US SoccerUS Soccer

Gedion Zelalem

U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team
Stories

Tab Ramos Finalizes 21-Player Roster for 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup

CHICAGO (May 13, 2015) – U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos has named the 21-player roster that will represent the United States at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, which runs from May 30-June 20.

"I’m very excited about this particular group,” said Ramos. “It was very difficult making the final decision because there were quite a few players who deserved to go to the World Cup. Unfortunately, in the end I can only select a certain number, and I’m very happy with the selections that we made.”

The roster will be submitted by May 15 in accordance with FIFA rules.

The group departs May 14 for training in Australia, where the remaining players will join the camp prior to arrival in New Zealand.

The U.S. was drawn into Group A with host New Zealand, Ukraine and Myanmar. The team opens group play against Myanmar at 12 a.m. ET on May 30 in Whangarei, followed by matches with New Zealand on June 2 and Ukraine on June 5, both of which will be played in Auckland. All of the U.S.’s group matches will be broadcast live on FOX Sports 1 and NBC Universo.

Roster by Position: Detailed Roster
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jeff Caldwell (University of Virginia; Todd, N.C.), Thomas Olsen (University of San Diego; Las Vegas, Nev.), Zack Steffen (Freiburg; Downingtown, Pa.)
DEFENDERS (6): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; Westcliff on Sea, England), Matthew Miazga (New York Red Bulls; Clifton, N.J.), Shaquell Moore (Valencia Huracan; Powder Springs, Ga.), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City; Lee’s Summit, Mo.), Desevio Payne (FC Groningen; Greenwood, S.C.), John Requejo (Club Tijuana; Carpinteria, Calif.)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; Plano, Texas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Russell Canouse (Hoffenheim; Lancaster, Pa.), Marco Delgado (Toronto FC; Glendora, Calif.), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham; Dallas, Texas), Joel Soñora (Boca Juniors; Buenos Aires, Argentina), Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal; Montgomery County, Md.)
FORWARDS (5): Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake; Rochester, N.Y.), Bradford Jamieson IV (LA Galaxy; Los Angeles, Calif.), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht; Beaverton, Ore.), Maki Tall (Red Star; Washington, D.C.), Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes; Loomis, Calif.)

The U-20 MNT capped off its World Cup Qualifying run at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship with four-straight wins. After opening the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Guatemala followed by a 1-0 loss to Panama, the team went on to defeat Aruba, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago to earn a playoff match with El Salvador. The U-20s were victorious against El Salvador and the 2-0 win secured the team a spot in the 2015 U-20 FIFA World Cup.

The U-20 MNT has played three international friendlies since the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. On March 29, the team fell 2-1 to England’s U-21s in England. A month later, the team drew 2-2 with Qatar’s U-20s on April 21 during a European training camp that concluded with a 1-0 win over Croatia on April 25 in Austria. Eleven players that were a part of the roster for the Austria camp appear on this roster.

The U-20 World Cup showcases some of the world’s best young talent. The USA’s roster at last summer’s 2014 FIFA World Cup featured nine players had previously played in a U-20 World Cup: Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Brad Davis, Clint Dempsey, Mix Diskerud, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando and DeAndre Yedlin.

The USA’s best finish at the U-20 World Cup came in Saudi Arabia in 1989, where the team finished in fourth place. In 2013, the USA was drawn into a group with Spain, eventual third-place finisher Ghana, and eventual 2013 U-20 World Cup champion France. While the U.S. played France to a draw, it was unable to advance past the group stage.

Roster Notes:

  • On this roster, nine players come from European clubs, seven players from MLS, two from Liga MX, one from Argentina and two are playing at the collegiate level in the United States.
  • Ten players from this roster were on the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship roster.
  • Eleven players from this roster were part of the U-20s most recent camp in Austria.
  • Fourteen players have ties to the Development Academy: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas Academy), Jordan Allen (Empire Revolution and Real Salt Lake AZ), Paul Arriola (Arsenal FC), Jeff Caldwell (NC Fusion), Russell Canouse (PA Classics and New York Red Bulls Academy), Marco Delgado (Chivas USA Academy), Emerson Hyndman (FC Dallas Academy), Bradford Jamieson IV (Chivas USA Academy and LA Galaxy Academy), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls Academy), Shaquell Moore (FC Dallas Academy and IMG Academy), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting KC Academy), John Requejo (Real So Cal), Zack Steffen (Continental FC DELCO), Tommy Thompson (California Development Academy).
  • Gedion Zelalem has been cleared by FIFA to represent U.S. Soccer in international competition and is included in the squad.
  • Tab Ramos becomes the third coach to lead a U-20 team in multiple World Cups (2013, 2015), following Sigi Schmid (1999, 2005) and Thomas Rongen (2003, 2007, 2009).
  • Kellyn Acosta and Zack Steffen were also on the roster for the U-20 World Cup in 2013, becoming the 8th and 9th player to appear on rosters for two U-20 World Cups/Youth Championships (Adu, Convey, Szetela, Keller, Sturgis, Arguez, Perk). 
  • John Requejo and Tommy Thompson are the most experienced players on the roster having both earned 16 career caps with the U-20 MNT.
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers was born on Dec. 31, 1997, making him the youngest player on the roster at 17 years old.
  • Requejo and Carter-Vickers are the only two players that started and played all 90 minutes of all six of the U.S.’s 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship matches.
  • Rubio Rubin earned a cap with the U.S. MNT this year during its match against Denmark. Rubin has three career caps with the senior team.
  • Emerson Hyndman is the roster’s leading assist man and has recorded three in six appearances in 2015.
  • Paul Arriola scored the second goal of the U.S.’s 2-0 victory over El Salvador in the CONCACAF playoff match that clinched the team’s spot in the World Cup.
  • Arriola and Requejo are teammates with Liga MX’s Club Tijuana.
  • Shaq Moore was named to the CONCACAF U-20 Championship All-Tournament Team.
  • Acosta and Hyndman played together in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons at FC Dallas Academy.

Tab Ramos Elaborates on U-20 MNT World Cup Roster Selection

Opening Remarks:
“So first of all, welcome to everyone on the call. Thank you for being on. Obviously this is a culmination of a very strong year-and-a-half cycle in which we were able to see many talented players. I believe this is a good age group. Obviously we’re right at the end of it here and it’s been very difficult to make the final selections. When you go into making the final selections you want to start with selecting the very best players you have and then end the selection process with players that fit in a number of different ways, not only by coming in in different positions but also by helping the team in every other way. I’m very happy with the selections that we’ve made. I think this is a strong group and a group in which more than ever before we have players who are playing first-division and are getting a lot of minutes and I think from a physical standpoint this is probably a group that will be able to handle this better than groups we have in the past. I’m very excited about this group and looking forward to the challenges that we have ahead of us, which will be difficult.”

On whether he thinks Gedion Zelalem will be cleared in time for the tournament and if not who he will use in the last spot:
“The answer to that is that we’re leaving a little window here over the next few days in case something can be worked out. I don’t know the specifics of the paperwork obviously. We’ve seen Gedion play a little bit and we believe that he can help the team, so if we have a few more days available I think we might as well leave that window open in case that happens. If it doesn’t happen, we have Zach Pfeffer ready to go. I’ve already spoken to him and told him the situation and this is kind of where we are, so we are prepared to make that call as well.”

On if he sees this roster as being inexperienced defensively:
“I really don’t actually. I think defensively we have a number of different combinations that we can use. Matt Miazga is playing 90 minutes every week for New York Red Bulls. Desevio Payne has already debuted in the first division with FC Gronigen. You have the option of John Requejo who’s playing every week, although he’s playing with the U-20s in Tijuana he has also played in the cup with Tijuana’s first team. Shaq Moore is unattached right now but he has been training in Spain and playing games in Spain, so I feel comfortable about that. There’s also the ability of using Kellyn Acosta as an outside back, who has been playing and starting for FC Dallas the last few games. Cameron Carter-Vickers is our youngest player and yet he plays like a veteran, so I have no concerns there at all. I think we’re in good shape. I don’t think we’re an inexperienced defense by any means.”

On the process of players going from the U-20s to the U-23s to the senior team and how that path of progression is beneficial to players:
“One of the things we’ve been talking about over these last few years since Jurgen Klinsmann has taken over our program is the fact that we know that the integration of our National Teams is very important to us. So I think that the participation of a player with the U-20s and at the U-20 World Cup and being in U-20 camps prepares them to go to the first team a little bit better, not just because of the international experience and the international games and being able to play against players all over the world, but I think that the way we train, the way we prepare teams, the way we scout, those are all things that are very similar to what our first team does. So I feel that when a player leaves our U-20s and steps into the first team that they’re pretty well prepared for what they’re going to find. I think that’s a big help for us.”

On how Marco Delgado worked his way into the group after missing the qualifying games:
“Well Marky got hurt right before the qualifiers. We’ve always considered him a very good player and one who can help us a lot. He has been in good form as of late. He played 90 minutes last night in a Canadian Cup game. He played 90 minutes in both games for us in our camp in Europe a few weeks back. He’s in good form right now and it’s a good moment for him.”

On what areas he is focusing on improving following the qualifying games and on how the selection of new players will fit into that:
“Yeah it’s a good question because in qualifying I have to say that I was very happy with the way that we played defensively. The team did very well in terms of limiting the opportunities of other teams. We were solid at the end of the tournament and I felt that we were probably the best team there. Defensively we didn’t give up much at all and we ended up with four shutouts in a row. I’m pretty confident that on that side of the field we’re going to do well. Where the changes have come that you see is going forward. Obviously we didn’t have Rubio Rubin there. We didn’t have the option to have Maki Tall there. Jordan Allen was injured and now he’s in great form. Bradford Jameison IV is in much better form now. He plays and starts for the LA Galaxy every game. There are a lot more options now and I feel confident in this team with what we can do on the other side of the ball because although at qualifiers we created chances and we had more shots that any team in qualifying we didn’t convert, and I think we need to be a lot more clinical and be able to put our chances away in the World Cup because certainly there’s not going to be as many chances as there were in qualifying.”

On if he has named a captain, and on Reading FC not releasing Andrija Novakovich:
“I have not named a captain yet. I’m going to do that with the team next week, so I’ll have to keep that to myself at this point until the team knows next week. As far as the release, I can tell you that Reading has done a great job with us over the years and in working with national teams and they’re very supportive of U.S. Soccer and our players coming up. An example is with Bobby Convey and the past and Danny Williams recently, so they do release their players. They just strongly felt that with Andrija this has been a very difficult year for him with the physicality of the Championship and being on their team. They consider him a very important part of next year’s group and their preseason which starts in June, and they felt like at this point he’s going to need the rest. I can’t argue with that. As the U-20 MNT head coach above and beyond anything else obviously results are very important - but also what’s important is that we advance players to our first team. So if that’s what’s best for Andrija at this point and that’s what everybody feels is best for him then I support that as well and hopefully we have Andrija ready, whether it’s for the Olympics or the senior team, down the road.”

On the strengths and weaknesses of Shaq Moore, where he’s been training, and what he’ll bring to the team:
“Shaq Moore is training with team Huracán, which is in the third division in Spain. I’ve spoken with their club director quite a few times because I wanted to make sure he was getting playing time. When Shaq comes with us he’s always physically in great shape. He brings a lot to the table for us in terms of covering space and getting up and down the line and making plays. He’s one that fits into the team really well. As far as strengths and weaknesses I can say he’s a player that’s very tactically knowledgeable, like I said he gets up and down the line well. I think in terms of weaknesses, he can obviously improve with the ball on his feet. He’s a young player and he has time for that. I’ve been a fan of Shaq. As you know he’s played most of our games, and I think he’ll bring a lot to the table here as well.”

On what formation he expects the team will bring to New Zealand and on whether an addition of Gedion Zelalem would change the game plan:
“The thought right now is to be playing in a 4-4-2, so whether that becomes a 4-4-2 in a diamond or it becomes two with two more advanced or if that becomes more of a 4-4-1-1 I think we’ll see over the next week and a half. I think the important part at this point is that we have our best guys on the field. I think we have a pretty well compensated roster with players that can make a difference from all kinds of positions, so that will be it. I think Gedion would certainly add to the group, but it won’t necessarily change the way we play. I think that he will fit right in with what we do if he is the player who comes, and if he’s not the player who comes we know that Zach Pfeffer can do that as well.”

On Matt Miazga:
“Matt has advanced and done really well. I was discussing before in a previous interview that in September and October of last year we started to have doubts about his play, and in December we brought him in. He had not been playing last year. Last year he wasn’t getting a lot of minutes with the Red Bulls. In December, we put him through a fitness camp with us in Florida for all the MLS players that were not playing and then we took him to Honduras to play two games, in which he did well. Then we took him to qualifying where as a starter he did well throughout. I thought as the tournament went on he got better and better, and I think that benefitted Matt going into the Red Bulls preseason. He had already played eight 90-minute games when he went into the preseason and I think that helped him a lot and it showed early in the preseason. Not to take anything away from Jesse and everything they do with the Red Bulls, they’re doing a great job, but I think Matt had a great base to start and I think now that he’s playing 90 minutes with the Red Bulls it shows how much improvement he’s making. As far as his confidence in play, it’s like any player: the more confidence the coach has in you, the more confidence you have in yourself, and I think Matt is reflecting that on the field now and continuing to get better and better. I’m very excited where Matt is right now, but more excited for down the road for our program.”

On if he’s confident that he’ll be able to retain the players that have been released, or if teams might change their minds:
“For the most part that never happens. When a team releases a player they rarely change their mind.The ones who could potentially change their minds at this point are MLS clubs, and MLS clubs are very supportive of what we do in our program so that’s not going to happen.

On how much Romain Gall’s knee injury factored into him being left off the roster:
“A lot actually, because we’ve been fortunate enough with the National Team now that as far as our attacking options we can select whatever players are in best form in that particular moment.  This is a message that we’ve given our youth players all along. Fortunately for us we’ve got a lot of players that are getting a lot of minutes and players who are doing well. Unfortunately Romain was out for a while and ame into our last camp and he’s not in great form. Although he scored a goal and we were happy with what we saw, it was just a matter of selecting one player or another and I think when we looked at our roster and what we needed with what we had, we had to go in another direction. This is not to say that Romain is not going to be in great form in another month or month in a half, and will hopefully break into the Crew’s first team and be great and make our Olympic team down the road. Hopefully that’s the case.  At the moment he was not in his best form and we had to make another selection.”

On Desevio Payne:
“So earlier when we were discussing all of the different ways we pick our teams and follow our players because it’s very difficult since we have players all over the world, our process begins with a depth chart that comes from the U-18 National Team of 60 to 70 players and that includes the best players in every position. We follow those. At the same time we follow players that are constantly moving to Europe and start to play, and then we follow some tips and leadsabout American players that are playing oversees and we track them as well. Desevio was one of those that just popped up a couple of months ago as someone that had broken into the lineup of a first team. I called him  to see what his interest would be in playing for the National Team and he was really excited about it, and that let us know that it would definitely be a player that we would follow through with. He came into the camp very excited to show what he could do, did very well to be honest, and I think he’s someone that we just happened to find at the end who’s doing very well and a good player who’s going to make our team better.”

On if this is the deepest team that there’s ever been for the U.S. U-20 level and on what the expectations should be going forward:
“The answer to your first question is I’m not sure because I don’t have all of the stats in front of me, but it’s probably the most professional team in the last two or three cycles. As far as the expectations, were always hoping that were getting better so we expect that. Our expectations for ourselves are always higher and higher so it’s normal that others people’s expectations are higher as well. In the end, you always depend on results,and sometimes results come your way and sometime they don’t. But I think there’s no reason not to have higher expectations higher that we’ve had in the past. We welcome that. Just like we welcomed going to qualifying, where I mentioned to the team we were going to the CONCACAF Tournament and our main goal is not to qualify for the World Cup but to be CONCACAF Champions because no other U-20 team had done that before. Unfortunately we didn’t accomplish our goal. In this case obviously we’re going to the World Cup and we hope to win every game, but in order to do that we have to win the first game and that’s a difficult challenge but we’ll get through it one at a time.”

On how Tommy Thompson fits in the 4-4-2 formation:
“Tommy Thompson can fit into a number of different positions. If you’ve seen him play in the midfield he finds space all over the field, so he can play wide on either side of a 4-4-2 and he could also play in front in either of the two forward positions as a more advanced or as a secondary forward.”

On if he sees Tommy Thompson coming on in the starting XI or off the bench?
“Over the next few weeks I think that will sort itself out. I’m hoping that every player that is coming in is thinking that they’re going to be in the starting XI and we want to keep it like that. We want to keep it competitive and keep the team as competitive as possible until then. Every player I’ve selected I’m hoping tcan compete for a spot at this point.”

On tactical formations:
“A 4-3-3 is a great system. If I had to select that would probably be my favorite one. But the system always depends on the players that you have. You need to have two very good wingers who are good one-on-one wide to be able to play a 4-3-3 system, and at the same time you need to have a No.  6 who can cover a lot of ground by himself in the middle of the field. It’s not an easy system to play; it depends on the players sometimes. By no means am I scratching that as something that we won’t do in this World Cup based on our opponents. There will be situations in which we will go into a 4-3-3 because that we will be better for us. In terms of development, I like to see the younger teams play in a 4-3-3 because it’s very position specific and it’s very easy to describe a position to a player and it’s very easy for a player to advance and get better in any one particular position. I like it. The 4-3-3 is a great system to play.”

On the reasons why Cristian Roldan did not make the squad:
“I think he was in a very competitive group of players that I had to select from. Roldan came into a group of Emerson Hyndman, Joel Sonora, Junior Flores, Zach Pfeffer and those types of guys who are a little bit more creative in the midfield and can hold possession.  I had a very tough choice. I think the selection process was very difficult in that particular position because we had a lot of options. Could Roldan potentially do the job for us in the World Cup? Absolutely yes. He’s a good player. So is Junior Flores. These are all good players, but in the end I couldn’t select too many players that play the same position. Those guys were left on the outside looking in, but it’s by a very small margin. These are all very good players we’re talking about.”

On Erik Palmer-Brown being one of the younger players on the team and what he did to earn his spot on the roster:
“He played really well in the last game we had against Croatia. We gave him the 90 minutes and he came in and really showed that defensively he can lock things up. I don’t want to take too much just from friendlies leading up, but I don’t think we gave a shot on goal to Croatia the whole game. That’s very positive, and that was Carter-Vickers and Palmer Brown playing central defense. They’re both 97-born players so they’re both next-cycle eligible. They did a pretty good job together. I liked what I saw. At this point that’s all I needed to see because I know the type of player that he is. I think at the same time this tournament will be a great experience for him leading into the next U-20 cycle.”

Jurgen Klinsmann Q&A: Taking U.S. Soccer to the Next Level in 2015

ussoccer.com: What do you think were the most important developments for the National Team in 2014?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “2014 was a big benchmark. It showed us there’s a lot of talent coming through our environment and it makes us very positive going into 2015, seeing younger players breaking through and hopefully having a deeper and deeper pool to draw from. The game overall is just going in the right direction. It’s important that we take all the energy, all the enthusiasm coming out of the World Cup in Brazil and take it to another level. 2015 is full of big events: there’s a U-17 World Cup, an Under-20 World Cup and obviously the Gold Cup in July that hopefully qualifies us for the Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017. There’s a lot on our plate, but the biggest lesson we can take from 2014 is that we’re catching up with bigger national teams. We’re developing more and more talent, but still we have a way to go.” 

ussoccer.com: You often talk about the best in the global game setting the trends for the highest level. What trends did you see in 2014, and is there anything you see changing moving forward?
JK: “We talk a lot about the trends in the global game, especially when you come out of a World Cup. You analyze it and talk with the other coaches, and you see it in the different leagues like the Premier League, the Bundesliga or the Spanish league and how those coaches implement those trends. We saw this year the whole team defending and attacking as a unit. Space is getting smaller and smaller because players and teams know exactly how to squeeze it, how to pressure the ball higher up the field to interrupt your rhythm from the early beginning on. It’s very difficult to break through. The tempo is getting faster and faster. If you look at the speed of play 20 years ago, 10 years ago and today, it’s become even faster. 

“That teaches you that you have to develop players that are able to go both ways, that strikers know how to defend, how to shift to squeeze opponents in their build-up, and defenders how to bring the game higher up the field. You have to develop players that are good leaders, communicate out there, and to be connected as a whole team. You need 11 players connected with each other and always alert. On the international level, you can see in a World Cup, if you lose focus just for a little bit of time, just for a split second, you get punished and you’re going fly home. Our job is to develop more and more players able to play both sides of the ball and to be very focused and highly alert for 90 minutes and longer.

ussoccer.com: You have described the series of friendlies early next year as a developmental schedule. Can you elaborate on your thoughts there?
JK: “In order to raise the bar and learn from the best teams out there, you need to play them. That’s why we want to play Chile, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and so forth because we want to continue to grow, continue to learn and those teams will definitely challenge you. They will give you certain lessons, so by going through that process positively and negatively you can get only stronger. Hopefully you develop into a stronger program. Your players individually take a lot of lessons from these games and learn from them, so they understand right away on the field what they are missing to be a real top player out there in the world.” 

ussoccer.com: Five of the seven opponents are ranked in the top 20 in the world. How useful is it to have this type of competition for the Senior Team? Is there a concern about results leading into the Gold Cup?
JK: “Concern about the results if you play the top teams in the world, yeah, you might risk here and there a result. Results obviously matter because wins give you confidence, especially going into the Gold Cup, you need to have confidence to be the No. 1 in CONCACAF and come out as the winner. 

“I think it’s more important in the first part of 2015 that we continue to grow as a team and grow individually as players, so that they understand where the international benchmarks are, so they understand why there are not where other players who play for Chile or Switzerland or Denmark or Holland or Germany are and why those players are where they are – because they are consistent through 11 months a year. They know how to grind it out, they know how to be focused every four days; they play up to 50, 60, 70 games a year. So it’s important for our players to understand that it takes a lot more work to one day catch up with them and beat them. Results matter, but in this case, I’d rather have a negative result in a growing pattern.” 

ussoccer.com: Several MNT players are about to be in new club situations: What is your take on Brek Shea’s move to Orlando City?
JK: “We see all our players in their individual situations trying to find solutions. Brek Shea is a good example. He’s tried badly to find a solution for quite a while since he couldn’t break into the team at Stoke City, so he tried to go on loan and figure out other solutions. Now, he found his solution going to Orlando City and starting over again. 

“It’s exciting because he made decision himself. It shows me he starts to grow, to take things in his own hands. Hopefully he picks up the rhythm right away with our January Camp and going into an exciting first season with Orlando City. I think he understands that he has to play, that players need to play in order to be part of the National Team program. It’s good news. It’s exciting for MLS having a younger player also coming back, but most importantly it’s good news for him in order to catch up again.”

ussoccer.com: DeAndre Yedlin has been granted a work permit and is on his way to Spurs. What types of challenges will he face there, and what advice have you given him?
JK: “I think with DeAndre Yedlin we all know that he’s a very talented kid coming through the ranks and he needs time. He’s still raw, he’s still developing and Tottenham knows that. Yes, we hope he’s going to play there right away, but if he doesn’t it’s not the end of the world because he has to learn to grind things out and fight his way through. He’s in a very good environment there that teaches him to focus daily on his job and deliver his qualities. Then hopefully over time he comes through to make his mark on the Premier League. He has the talent to do so, but it will be a lot of work for him.” 

ussoccer.com: John Brooks has delivered much improved performances of late. Is he starting to understand what it takes to succeed at this level?
JK: “John Brooks is a good example of how players grow in their own way. This is what a national team program is about; it’s about guiding U-17, U-18, U-20 players into the senior team and then also, even if they are part of the senior team, to deliver consistently with their club team. That goes like a rollercoaster in the first couple years of a player’s career. John Brooks has been through a couple rollercoasters already, but he’s still very young. It’s exciting to see him become more consistent now. He understands more and more what his job is all about. It’s about focusing every day, delivering every day, grinding it out every day. Hopefully he can prove that from now throughout an entire season to next summer. That will help him become a strong focal point in our team as well.” 

ussoccer.com: In terms of 2015, you have said the most important thing for the Senior National Team is winning the Gold Cup. What other goals do you have for the team next year? What will be the emphasis of the coaching staff?
JK: “Well there are many goals on our plate for 2015. Obviously, we want the Under-17s to qualify for the World Cup and have a strong World Cup, for the Under-20s to qualify for the World Cup and do well there. We have the Under-23s coming through the ranks and we want to really start to prepare them well for Rio de Janeiro 2016. Obviously for the senior team the Gold Cup gives us the opportunity to qualify directly for the Confederations Cup in Russia 2017. There are so many different chapters in 2015 that are really exciting. We want to help Dave Chesler, who’s the head of our Coaching Education, to upgrade his programs. We want to find more and more players out there to get them integrated into our youth programs; we want the Academy system to get to another level as well. You see the MLS growing, expanding now to 20 teams. There’s so much going on in American soccer that it’s really exciting. 

“For us as National Team coaches, there’s a lot of individual work needing to get done. We have to help the players, the young ones to grow a little bit faster, a little bit more aggressively and to understand their jobs a bit better. It will help us to build a bigger team of scouts, a bigger team of analysts in the background and expand our infrastructure as well. I think overall the game is growing everywhere you look. There’s so much potential for soccer to get bigger and bigger in this country and we want to drive that. The National Team, at the end of the day, is the locomotive of the development of the sport. Hopefully, we’re going to go full steam.”

ussoccer.com: You have also said that 2015 is a critical year for the U-23 team. What will the building process be like this year, and what are the things that need to be done to get the team ready for qualifying?
JK: “The main task in 2015 for the Under-23 team is to keep identifying players, to get camps on the agenda, to get games on the agenda for that team and help to build already a core group for the qualifiers. We want to make sure what happened with London 2012 doesn’t happen again, so we put this on a higher priority level, which is exciting. We will have eight to 10 Olympic-age players in the January Camp to come with the senior group to just try to start building them already. Then we have to work out an agenda for them, a calendar that really gets them off to a good start.” 

ussoccer.com: The office of the National Teams Advisory Services will open in 2015. What are you hoping will be accomplished in the first year?
JK: “It’s really exciting that we’re starting to have a consulting office, an advisory office led by Nelson Rodriguez who formally worked for MLS. Nelson will lead a group of people who will dig into the individual development of players off the field. So all the topics that happen basically that are not soccer related will go through his hands. Academically, socially, networking – we want to know how we can help players no matter where they are, whether they’re in the U.S. Europe or Mexico or wherever, how can we help them become real professionals. 

"With this office, we really want to educate players and their families to understand the profession, to understand being a professional soccer player from the early ages onward. We can identify pretty early if someone is good enough to become a pro, but everybody knows that talent is not enough. You need a brain. Hopefully through this office and Nelson we can help players develop into real people, into persons who understand their profession on and off the field.”

ussoccer.com: Outside of the National Team, what are your goals for U.S. Soccer in 2015?
JK: “I think outside our National Team environment that it’s very important that the Federation grows its awareness all over the United States, because soccer is such a fascinating sport that connects all the people out there no matter if they’re young, old, or what background they have. It gives you so much emotion, so much positive feeling that you want to transmit this to everybody out there. The World Cup did this in a certain way to show those emotions, but I think on a social side, on an economic side, on the media side, there’s so much growth possible for soccer in this country. All of that should be driven by the Federation. They should embrace that and they’re doing that, getting the game to another level in terms of awareness, in terms of connectivity socially and economically.” 

ussoccer.com: You have also placed an emphasis on developing younger talent. What will you be watching for in 2015?
JK: “Well I think the first part of 2015 where we have some friendly games leading up, we want to see a couple younger players breaking through or at least making a mark. Bobby Wood is on his way, even with his struggles at his club team which is similar to John Brooks a couple of months ago, he’s shown that he can make it. Rubio Rubin is a very talented young player coming through. We want to see younger players taking their game to another level. We want to see in the Under-20 team with Tab Ramos in Jamaica in January for the World Cup Qualifiers, who of that group can make it to the senior team. We want to see growth. We want to see those youngsters becoming confident and strong and giving us coaches alternatives to the already established players. I think there’s talent coming through, whether it’s on U.S. soil or coming through other systems. That’s going to be an exciting topic. 

“Over the first three years we connected all the youth teams to the senior team, all the coaches work hand in hand and go in with all the age groups. I think that is all done. Now we want to work on individual development of players on the field. That is the soccer side with the coaches. We have our advisory office of the field with Nelson Rodriguez, so I think 2015 will be a big, big step forward.”

ussoccer.com: Gedion Zelalem is a player you’ve been watching who recently received his U.S. citizenship. What is his potential?
JK: “Obviously, we are thrilled that Gideon Zelalem received an American passport and is hopefully soon eligible for us. He’s a 17-year-old player at Arsenal. With Gideon comes a player who is highly talented; we all know that. Germany is after him - we know that. He could even play for Ethiopia because of his family background, but he grew up in the United States. The process was long and not easy but it’s all worked out. This makes us really excited because when you see special talent coming through at 16, 17, 18, you want to just help them. You want to help them understand early enough what it takes to become a good player one day. Like in the case of other young players, they are still very raw, they are inexperienced and we want to work hand in hand with the club coaches – in his case Arsene Wenger, who was one of my coaches when I played a long time ago – in order to get him to another level one step at a time.”

×