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U.S. Futsal Coach Keith Tozer Calls Grand Prix a Learning Experience


Keith Tozer has been the U.S. Futsal National Team’s head coach for 16 years and just returned from his first time competing in the invitation-only Grand Prix of Futsal in Manaus, Brazil, considered one of the premier competitions in futsal. Though the U.S. lost each of its six matches, Tozer and his players considered the Grand Prix good learning experience and will use it to improve for their next goal: qualifying for the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup.

ussoccer.com: There were a lot of new faces on the roster for the Grand Prix. What was the process of building the team for Brazil?
Keith Tozer: “Because we don’t have a professional futsal league in North America and because the indoor league is smaller, we had to reach out and have an I.D. camp, which we had in early September. A majority of the players that came to Brazil went through that I.D. camp.”

ussoccer.com: The Grand Prix is one of the most elite futsal competitions with the highest quality of teams. What was that experience like for the players?
KT: “As one player said, ‘it was a very humbling experience.’ What has happened is that the level of play in the world in futsal is at the highest it’s ever been. And obviously with us being a young team and only being together a short period of time, I guess humbling is a good word to use. However, I thought it was a great learning experience for the team. They saw the speed of play, the level of play and the technical abilities of the other teams. It was extremely beneficial for the players to experience that for the next competition.”

ussoccer.com: Despite the tough competition, are you satisfied with the U.S.’s performance in the Grand Prix?
KT: “If it’s down to wins and losses, no. To lose all six games is definitely a hurting experience, but we are realistic with where we are with our futsal. I’m hoping that it is just the beginning to get this team prepared for the CONCACAF qualifying so we can be one of four teams out of our region to qualify for the World Cup.”

ussoccer.com:
Do you expect to bring back many of the players who competed in the Grand Prix for World Cup Qualifying?
KT: “I would say that there will be a certain percentage of these players, but we’re constantly looking for other players. There are some issues that we need to shore up, and the tournament in Grand Prix gave us a preview of what we need to do to shore up this team, so we’ll be in a constant look for players between now and the next competition.”

ussoccer.com: What are the issues you are looking to improve?
KT: “Obviously, we gave up a lot of goals. We gave up 30 goals in only six games, so defense will definitely be an issue that we have to look at. And unlike outdoor soccer, where a lot of your defensive stuff comes mainly from defenders or defensive midfielders, in futsal, everyone must defend. I think it’s something that we have to take a look at in each individual player. I think our inability to score goals is another issue—we didn’t score that many goals in the tournament, and that’s something that we also have to look at. At the same time, I have to take into consideration that these men have only trained seven days prior to a competition, and then I have to take a look at each player, if they have the ability to play at that level.”

ussoccer.com: What are the positives you’re taking from the Grand Prix?
KT: “I think one—for the players who will continue with the National Team, they got to look at what is needed to play at this level. I’ve been the coach for 16 years, and this competition just showed me how much higher the play has gotten in the world, even in the last two or three years since the last world championship. So I think one—we identified some players; two—we identified what our weaknesses are; three—we have an idea of where we need to get in order to qualify in the CONCACAF championship. For us, it was a very good stepping stone toward our goals.”

ussoccer.com:
Next up will be World Cup Qualifying. How will you prepare for that?
KT: “What we’re planning on is another I.D. camp sometime in April. Then I would hope we’d have either a domestic or international camp prior to our qualification tournament next year for CONCACAF.”

ussoccer.com: What are your goals for World Cup Qualifying?
KT: “I’ve always been a believer, and so have the players that I coach, that whenever we go into a competition, we want to win it. So our goal when we go to the CONCACAF championship is to try to win the tournament, like we did in 2004 and ’96. If you come out on top, you get a better seeding in the draw at the world championship. That would be our ultimate goal. After that, our goal would be to be one of the top four teams out of the region to qualify.”

ussoccer.com:
How will you decide which players to bring back for the next camp?
KT: “Since I’m coaching in the Major Indoor Soccer League, I’ll be looking at players not only in my team but the other six teams. The I.D. camp in April will be able to identify other players throughout the country. I’m hoping that maybe some players will come through Major League Soccer or the USL, the PASL, the PAL, that we can identify. So hopefully the pool of players will continue to grow, not only by numbers, but also by ability.”

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