Quote Sheet: U.S. U-23 MNT Head Coach Peter Nowak and Forward Jozy Altidore
U.S. Under-23 Men's National Team head coach Peter Nowak and forward Jozy Altidore speak to the media about the upcoming 2008 CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying tournament.
March 6, 2008
U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team Head Coach Peter Nowak
“Good afternoon everybody. I just wanted to say that we are very excited to be in the final phase of our preparations for the qualifying tournament. We are very pleased with the work over the last three or four months of all the players in our training camps. I must say that it’s a tough job right now for us coaches because all of the players attending this camp are just great. The bad part of the whole process is to make the final decision about the 20 players who will be part of this tournament in Tampa and Nashville. As I said, I’m very pleased with the work ethic when we are playing teams and training, and we are ready to roll. We know the competition is going to be very difficult. We have already watched a couple of our opponents’ games and we know they are going to be very difficult group games. We have to be prepared for that from the beginning and present ourselves in the best possible way.”
On how high the expectations are for the team to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games:
“I’m not a guy who looks over my shoulder at what happened in the past. We are moving forward at what will happen next. From the beginning, for this group, the ultimate goal would be to qualify for the Olympics. We know from the beginning the pressure is going to be there, especially when we play at home in front of our fans. You can put every system on paper, you can put out the best possible lineup but the games are going to verify everything. We will choose the 20 players on Sunday and then everyone is going to be important. Pressure is pressure but we have to play soccer and accept pressure as part of the whole tournament.”
On the process of getting some of the European players to be available for the qualifying tournament:
“I think with the whole process, even with the senior team, we have established with (U.S. Men’s National Team) coach (Bob) Bradley, really good communication with the European clubs and their managers and the coaches. We started this process last year in January, to try to use our contacts to establish the relationship with the clubs because, on one side, we have to respect their needs and on the other side, we have to know what is best for us. It has been very good. We have also tried to help clubs when they need our help and also we have tried to have them understand that this is a national team program and every player who plays for the national team makes the European clubs better, from the public’s perspective. It’s a process. It’s important to establish those relationships and as soon as this process did happen, it was not difficult to ask them for help. I think they realize how important the tournament is for our country, how important the tournament is for the U.S. National Team program. They understand that this is an important time for us and they offered to help. We really appreciate the help and we will keep working hard because, as everyone knows, the summer will be busy – if we do qualify – with the Olympic Games and, also, with the World Cup qualifiers.”
On the possibility of players from Europe joining the team after the first round:
“I would say that it’s not going through my head right now. We have 24 players in camp and we still have a couple of days to evaluate what we have here before making a final decision on Saturday night.”
On how playing collegiate teams will prepare the U-23 MNT for the qualifying tournament:
“The most important thing is to get us together and play so that we can work on some things without showing the opposition, really, what we want to do. I think it’s most important that we find the right place to work on different things with the groups we have had in the last two or three camps. I think we’ve found a place where we feel very comfortable. Basically, the friendly games or scrimmages, we have so many players that come from different clubs, some of them are coming from Europe right now, we need to get them on the same page. If we were to have, like the other teams, the 24 or 25 players for three months, then we would play other teams. We still need to understand and, in some cases, we need to get to get together and work on some things in a really quiet environment. We need to focus on some things without having too many disruptions and just prepare ourselves because I think the most important thing in a very short period of time is just to bond as a team, to gel as a team and every piece has to be in the right place. If it was today and the roster was 24, I would take them all because I feel very good about the whole group.”
On his Group A opponents:
“We have material from our opponents and we are preparing ourselves for that. Of course, we want to make sure that we’re playing soccer our way and also adjust to the opponent in a way that will be an advantage for us. Of course we are aware of their rosters, players, strengths, weakness, so we are well prepared for that. As I said, we can throw everything on the board but the important factor is the execution and that’s what we’ve been working on the last couple of days.”
On how much fitness work he has had to do with the team:
“The first camp, when we started the whole process in January, our responsibility was not only to prepare them for this tournament but also we had an obligation to Major League Soccer clubs to prepare their players in the best possible way for pre-season, regardless of who was going to attend the next camp. We took the work very seriously. Now some players are coming in from pre-season and some players are coming in from Europe and have already played in competitive games, so we’re trying to accommodate every need. We’re trying to keep the players on the same page, not only playing-wise, but also fitness-wise. Like I said, there are still a couple of days to work on fine-tuning some things. Fitness-wise, I think everybody is already ready. We need some more dynamic stuff right now but it will come when we play the first game on Tuesday (March 11).”
On what home-field advantage means to the U.S. team, considering what happened during the 2004 Olympic Qualifying tournament:
“As I said at the beginning of the call, I’m not a guy that looks over my shoulder. I encourage my team not to look over their shoulder because this is a completely different group and a completely different environment. I think right now we want to focus on what we have to do on the field to present to ourselves in the best way possible in front of fans. Of course, it is very exciting to play in front of our fans, who give us the boost if we need it. The pressure and motivation, I think are great things if we play in front of our fans. Everything is going to be done on the field. We do not predict anything right now. We do not have a crystal ball to tell us how it’s going to be. We just want to focus on the things we can control and make sure that when we hit the field on Tuesday night, we’re ready to go and ready for those three games in the group and maybe something extra after that.”
On the difference in his coaching philosophy compared to coaching a professional team:
"As I said, the timing is everything. When we started this process in August, that was the first time that we had a discussion about the Olympic team. We started discussions with the senior team, figuring out how to get your younger guys experience with the older players at the senior team. The real work was done in LA and China and Bradenton in the last two months. The most important thing right now is to appreciate the work from the players while making sure that the group understands that when we have to play that we play the soccer that we want. Like Jozy said before, we take a lot of pride being in the Olympics as a nation. Not just being there, but being successful to. The first thing, though, is qualifying."
On this qualifying tournament being the first one in which the U.S. roster is made up of professional players without any college players:
"I don't think it makes it any easier. When players play abroad they have other obligations to their clubs and qualifying is not in the FIFA dates which makes everything more difficult. But we've tried our best to get our best players in these camps. Our [lack of] college players here reflect the significant progress of our soccer nation in the past few years. Perhaps in the next Olympic Games at London in 2012 we will have 24 players in Europe. [Having lots of professionals] makes things more difficult, but it's very positive, too."
On whether it is hard to cut players because of the feeling that this is a strong squad:
"As I said of the group that's been here for the last three months, they've really bonded as a team together and I've been very pleased to see that. The additional pieces in Benny Feilhaber and Freddy Adu will of course make our team better, Sal (Zizzo) coming from Europe, too. Like I said, you go over the names and you don't want to miss anybody. We had players even in China who did a great job as part of the group, how we play, how we interact with each other and how we respect each other. The respect among the team is very good and also we all push each other in a good way. Whoever is going to be there as part of the team, it doesn't matter what number you're going to be. I feel very good about the group as a whole and how it's coming together. It will be a difficult decision for us coaches and at the end of the day I wish we had 24 spots on our team, but we don't and we'll have to make some very difficult decisions."
On how much he has thought about overage players:
"We'll see to those factors after the qualification process. I don't want to get a headache with who and how and what, because there are so many factors that come into play at that time [During the Olympics]. As I said, the Olympic Games are not in the FIFA calendar and there are World Cup qualifiers coming up. The European season will be starting, transfer windows are open; there are so many factors right now. As soon as qualification is over, if we do qualify for the Olympic Games, then we will start the process and look at the situation. With the senior team and Olympic team playing at the same time we [both teams] will find the right way to accommodate all of our needs. But right now it's too early too discuss."
On how he sees Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu playing off of each other:
"The most important thing is how they feel out playing together with the whole team. You have to keep in mind how they fit together in the whole group. We want to accommodate all of our strengths, and Jozy and Freddy are very important parts of our team, but they're also part of a larger thing which is the whole team. They have great experience together and we hope that we will benefit from that."
On Altidore’s maturity and poise:
“We as the coaches are trying to show our young guys the way that real soccer as a professional works. Jozy has very good experience at a youth level and he's still a very young man, but he recognizes both his ability to play at the highest level and also what is important in the life of a professional soccer player. Not only education, but a soccer education I would say. Not just scoring goals but understanding the whole game, watching games and educating yourself so that every day and every practice you can learn. He absorbs information very fast and has both feet on the ground too, which in a young age is an important quality to have. As a coach, we can show a player the door but still only they can go through it and take that next step. Jozy is making good progress right now and I hope he continues improving every single day."
On the importance of full national team experience:
"Experience is an important factor in the whole process but not necessarily the most important one. As I said, you want to choose players in the group who are sharp in practice and fit in the whole picture of playing three games in five days. That will be difficult for each team in our group and even the other group. Experience is a factor in the team selection and it is important, we've had a hard look at everybody over the course of three months and it's going to be a difficult decision, but that is life. From observing the players in these past camps, we're going to make decision that could be right or wrong. We hope its going to be right."
U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team forward Jozy Altidore
On his background and why he is such a well rounded person:
“I credit my parents for that. They disciplined me in the right ways and showed me the right ways to do things. The tried to put me in the right environments, whether it be soccer or school or anything like that. They made a lot of sacrifices for me and I definitely credit them for who I am today. (My parents) taught me to pursue soccer, because I had a passion for it ever since I was younger, but at the same time, to make sure I had something to fall back on and have other things, like an education. My parents kept everything balanced for me and they really stressed the fact that soccer is not always going to be there so always have something to fall back on because you never know what could happen.”
On becoming the face of youth soccer in the United States and how his experiences over the past year have affected him:
“The last year was a whirlwind year. It had a lot of ups and a lot of downs. The ups have been tremendous, as you pointed out, the (EA Sports FIFA ‘08) cover and doing the charity event with Wyclef. It all just made me a more well-rounded person than I am because I got to see things that I hadn’t seen before, like in rural areas, like Haiti. I got to see how those people live and on the other side, I got to be on the cover of a game that sells throughout the country and world. It was a really good experience for me.”
On whether the early exit from the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup motivates the players who were on that roster to qualify for the Olympics:
“In a way, it’s going to be very motivating. It definitely left a bad taste in my mouth losing during the Under-20 World Cup when we felt we could have done a little bit better. If we do get a chance to qualify for these Olympics, it will be a different story. We bring a different attitude and will show the world, once again, that soccer in this country is growing.”
On how he is approaching the Olympic experience:
“Every time you suit up for the National Team, you have to bring your best. Whether it is the full team, the 20s or the 23s, your best have to be there. As for this Olympics, I think there is a lot of talent on this team. It’s just a matter of now putting it all together at the right time and playing for our country, getting out there and playing as a team.”
On what the experience of walking in with his team at the Olympics would mean to him:
“To be part of that dream of going to Beijing would be unbelievable. Like I said before, it’s an honor to represent my country and it’s a privilege. To make that walk with my teammates and know that everyone is watching would definitely be an unbelievable experience. I’m really looking forward to helping the team qualify and to playing in that tournament. As far as being an Olympic junkie, in America, the Olympics is the biggest sporting event there is, with the World Cup being second.”
On whether he feels pressure, a sense of responsibility or an obligation, as a player:
“There is definitely a sense of urgency. We're now establishing ourselves as one of the stronger teams in CONCACAF, and it definitely seems like we're being considered favorites. But any team can beat anybody right now in this region and maybe there aren't favorites any more, so definitely the pressure is there. The guys will embrace that though and really give everybody something to remember.”
On how playing against Mexico with the full team has helped him prepare for Olympic qualifying:
“Playing with the full team has definitely been a confidence booster. Scoring goals and playing at a high level did a lot for me in that area. But there's still a long way to go for me in terms becoming the best player I can be. In terms of qualifying, we got a look at a few [Mexican] players that are age eligible for the U23’s so in addition to facing a great team, we also took a look at a few players that we could be facing. It was a great experience overall and it’s helped me.”
On whether there is an obligation to win 2008 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying as the home team:
“Every time you play in a tournament, you want to win plain and simple. Our goal is to win, but more importantly we're thinking about taking it just one game at a time. I think that the only game we're looking at right now is Cuba and we're getting ready for that. It’s important not to look past the first game because anything is possible. Like I said before, anybody can beat anybody in this tournament, and we need to make sure that we are sharp for our first game.”
On how important the support of the crowd is for the team:
“We'd love to have the crowd as a factor, to be the 12th man, and it definitely matters. We'd love to have the fans come out, but the responsibility is of course still on us on the field.”