Jurgen Klinsmann Q & A: “The door remains open until the very last day.”
The U.S. Men’s National Team made a positive first step in 2014, scoring a 2-0 victory against the Korea Republic on Feb. 1 after finishing a highly successful January camp that included a nearly two-week ‘dry run’ at the team’s base camp in Sao Paulo for this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil. ussoccer.com caught up with MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to get his take on the work the team put in throughout camp, what the coaches and players must focus on ahead of the USA’s next match away to Ukraine and the inspiration he took from his first Super Bowl Sunday.
Feb. 4, 2014
© Florian Eisele/isiphotos.com
: What are the key things you took away from this year’s January camp?
Jurgen Klinsmann : “The key points for us were evaluating all the players coming into camp, which is pretty much all MLS players except Mix Diskerud, seeing how they came out of their long break that they had before that, bringing them up to speed as quickly as possible and getting a detailed picture on every one of them. That was very helpful. I think going down to Brazil for two weeks and trying out the infrastructure we’re going to face in June – the training site, the team base hotel – was very valuable. Our staff went to Recife, Natal and Manaus, the three sites where we are going to play in the World Cup, to see our hotel, the training site and the stadium, and to meet with people. That was very helpful as well. Overall, we took real advantage of the entire month of January to get a lot of good information on players and other topics related to this summer’s World Cup.”
: The team recorded a 2-0 shutout victory against Korea Republic that was the culmination of January camp. What should people take away from that game?
JK : “What is important is that the players who put the work in over the past three or four weeks get rewarded and can try, in a certain way, to build their case for the World Cup roster. It’s important that the people who come to the stadium see a very energetic senior National Team; they see players that are totally committed, that are hungry, that want to do well. It’s important to fans, either in the stadium or on TV, to see a team that follows certain tactical approaches, certain principles of the game, and that we develop and keep developing a style of play that is built toward the future so we can play with the best teams in the world. That means to be proactive, to have good possession, to play with one, two touches through midfield, to find ways to feet right away and play into strikers, and to play out of the back. All these components that we talked about for two-and-a-half years, we want them to implement those topics, and we want the people to see that we have a plan in place and that we’re working on it.”
: From a soccer standpoint, what did you like about the game against Korea?
JK : “I liked that we had really good energy from early on. I like that out back four didn’t get nervous when they were high pressured. They still tried to play out of the back away from that high pressure. I liked that our midfield staggered and tried to find different ways to make themselves available. There was a lot of movement off the ball, so we found our people in midfield and even up front with Wondo and Landon. Many things reflected the work on the training field that we did over the last four weeks. We want to see that being translated to the next opportunity in March against Ukraine with other players coming into the group. It was a positive first step in 2014.”
: The game was a sellout, the first time for the MNT at the conclusion of a January camp. What does that say to you about how the relationship between
the team and the fans has grown in the last two-and-a-half years?
JK : “It’s a huge compliment to the fans and the fact that people really notice this National Team. People really follow this team now more closely not only because there’s a World Cup coming up this summer, but because they can see progress, because something is happening in this country with the professional game that we’re trying to get to the next level. We’re pushing younger players into the roster, we’re keeping the door open for everybody and we’re trying to develop a style of play that hopefully excites the people more and more. We said after the game that two-and-a-half years ago at the beginning of my time, we played a friendly at the then Home Depot Center with Costa Rica and we had 15,000 thousand people or so in the stadium.
“Now we play a friendly with South Korea – it’s not the full South Korean roster because their guys play mainly in Europe - and we have a sellout. We have tremendous support and a great atmosphere in the stadium. There was great buzz from early on, so it confirms that soccer is getting more popular, soccer is getting more attention –also through the media channels – and the people are curious. They want to see good soccer.”
: Two players who were most recently on the U-20 World Cup roster earned their first caps with the Senior Team. How did Luis Gil and DeAndre Yedlin do
in their first time in and what messages do you want them to take away?
JK : “The youngsters DeAndre Yedlin and Luis Gil did well in their first introduction to the senior National Team. That’s why we gave them their first cap, their first couple of minutes on the field with the so-called older guys. They have a lot of talent, there’s no doubt about it. That’s why they played in the Under-20 World Cup with Tab Ramos. I’ve spoken to both of them about keeping their feet on the ground, that they stay modest but be proud of that moment because it’s a special moment when you play your first cap. This is just the beginning of a very good career, and we need them to push the envelope with their MLS teams, we need them to understand there’s more responsibility on their shoulders as a senior National Team player. We need them to understand that they need to work far more than anybody else on their club teams because they are National Team players. We want to see that process now taking place and we will communicate with their club coaches. It’s up to them now how well and how fast they develop over the next couple of years.”
: The players came to January camp with a high level of fitness and improved on that during the course of the camp. What do they need to do now in
order to continue raising the bar as we build towards the World Cup?
JK : “The players that were part of that January camp, when they go back to their club teams, need to be leaders. They have to be leaders on their club teams because that’s why they represent the National Team. So we expect from them that they are the first to training and the last to leave, that they have the best attitude, the best positive approach, that they always do extra work before and after training. We expect that they look after themselves and live a professional lifestyle, not only that they focus on the field but off it, that they have the right body language whenever they step on the field, that they say the right words to the media because they represent their country. Being a National Team player comes with a lot of responsibility, and we want them to stand out and be leaders. This is what we are going to watch for week-in, week-out no matter if they’re in MLS or Mexico or in Europe. This is a big part of our evaluation at the end of the day, and will determine who of all those guys will go to the World Cup.”
: You have stated that the door is still open for players to make their case for the World Cup roster. There are several players in Europe who are
experiencing new opportunities with their clubs and others coming back from injury. What do you need to see from them?
JK : “We just want them to be on the field and build their case. We communicate with them, players like Oguchi Onyewu, Tim Ream, and Danny Williams. You have Brek Shea, who went down into the Championship from Stoke to play games and is now playing 90 minutes almost every week. You have Timmy Chandler at Nurnberg, who for six months has been doing a very consistent, good job. Jermaine Jones goes to Besiktas and will pick up the rhythm of playing games again. We follow the players that have injury problems like Steve Cherundolo, who is still having issues, and John Anthony Brooks with Hertha Berlin who is hopefully back next week. Same with Fabian Johnson who broke his arm and is hopefully back next week as well. Being in February and a few months prior to the World Cup, you want to see them all play. You have to give them a clear message that only if you pick up a rhythm and play week-in, week-out, will you complete one of the big keys in order to make the World Cup roster. That’s why we are really happy some of them now are starting to get their rhythm. This all plays a vital role in evaluating them, and then we have to make the vital calls in May.”
: The guys you just mentioned who are just retuning or will return to playing regularly, is the door still open for them?
JK : “Absolutely! The door is still open until May. It’s about what happens over the next couple of months. We coaches are going to do our homework as well. We are going to put the puzzle together of hopefully 23 players that are totally committed, that are not only giving everything they have, but that also mix well together. The tricky part about a World Cup roster is that you want to bring in a group that really is on the same page with one another, that support one another and are willing to take the challenge to another level – maybe two levels – within a short period of time. We have preparation for the World Cup for four weeks. In those four weeks, we will do a tremendous amount of work and they need to be ready for that. There are many different elements that play into the roster and therefore the door remains open until the very last day.”
: The next opportunity for the National Team will be March 5 away to Ukraine. The match will be one of the last chances to convene the squad before the
World Cup. How will you approach putting together the roster for that game?
JK : “We want to discuss that over the next couple of weeks. We want to see a couple of guys who we don’t have a clear picture of right now. So we might see some people coming back into the roster. Obviously, it’s challenging bringing a lot of players over from the U.S. or from Mexico for a game that only has three days of preparation. It’s more an opportunity to call in more European-based players because they are already in Europe and they can quickly show us where they are at. We have a very good picture of the players we worked with in the January camp for four weeks. We know where they’re at, what their qualities are and what they bring to the table, so the Ukraine match might be an opportunity to see a couple more European –based players.
: Turning to the other football, you had something special to wear this past Sunday in honor of your friend Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks.
JK : “Super Bowl Sunday was my first and I watched the entire game, not only the half-time show! I watched it because I’m a big fan of Pete Carroll. There’s no doubt about that. Pete gave me the opportunity a couple years ago to watch his work at USC and I like his approach. He’s such a competitor. He tells you every day that only the best go through. He makes no compromises. He’s straight forward with people and he’s very creative with what he’s doing. He builds an environment of competition, and that’s what I really admire in Pete Carroll. I kept my fingers crossed for him. During the whole game, I wore a Seahawks t-shirt and was all pumped up! Obviously for the city of Seattle, it’s huge! Big congratulations to Pete and the Seahawks for this amazing game and I hope they enjoy these couple of days. They are very special.”
: Many of the Seahawks players and personnel thanked their ‘12th Man’ after the game. The MNT has a similar connection with its fans. What
does it mean for the team to have that kind of support?
JK : “One thing the Seahawks under the leadership of Pete Carroll have done terrifically well is connect to their fans. Their fans made a difference throughout the whole season. This is something we are trying to do as well for the last couple years, making it clear to our fans that they have a huge influence on the energy in the stadium in support of the team, through social media, through being there on game day or the night before doing pep rallies and tailgating at the game. We sense that. The entire environment sends us the energy of the fans and I think the Seahawks have done a wonderful job of that. We’re doing pretty well in that regard. It’s definitely something we need for the World Cup in Brazil. We need all the U.S. fans coming down and giving us big support for our challenge with ‘the Group of Death’.”