalkeeper rotation, I think the idea is to make sure we have a solidified back four, guys that are going to establish themselves and play all the time. It was good. I think both Brad and I have a lot of confidence in those guys. They’re growing as a partnership and I think that’s important. They handled a different beast tonight. It wasn’t just the ticky tacky balls in and out and through. It was more aerial battles and having to clear our lines, and they did well.”
On the play of Jermaine Jones:
“I thought he did a great job. Obviously with him and Michael, there’s always that balance depending on the opponent and what the game looks like. One has to hold, one can go forward and I thought Jermaine did a great job tonight. That was kind of the tactic. He’s so good in the air and we didn’t want to break our back four. Let him compete with the big fellow. I thought he did great. Yesterday in training he was outstanding in the air and we kind of knew he was up for it. Obviously even late on when he had no legs, he made that run to cover and he was fantastic.”
On the play of Michael Orozco:
“I like Mikey. Mikey is great because every team needs a Michael Orozco. He’s a guy that buys into the concept of the team, he’s quiet, he doesn’t ruffle any feathers, he’s always there training. You put him in a game like tonight and he’s never out of his depth. He plays in Mexico and he knows what it’s like to play in hostile environments and he just fits in really well so he’s really great to have on the team.”
On the play of Darlington Nagbe:
“I hate to overhype him, but America doesn’t really produce a lot of those shifty players that can get their foot on the ball and make people miss. It’s not always spectacular, but just a little shift here or there to unbalance the defense. I like him a lot. I think he has a lot of potential and I think he’s a good kid.”
On what getting a point on the road means:
“We’ve gone on the road and lost the first game so this is a good point. We kept it tight in the back, we created some pretty good chances. Not many, but a couple good chances and I think it sets it up really nicely for March.”
U.S. MNT Defender GEOFF CAMERON
On dealing with Trinidad forward Kenwyne Jones:
“Kenwyne is a good player. He’s strong, he’s powerful, but I thought we did well tonight. We battled. I thought defensively we did good, our shape was good. I think they might have only had one really solid chance, but other than that I thought we were solid, defended well, kept it organized and it’s a good point on the road.”
On the play of Jermaine Jones:
“He did well tonight. Obviously he kind of picked up a knock in the last game, but the coach asked him to sit defensively in the midfield and not allow them to have their counter attack. Their counter attack is one of their strongest points, but Matt and I made sure that he was sitting in front of us because they thrive off of those second balls. Kenwyne is going to win his fair share, I’m going to win my fair share and Matt’s going to win his fair share. It’s a matter of picking up the second balls and I thought our shape defensively was great tonight.”
On coming away with a point:
“We got unlucky. We didn’t take our chances, we had two clear opportunities -- two cross bars. We could have done better in the final third, but that’ll come. It’s still a great point on the road. This is qualifying. This is what happens. They always make it difficult when we’re playing away and they had a great crowd tonight. For me, it was a great performance.”