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CONCACAF U-17 Women's Championship Preview: Q&A with Head Coach Kazbek Tambi

U.S. U-17 WNT head coach Kazbek Tambi led the USA to the title at the first CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship two years ago in Trinidad & Tobago, and in the process earned a berth to the first FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand, where the USA finished second. Now, his second group of U-17s is poised to make another run at the U-17 Women’s World Cup, this one being held in T&T next September. caught up with Tambi in Costa Rica as he prepared his squad for its opening match against Haiti on March 10 at Alejandro Morera Soto Stadium in Alajuela. You coached in this tournament two years ago. What improvement do you expect from the overall level of play?

Kazbek Tambi: “I certainly do expect growth and improvement in our team and from our competitors because the last time around was the first time any team had ever competed in a confederation championship at this age level. I, as a coach, and our group of payers were learning on the job and we were successful, but through the CONCACAF championship and the World Cup, we learned a lot about the level of international competition, about our strengths and weaknesses and we implemented changes to this group with regards to their preparation and homework in attempting to reach a higher level than the previous team.” You got three excellent results against the Germany U-17 WNT in Florida in early February. What did those matches do for the development of your team?

KT: “It was definitely a confidence booster for the group because Germany is amongst the top few teams in the world and a year ago, when I assembled our first camp with this group, coincidently, we played three matches against Germany. Not only did they beat us in two out of three, but they clearly outplayed us. It’s neat to see twelve months later, after several camps and much homework with this group, that we were able to put a whole new and different product out there and get the better of a great German squad. I think it was excellent not only to get the results, but to play in the fashion that we did. We played very rhythmic, open and offensive soccer and still got the desired results. That really gave our players a belief that we can play high level and creative soccer even against a world power. The players saw for themselves the difference in our performance level against a top team and now have a firm belief in playing this style. That’s an important point and certainly the direction that U.S. Soccer is trying to move towards for our girls’ and women’s national teams.” What are the strengths of this year’s U.S. U-17 team?

KT: “Besides the usual strengths we typically see in our American teams, which are the athleticism and mental determination, this group has become technically very proficient and has grown to understand what rhythmic soccer looks like. We asked the girls to do technical repetitive training in between camps and also watch the highest of level of men’s professional soccer. We’ve asked them to provide a written analysis about the players at that level who are playing in their positions and it has helped them become better students of the game. We have also implemented visualization as a tool for improvement. Our players now have a much clearer picture of the potential future of the women’s game in the U.S.” Besides the obvious of qualifying for the World Cup, what are your goals for this tournament?

KT: “Of course, our first and foremost goal is to make it to the World Cup.  Beyond this, we want to do it in a fashion that demonstrates a higher standard of soccer than has been played in the past at this age group. If we can win and do it while playing good soccer it will be very satisfying for players and myself. Ultimately, our other major goal is to demonstrate that we have players who will one day be able to transition to the full national team because they will be better able to express the beautiful game that Pia (Sundhage) is working towards with the full team.” What are some of the key factors to focus on when picking a team for a qualifying competition like this?

KT: “In piecing this team together, it started with trying to find a mix of the best players. By that, I mean players who were athletic enough for this level, had a good understanding of the game and were technically proficient, but also had the mental capacity and the willingness to take in a lot of new ideas. We want players who are open and relish the opportunity to move in new directions. We’ve had the girls watching the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal amongst other high level clubs and we’ve asked them to visualize themselves playing that type of game. I believe everyone has bought into that concept and as we’ve improved steadily through the course of the year, everyone has also learned to enjoy the game a lot more and understand why soccer is so much fun to play.” From a soccer standpoint, what are your thoughts on the first match against Haiti?

KT: “We expect that Haiti will have an athletic group of players with some individual creativity because it is a country where the kids grow up playing street soccer. That being said, we’re going to be one-hundred percent focused on what we want to do when we step on the field. If everyone plays to their capability on our side and plays the type of game that we’re attempting to play, hopefully we can take the game to Haiti and they will have to worry most of all about defending our attack.”