ussoccer.com: The U.S. is facing two of the biggest matches on the calendar with the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. What is your mindset heading into these games?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “The Costa Rica game in San Jose is the biggest game in 2013 for all of us because we want to win there. We want to get three points. We want to qualify as soon as possible for the World Cup in Brazil. We want to get the first ever three points in World Cup qualifying in Costa Rica. It’s going to be huge. We have to be extremely disciplined with eight or nine players being on yellow cards to prepare also for the game against Mexico in Columbus, so going into Costa Rica we really need to be on top of our game. We need to be very focused and sharp and make it happen.”
ussoccer.com: Given the circumstances, do you plan for these games as a pair in terms of lineup choices and strategy, or rather as a pair of one-off games?
JK: “For us, it’s definitely one game each. The next game is the most important one, which is the Costa Rica game. And then only after that game do we adjust and get ready for Mexico. The players going into Miami and then into San Jose, Costa Rica will get a sense right away that this is high intensity and this is what really matters. I think we’ve done really, really well throughout the entire year but now it’s all about finishing things off and being conscious about how good the opponent is, and it is a very good opponent that we are going to face in Costa Rica. I really think it’s just wonderful, such a challenge, and it’s something you want to embrace. We will be ready for it.”
ussoccer.com: What were the factors that you and the staff considered when putting together this roster?
JK: “The biggest factor is that you want to get three points in Costa Rica and against Mexico and you put in the names of the guys that you think are ready to get the job done. It’s a very tricky and difficult selection because there are a lot of players that deserve to be on this roster as well. Think about Clarence Goodson, Jose Torres, Sacha Kljestan, Joe Corona and many others that deserve to be there. The good part about all of our work over the last 6-8 months is we deepened our roster, we deepened our possibilities in selecting specific players and all the players not called into Costa Rica are still in the loop going forward. We chose a group that is determined and hungry to win in Costa Rica and therefore we’re very optimistic.”
ussoccer.com: How much has competition for places on your roster grown during the last two years?
JK: “The job of a national team coaching staff is to look for the next generation of players. What brings the next wave? And in looking at players such as a Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, John Brooks, Aron Johannsson and even a Alejandro Bedoya, who was already in the team but pushed it to a new level over the last couple of months, if you look at those players, you see a growth coming through. We want to continue to see them on their path, to see them continue to challenge themselves and established players for spots and prove they are ready for the next level, and that makes it exciting for us.”
ussoccer.com: Two players that are considered part of the fresh blood on the MNT are John Brooks and Aron Johannsson. What was your assessment of their performances in Bosnia and where do they fit into the picture at this point?
JK: “What we saw in Bosnia from John and Aron is exactly what we have seen from them over the last 1 ½ years following them. We’ve been tracking them for a long time, communicating with them and their coaches for quite a while and they confirmed that they belong with their performances in Bosnia. It gives us more options. It gives us the situation where Aron is now challenging Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore. He’s a forward, he’s hungry and wants to score goals. As far as John Brooks, he is already challenging the spots of the center backs Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, and Clarence Goodson, and it makes things better for us because competition will help us raise the quality. If they are all on their toes and ready to prove their qualities 24/7 the whole year through, then we raise the bar. Those new players also need confidence and support from the coaching staff, just like all the players need, and with us selecting them now for Costa Rica shows them that we have trust and believe in them.”
ussoccer.com: This will be your first opportunity to see and work with Clint Dempsey since his move back to MLS. What are your expectations for him in this camp?
JK: “Seeing Clint will be very exciting because he’s set for his 100th cap. This is huge! Obviously, his move to Seattle is big for everyone involved in soccer in the United States and it will still take him a while to still settle in, pick up his rhythm and have that understanding with those players he needs to have to deliver the goals. But saying all that, his 100th cap is very special and I said to him that we saved the 100th cap for Costa Rica because we have never won there, so you have to put your stamp on the game and he’s ready for that. It’s going to be exciting days for Clint, and obviously his benchmark is the highest it can be. We want to see him delivering, playing with high energy, and see him really be there for his team, fighting defensively and being himself offensively. All of that makes it an exciting time for Clint heading into the Costa Rica match.”
ussoccer.com: What’s your mentality knowing the finish line is in sight and the job of qualifying for Brazil 2014 is within your team’s grasp?
JK: “The mindset is clearly, first things first, meaning Costa Rica. We want three points in Costa Rica. That is all that matters. So those 5-6 days leading into the game at San Jose will mean a lot to us, and I don’t want anyone spending any time or energy thinking about Mexico. I want everybody on our team and staff to put all of their energy into the Costa Rica game. If we the battle there and get the three points, we’re right where we want to be. Sometimes it’s not easy just to focus and zoom in on the next few days because it’s natural to want to plan ahead, but now we really need to live day by day for that game against Costa Rica. If it’s the scouting, if it’s our training sessions, our individual work to get ready, the talks with the players, making sure the players are hydrated and refueled and travel smart; all those elements have to be and all are about Costa Rica. And that’s what our key message will be.”
ussoccer.com: Who are some of the players that have gotten off to solid starts with their clubs that you are looking forward to having in camp?
JK: “I think when you ask that question, it takes us back to John Brooks with Hertha Berlin, Aron Johannsson with Alkmaar and Alejandro Bedoya who had an amazing debut with Nantes against Paris St. German where he almost scored a goal. Michael Bradley has had an outstanding start to his season at Roma, Tim Howard as well. We monitor all of them, summarize their games in Europe, in MLS, our guys down in Mexico, and we are all aware of what they’re doing every game. It’s a lot of homework as we’re putting the roster together. It’s a really good start for most of them, not all of them, as there are some tricky moments for some players. Not everything is perfect, but that’s all part of it. We read between the lines as much as we can and we’re sure we have a roster for Costa Rica that is ready for three points.”
ussoccer.com: For the last away qualifier against Jamaica, you altered the team’s travel schedule and went to Kingston three days early. Do you have the same plan for Costa Rica, and if so, what do you like about it?
JK: “I think it can pay off very positively. Look, you never know what’s going to happen over 90 minutes on the field, but going early into a country, you show them respect, and also let them know that you are there for them. You train on their fields, communicate with the media in Costa Rica and let them know the U.S. team is in town. It also lets us adjust to the country. You settle more when you add another day to your travel. One of the reasons we did very well in our last game in Jamaica, getting the first ever World Cup qualifying win there, was because we went down early. We actually watched Jamaica play Mexico and sat in the stadium. In a respectful way you let them know you are there. As far as the team, you are in the time zone, you settle more, and you adjust to the climate better. We respect them. They have a very good team, they want to beat us and they want to qualify for Brazil as well, and being there as early as possible shows them we’re ready for them.”
ussoccer.com: How much does the ‘Snow Game’ in Denver, plus the victory in the Gold Cup add to what your team will experience in Costa Rica?
JK: “Everyone needs to understand there will be a lot of tension. It is a high intensity environment in San Jose, Costa Rica. They thought ‘The Snow Game’ shouldn’t have been played, but we feel that we would have won by an even wider margin if there wasn’t snow. We also played them in the Gold Cup and won a tough 1-0 game, and it just proves how difficult they are to play. So we just need to be ready for it. We need to be very well prepared mentally and physically and give them a real game. And if you look at the quality of our roster and our players, we have the quality to get the three points.”