Q & A with U-20 WNT Head Coach Steve Swanson
The U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team is set to hold its final domestic training camp before heading to Japan for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. The team will train for two weeks in Bradenton, Fla., as head coach Steve Swanson evaluates his player pool to help choose the 21-player roster for the World Cup. He spoke with ussoccer.com about the goals for the camp, last month’s trip to Japan and more.
ussoccer.com: This two-week camp in Bradenton is the final one before the team heads to the World Cup. What’s on your agenda to accomplish over those two weeks?
Swanson: “I think the first thing we have to do is solidify our roster. I think we’ve got a pretty good core group, but we have some injuries and we have to see where we are within those injuries. Is there something that is going to prohibit these players from going over? The second thing is to continue to develop our team on both sides of the ball. I think we’ve made a lot of progress since January when we started with this group. You don’t have as much time as you’d like to train and work on things on the practice field that you can take into games. We were busy qualifying in Panama, we’ve had some games in some of these camps and so you don’t get as much training time. I think this camp in particular will be a good one for us to go over the bigger picture items like our shape defensively, how we’re going to attack and maybe some situational moments that come up in a game. I think there are some smaller items that we need to take care of like our set pieces, different individual roles, those kinds of things. It’s a good chance for us to get back on the training pitch and really solidify the bulk of our team and emphasizing our style of play.”
ussoccer.com: How close are you to naming a final roster for the World Cup?
Swanson: “We’re pretty close. We’re not far away from that, but I think the thing that has come up more recently is that we’ve got a few players nursing injuries that we just have to see how it plays out over these next two weeks to see if they’re fully healthy for the World Cup or if there is someone else that is going to give our team a better chance given their fitness level and overall health. It’s nothing new to any team that is preparing for an event like this.”
ussoccer.com: How do you design a two-week training camp differently than you would when you were just bringing the players in for one week at a time?
Swanson: “We’ve been working off a long-range plan that we put together last year in terms of our training schedule, our game schedule, the travel that we’re going to do. We’ve always said this one would be a longer camp and we have the luxury of having a little more time and we’ve tried to not schedule any games for the first part of training camp so that we can really get down to working on some things to build in before we put in games. We really forecasted this one to be a training camp where we could take the lessons that we learned from qualifying, from the games that we’ve played and look at what we’re doing well and what we can do better and prioritize those in the training sessions prior to the games we have at the end. It gives us a chance in a controlled environment to hone in on things we need to at this time, which we may not have a chance to do in a one-week camp where we have two or three games. It’s exciting being at the facility in Florida. It will give us a little bit of a recreation of the environment that we’ll get in Japan in terms of the heat and humidity. There’s a lot of thought that has gone into the annual plan and into this training camp, which is a critical one.”
ussoccer.com: Let’s talk about the last time the team was together. Tell me a little bit about that trip to Japan, and what kind of experience was it like getting used to the country where the World Cup is going to be?
Swanson: “For us, it was a tremendous opportunity to go to the host country, to play the host country and to acclimate to what we are going to feel in terms of the travel requirements and what we’re going to face in terms of the environment and some of the stadiums and venues. I think from an acclimatization standpoint it was tremendous. I think we learned a lot this trip. There were a lot of things we did well, but there were a lot of things we can get better at and I think we will have the education of this trip to fall back on. I think the games were excellent. I think Japan is a tremendous team; they’re certainly one of the favorites. We had two very good games with them. I thought the performance in the first game wasn’t our best, but there are factors that I think we can get better on, and we did, and that showed in the second game when we won. There were some things on the field that we learned, that we’ve already used. I think there were some things off the field that I’m sure we’ll benefit from on our second trip to Japan.”
ussoccer.com: It seems that your players are really excited and dedicated to doing well in the World Cup. Do you get that sense from them?
Swanson: “Anytime you represent your country, I think there’s going to be even greater motivation. All the players in our pool, I think they feel it’s a real honor to represent the United States. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. They want to do the best they can to bring the World Cup home and perform well. It’s a good group. They’re together; there is a lot of experience. They’ve traveled a lot and many of them have played in internationals and World Cups before. There’s a lot of excitement in that regard. There’s also a lot of spirit in the team. I think we’ve worked very hard at cultivating a strong team on the field, but a united, trusting and respected team off the field. It’s going to be a challenging environment in Japan. We play some awfully good teams, some teams that have equally strong preparations like we have. These are some of the intangibles that will help us down the road, that we have spirit among the group and that we’ve faced adversity. We’ve got an experienced group that can handle the adversity that we’ll go through. I think our improvement as a team has been very evident since January and I’m excited that they’ll rise to meet the challenge that the World Cup presents to us. I’m ready to get back in and get working in training camp and get the process started. It’s been a long time since we qualified and since we’ve known who we’re going to play, so it’s nice to get this thing going.”