Caleb Porter Discusses U-23 Men's National Team Training Camp in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
Following the announcement of the roster for the U-23 Menâ€™s National Team Training camp from Dec. 15-23 in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., ussoccer.com spoke with U-23 head coach Caleb Porter about the make-up of the roster, the status of the player pool, and his blueprint for the next three months to get ready for the 2012 CONCACAF Menâ€™s Olympic Qualifying tournament.
Given some of the limitations at this time of year â€“ injuries, players in season in Europe - how did you put this roster together?
Caleb Porter: â€œWe look at this as another opportunity to move the group forward. This is my first opportunity to be with the group, lead them, set the tone and set the culture for camps going forward and to imprint the philosophy of how weâ€™re going to play on both sides of the ball. I think with each camp, we need to still evaluate the pool. We have nearly 50 players we see as potential players for the group, realistically, who we feel are capable of contributing or deserve an opportunity to be looked at. As we move into the New Year, we really want to key in on whoâ€™s going to help us so that we can start to build a cohesive group that understands the way weâ€™re going to do things. I look at this camp as a continuation of the first camp. Itâ€™s part identification and part moving forward as a team.â€
How would you describe the culture you are trying to create around this group?
CP: â€œAs the leader of this group, I want to set the tone with what our vision is for the next three months through qualifying. I want them to have an understanding of how weâ€™re going to go about each camp, the things that we like to do in training, the activities that weâ€™ll use to imprint the style of play, and the way we treat them as professionals. Weâ€™re going to treat them in a first class way and surround them with the right organization. Weâ€™re going to do things right in all aspects, from the way theyâ€™re managed, trained and treated to the way they eat, sleep and travel. Thereâ€™s a lot at stake. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.â€
Many players have professional or Youth National Team experience. How does that experience benefit the team?
CP: â€œAny time you have a short window of four camps leading into qualifying it helps to have guys who have been in this situation before. Theyâ€™ve worn the badge, theyâ€™ve been in training camps, they know what playing internationally and tournament play is about. Any time you can get guys who have already been plugged into a role, it makes my job a lot easier. Youâ€™re introducing new players alongside of them and youâ€™re building them within new pieces. Those considerations are certainly things we took into account when bringing these players into camp. We look at it as a chance to look at guys who have earned it, through their performances in MLS, overseas or in college. We want to give guys we think have earned it the opportunity to help the group.â€
The camp runs from Dec. 15-23. Where do you want to be with this group when camp ends?
CP: â€œBased on what we knew prior to the Germany camp in November and what weâ€™ll know after this camp, I want to have a clear picture of where we are with the player pool and build a depth chart for each position. With nearly 50 guys, we have to start to isolate which players can really help us. Weâ€™re going to continue to look at what these guys are doing with their clubs; thatâ€™s important. We need guys who are in-form and healthy, so we have to evaluate that as well. We have to be prepared for injuries, because that happens. If we have injuries, weâ€™ll know where we are in the depth chart with the next guy. Itâ€™s also very important to develop relationships with the staff, the guys and myselfâ€”how I do things, what Iâ€™m like. I also want to get to know the players in a deeper way and know what makes them tick so I can know what theyâ€™re like and what buttons to push. In terms of soccer, I want to know what they bring to the table, their strengths and weaknesses, and what other things we need to work on with them. We want to have a lot of continuity, and for almost every role in this camp, we expect to have the same staff back for the next camp. Itâ€™s important so the players develop a comfort level and start to understand the way each person does things.â€
In terms of developing a style of play, what will you and the coaches be doing to determine how the U-23 will lineup and play throughout Olympic qualifying? What can fans expect to see on the field in terms of a formation?
CP: â€œWeâ€™re going to start to give these messages: how weâ€™re going to attack and defend, the philosophy behind it, the training activities that imprint it on the players and then the system. Weâ€™re not going to have four or five different systems that weâ€™re throwing at the guys, weâ€™re going to have a 4-3-3 and some variations within the 4-3-3 so they understand depending on the game and the personnel. If you look at the top clubs in the world, they always have a couple systems they utilize, and they have some adaptations on those systems. We want to introduce a 4-4-2 as well because it might make more sense in some games, and depending on what the personnel is like, to maybe play with two strikers instead of three or one. We want to give the players these messages so we leave the camp with a better picture of where weâ€™re at in terms of personnel and depth in those two systems, and the players leave the camp with a clearer picture of what we want out of them in those roles and where we see them. In the bigger picture, we want the players to leave camp with a clear understanding of our group, our staff, how we do things, the culture, and what the road map is like for the next three months of qualifying.â€
You have talked about wanting everyone to understand the blueprint for the next three months. Walk us through that and describe what the schedule will be like for the team as you head towards qualifying in March?
CP: â€œWeâ€™ve got this camp Dec. 15-23. We want to do a camp in January, and the plan is to do another 10-day camp domestically. Piggybacking on the tail end of that, we want to travel somewhere in Central America, and we want to play two games. Training is important, but we need to get games. We need to be tested. Ultimately, the results are what matter, and in qualifying youâ€™re building toward getting results in games. We need to start seeing the group and the individuals in games so we can evaluate them and work out tactics, the way weâ€™re going to play, the way that weâ€™re going to plan for games. We want to get a couple hard games, in hopefully an uncomfortable environment, where weâ€™re playing teams that are similar to the level weâ€™re going to see in qualifying. We want to play two games: a game, day off, game, so weâ€™ll also start to build a little bit of that rhythm weâ€™ll have in qualifying. Itâ€™s rapid-fire [in qualifying] so we want to go in and replicate that a little bit. Then weâ€™ll have another 10-day camp in February. It will probably be in Florida, because a lot of MLS teams are having their preseasons there. It will again be a good opportunity to train and move the group along, but also to get another couple of games in at the MLS level. The middle of March will begin the final training camp building into qualifying, which will be the March 18 through April 3, when weâ€™re done.â€