Since taking over the U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team head coaching duties in October, Sigi Schmid has gone undefeated in international play (4-0-0), defeating every CONCACAF opponent the U-20s have faced, including Honduras (2-0), Mexico (2-1) and Canada (1-0, twice). An impressive start, but Schmid knows that two days from now when the U.S. opens the U-20 CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament against Trinidad & Tobago is when it really counts. After a week of practice and choosing the final 18-man qualifying roster, Schmid sat down with ussoccer.com and answered six questions about picking his final roster, what he's expecting from in the USA's opening match and how the team is looking as they prepare for first opponent.
ussoccer.com: You’ve made the final decisions on the 18-player roster today. Talk a little about that process and how you came to your final decision on which players you would use for qualifying.
Sigi Schmid: “We came in here with probably more forwards and attacking players than we would take in the 18, so we knew that our selection process was going to be in that part of the field. We had brought in a minimum amount of defenders, as we were comfortable that those were the best defenders at that stage and we were still making some decisions up front. We’re pleased because it has been a situation where guys have been able to show they were better than the other guy, rather than guys playing themselves out of it. We think Arturo Alvarez has responded a little bit with his performance, which was as good the camp before, but he came back this time and had a better camp as a result. A concern for us is Jacob Peterson, but he has shown himself to be the starting center forward when he is healthy. Charlie Davies has stepped up at this camp and played well as has Chad Barrett. It was difficult, but it was also easy because players always make decisions for you and players stood up and showed they were playing well now.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve had the chance to watch your first opponent, Trinidad & Tobago, on a couple of occasions. What do you expect from them in the opening match?
SS: “Trinidad is a very physical team that is very athletic. They are very aggressive and have great speed, along with good size. We have to be very alert that we don’t get exposed on the speed issues in the back. We have to be alert on set pieces because they have some tall players they can send forward. We expect a team that is very motivated to play well. For us, to play against T&T and be successful we have to be good with the ball. With their aggressiveness sometimes they get drawn out of position a little bit, so if we possess the ball that allows us opportunities to create openings in their defense, and we need to be good about exploiting those openings. We need to be good about our ball possession and changing the point of attack, and when our opportunities come we have to be good about finishing.”
ussoccer.com: The weather here in Southern California the past week has been pretty bad as the area has been hit with an unusual high amount of rain. How did you deal with that and did it affect your preparations for qualifying at all?
SS: “The first thing we said to our team is to be prepared for everything and that we have to be very adaptable during this preparation period because we didn’t know what each day would bring us. For the most part, the weather hasn’t really affected our preparation. We were on the turf field a little more than I would have liked, but we didn’t suffer any injuries while playing on the surface so I’m happy with that as the turf is a little more giving when it's wet. We’ve gotten enough training in on the grass fields so that was good as well. There was just the one day that we had to improvise by training in the locker rooms, but outside of that we’ve been able to accomplish everything we’ve wanted to even with the weather.”
ussoccer.com: Eddie Gaven is back and basically 100 percent from his hernia injury. What kind of impact does Gaven bring to the team?
SS: “This is the first time I’ve ever really been around Eddie and everyone had always told me that he is a real quiet guy, and he is but he’s not a quiet guy on the field. It’s not that he is loud and boisterous and demanding the ball, but with his way of playing the game gravitates towards him. So, the way I look at it he is very loud on the field because the ball finds him and he finds the ball, so he has a very big impact on the game. I’m obviously very happy with him. He knows how to play with Freddy (Adu) as he’s played with him a lot during their time at the Under-17 level, so there is a level of understanding between them, which is going to help our team.”
ussoccer.com: Overall, how does the team look heading into the qualifying tournament?
SS: “Good. I’m very happy where we are at right now. Do I think we can still get better? Yes, we can get better. I’m very happy with the mix of players we have here. I’m happy we have what I would consider some strong players that can impact the game with their athleticism, whether it is speed like a Charlie Davies or a Chad Barret, or whether it is size like a Patrick Phelan or Patrick Ianni. We also have a very good mix of skill when you look at Freddy (Adu), Eddie Gaven and Arturo Alvarez. We have a good level of workman-like players that do their roles like Benny Feilhaber, Danny Szetela, Marvell Wynne and Hunter Freeman. Overall, I’m very pleased with the mix of players we have. To have a good team you need a good mix to be successful.”
ussoccer.com: As the former head coach of the L.A. Galaxy, you are obviously very familiar with the field at The Home Depot Center. Do you think you have any advantage there?
SS: “If I was young enough and fit enough where I could still run around I could make it to my advantage. But, the field runs big. Even though it is 75 yards wide for this tournament, it plays bigger than 75 yards wide. That is one of the first things all the players will notice. Having being able to see the field and see some of the Interliga games out there you can see it does play big. I think a big field with room is good for us because that gives room to a lot of our guys that can run and cover some ground. That is something I’m very excited about.”