: Take us through the thought process of building this 23-man roster
JK : “In general, we want to use these two friendlies to see a lot about our players. The main goal is to do well and beat both Scotland and Austria, but also to reconnect with certain players to see where they’re at. Some are coming of injuries like Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson or John Brooks for example. We brought back Brek Shea, who’s doing well at Stoke [City] in terms of training but not getting playing time, and we want to see where he’s at. He had a good summer with us, helping us win the Gold Cup in the Final with a goal.
“Also, we’re keeping in mind evaluating everyone involved. We had a close look at the results in MLS for the playoffs. I think number-wise that worked out fine for us. We still have a lot of them available, and that allowed us to have a good feeling about leaving those five still in the playoffs back in the U.S. to get their job done. The main objective is getting results and evaluating the players six, seven months prior to the World Cup, having a close look at a kid that we haven’t had with us yet, Erick Lichaj, and see how he’s doing in training, get to know him a bit, and get a feel for his character.”
: Clint Dempsey is one of those players who was not with the team in October. Since returning to MLS, he’s had some injuries and been trying to regain
his fitness. What have you seen from him in the last month in terms of his progress
JK : “We are excited to have Clint back. He’s our captain. It was a huge transition for him going back into MLS, struggling with injuries, not having had a preseason with Seattle. He’s working his way back to full fitness and sharpness, and he looks good for us. The results didn’t work out the way he wanted them to be in Seattle, but we could see that he, step by step, is getting back in a rhythm, attacking the game and looking good. We’re excited to have him back and see him in our group again. Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson join us from Seattle as well and Omar [Gonzalez], who’s available because at the moment LA didn’t go through.
“I think, if you look at the group now, it is a very good team and everybody’s hungry to prove a point here in Europe. Many are based here in Europe. Some are doing really well; some struggled a little bit over the last couple weeks. There’s an opportunity to show that they are ready for the World Cup. Overall, these are a very valuable 10-11 days together with a group of 23 players that have a good chance of going to the World Cup.”
: Some of the MLS-based players will be looking to go on loan in January, which you have stated is a priority. Is the opportunity to be in Europe for
these friendlies helpful in that regard?
JK : “Yes. I think it’s good to be here in this environment, building some connections, asking if maybe there’s an opportunity with a Premier League team or a Bundesliga team. They might get a chance to go on loan. We made it clear, our priority number one for them is finding a team to get on loan for January-February into March, or if that is not possible, you have to be with us in January camp. That is mandatory. We start on Jan. 6 in Los Angeles.
“If a player has the opportunity to go on loan, you’ve got to go for it. You’re in real competition, you’re in a real competitive environment, you’ve got to have a point to prove and kick-start 2014 that way. We all observe their individual situation. Whenever we can be of help, we will be. But it is important to us to cut short their vacation time, not making it longer than four weeks in December because it would take far too long to get back into shape and get back into a rhythm before the beginning of 2014 and we can’t afford that.”
: There are four players, Edgar Castillo, Landon Donovan, Brad Guzan, and Clarence Goodson, who are injured. What does it say to you and the team that
those spots were readily filled
JK : “You have to give those players who were not able to come a huge compliment for what they were able to achieve in 2013. I talked with Clarence and the MLS players still in competition, Kyle Beckerman and Brad Davis for example, they built a very strong case for themselves for the World Cup. They all did really well in 2013. Brad Guzan shot up to be a real challenge for Tim Howard because he’s doing so well.
“Every time someone is missing because of an injury, it’s a huge opportunity for the next one to come in and get that shot. If an Edgar Castillo can’t come, then suddenly Eric Lichaj has an opportunity to show where he’s at. He hasn’t been with us since I took over two-and-a-half years ago. We love these kinds of situations because it gives a special kind of energy to the group because it’s full of guys that want to prove something.
“Then you face teams like Scotland and Austria that missed it by just a little, tiny bit, making it to Brazil. Both finished in third place, which means they were right there! They were right there to go to Brazil, so they are already rebuilding their program, they are rebuilding their team toward the European Championship in 2016. They’re bringing a couple fresh players in there that are very hungry to prove to their coaches that they want to be part of the big picture in the future. That makes for real good competition. When you have the chance to play at Hampden Park in Glasgow, this is a special place to play football. Same in Vienna at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, it’s a very beautiful venue. So, for us it’s a great opportunity to finish off the year, a special year in 2013, hopefully with a good result.”
: 2013 has included a 12-match winning streak and 16 wins so far, which is the most a U.S. Men’s team has won in a calendar year. One of your messages
the last two-and-a-half years has been about consistency. Do you feel like that consistency has now developed
JK : “I think we are developing – and still in the middle of it – a very competitive environment. The players of the last two-and-a-half years have learned a lot in order to push themselves. They understand now that we empower them to take care of their own environment, take care of their own business. We made it clear it’s all about competition, it’s all about performance. It’s not about how many caps you played in the past, what you did in the past, it’s always about the moment, the present and the future. They came quite a long way.
“With having that mentality, that culture in the inner circle, they now understand they can’t rely on the past. They have to prove it for the future. That deepens your roster, that deepens your possibilities as a coach to look around and bring some new faces in there, and they understand right away what the National Team program is all about.
“Therefore, in 2013, I think we achieved a lot in becoming more consistent, handing out clear messages to the players, stepping it up on the field, and learning more about how to live a professional life off the field. We made a lot of improvements with our group, and it makes us look positive for the near future. You can build that culture and keep on improving it by making them stronger by giving them more belief, more confidence by getting results away from home, playing your game away from home. This is all a process we’re going through, but it’s coming along.”
: You talked about the results being at the top of the list of priorities for these two friendlies, how do you plan on using these two games to
evaluate the players
JK : “The good thing about a Friday-Tuesday set of games is you can meet early on Sunday-Monday and have a couple good training sessions so you can see where the players are right now. We want to always enter the first game with the top group we have in mind. We want to see how alive, how energetic the competition is in training. Based on what you get out of the first game, we then prepare for Austria in a similar way.
“It’s important here and there to give people a chance on the field to jump in and prove a point, but also it’s important to always respect and show appreciation for the ones we see in front, that we see in the starting roles, that we see as the number one in a position. Therefore, it’s the same discussion we have from game to game and the players have to fight for the hierarchy within the group once they come into the National Team environment.”
: The desire for competition and the need for players to “kick others out of their spot” is one of your consistent themes. Young players like Aron
Johannsson and Terence Boyd have been in great form and scoring goals for their clubs. How has that helped them make a case for being included in the
JK : “If you look at players like Aron and Terrence, like Mix Diskerud for example, you can see that they become more consistent professionals. You can see that they are week-in, week-out challenged. Not everything goes perfect. Terrence Boyd sits on the bench, he gets a lesson and then he’s back and he scores. Overall, you see over time then that they start to produce, they start to deliver, they start to make an impression and become more confident. That’s why it’s so important to never lose track with players.
“When they go through difficult stages like Terrence did, like Brek Shea did and still does, it’s exciting to see when things fall into place. You see that with a guy like Aron who’s become a real strike force for AZ Alkmaar now and scoring a lot of goals; similar with Terrence who is scoring goals in the Europa League and in different environments. They don’t have the consistency of a Tim Howard, a Michael Bradley or a Jermaine Jones, but we can see it’s coming along, it’s getting there. With every year in a harder environment, and continuing to prove themselves, they will become more confident and more stable.”
: At the other end of the striker spectrum, you have Jozy Altidore who has become the “veteran” at 24-years old. You went to see him play against
Manchester City. What did you take away from how he’s doing in the Premier League
JK : “We are very satisfied with the way things are going with Jozy even with him being in a tough situation right now. The Premier League started and he hasn’t scored yet. Sunderland is a new club for him. It’s a big club, and the way they were playing their game, he was not getting many opportunities to score. So I went there myself, watched it myself and have proof of what I saw before when I watched it on TV. It’s really difficult for Jozy, but this is also what he needs to go through.
“He has a very positive attitude and has come a long way already in his young career and will get stronger. I told him, ‘You will score your goals sooner or later’ if you have that mentality that you develop now, if you have that drive to get through those periods where you haven’t scored, which for a striker is always the most important thing. But, he also has had a tremendous 2013 scoring goals for us in World Cup qualifying, scoring big, crucial goals for us in friendlies as well. He really matured a lot over the last year and deserves a huge compliment.
“Now we need to give him patience, and I think the club has done that very well bringing him through that stretch. Hopefully for Sunderland, he starts to score more goals. They will produce chances and eventually he will score.”