Q&A With U-23 Men's National Team Head Coach Peter Nowak
ussoccer.com: Now that you have been promoted to head coach of the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team, what are your immediate priorities?
Peter Nowak: “First, we will solidify a pool of players who are potential candidates for the U-23s for Olympic qualifying. From there, we will look at the schedule of those players, those who play professionally both in MLS and abroad, as well as the colleges, so we can develop a good scouting plan and look to get the group together in the next couple months. Third, I want to start talking to their coaches about our potential schedule for the next 12 months. Finally, we will plan on scouting the preliminary Olympic qualifying competitions that will take place in the coming months in Central America and the Caribbean. We plan on being very active in all these areas.”
ussoccer.com: You had the opportunity to work with the U-23 group in February, and also had many of the players in with the full national team. How would you assess your familiarity with the pool at this point?
PN: “We feel very good about what is available to us. I think the bulk of the group will come from the players who played in the U-20 World Cup in Canada. There are also a lot of older players who are playing abroad – guys like Charlie Davies, Benny Feilhaber, Kamani Hill, Lee Nguyen and Jonathan Spector - that could play important roles. We know that working with the schedules of these players will be difficult, so that is why it is critical to move forward as quickly as possible. As for other players, we will certainly keep an open mind throughout the process.”
ussoccer.com: With so many of these players now playing professionally both here and abroad, are you satisfied with the depth of the player pool?
PN: “The recent results with the U-20s shows that we have a very promising group. On paper we look very good, but what happens on the field will be the ultimate judge. We want to make sure we have the right chemistry. That means not just having the best players, but having the players who fit into the team mentality. Going into qualifying, we need to make sure we have the players in the best form and they are mentally prepared. They have to be ready for every challenge thrown their way. Nothing is a given. Just like with their club teams, everybody is going to have to earn their spot. We believe in the players we have, and we believe in what we are doing.”
ussoccer.com: How does the work you have done with the full team fit into the ideas you plan on using with the U-23 team?
PN: “We will try to implement the same principles that we have established with the full team. It is very important to continue the work we have done in the last eight months. We must establish the right environment, and have players understand that we have a team mentality and a winning mentality, regardless of the age group. These players are the future of our national team, and we must always keep that in mind.”
ussoccer.com: Will you continue with the same role with the full team, and what will MNT head coach Bob Bradley’s role be with the U-23’s?
PN: “Yes, I will keep the same role. It is all part of the larger goal of establishing continuity throughout every age level. Bob and I will continue to work as partners. His advice is always valuable to me. I’ll also be consulting with [U-20 head coach] Thomas Rongen and [U-17 head coach] John Hackworth. As I said, we’re not just looking towards the Olympics. We are looking at the big picture, which is to help establish a way of doing things from top to bottom. From the youngest age group up through the full team, we want every player to appreciate our identity as a national team and to take pride in how we present ourselves on the field.”
ussoccer.com: You mentioned some of the challenges of getting the different players together in order to prepare for qualifying. What will the strategy be in the coming months?
PN: “Between now and March, I would like to have a couple of dates where we get together for a couple days. I will start the conversations with MLS and college coaches now. While the full team is in Europe in October, I will go to meet with players and their managers. It’s very important to establish relationships. I want them to understand our needs, and we will certainly respect their needs. Ultimately, we want to try and get a chance to look at everyone and create the best possible scenario to help our team qualify for the Olympics.”
ussoccer.com: From the perspective of a former player and now coach at the international level, how important is it for the United States to qualify and do well in Beijing?
PN: “For the team, every international tournament is a chance to gain respect on the international stage. If you look at the team that had success in Sydney in 2000, many of those players got the opportunity to play abroad as well as represent the U.S. with the senior national team. First things first - we have to qualify. With a country that has so much tradition and success in the Olympics, for me it is very important that we represent the United States well. I feel very good about this group, and I believe we can really achieve good things in Beijing.”