U.S. Soccer Quote Sheet: Conference Call with U.S. Under-17 National Team
Head Coach John Ellinger
Opening comments about how the U.S. got to the semifinals: "The opening game against New Zealand was played in a mini-cyclone, and we had to play it without Seth Trembly (who was suspended for the match), so we had Greg Martin in there and Oguchi Onyewu was moved to the left side. We gave up a goal on a free kick in the first half against the wind, but we held our own and made some changes to start the second half, going from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2. From there we were able to get goals from Abe Thompson as a substitute and Landon Donovan with a great effort. There was some disappointment at the end of the match when 'Gooch' (Oguchi Onyewu) got a red card that was just a bad call by the referee."
"In the second game, we played a tough, physical Poland team, and we were just trying to keep the ball on the ground, while they tried to keep it in the air. We struggled, but felt we earned the draw by the end of the game. The third game was our best match so far, and the only game in which we had our full contingent of players. We dominated from the outset of the game, and 'Gooch' got us a great header at the end to win it and to move into the quarterfinals as Group A champions. I would say that finding out before the game that we had qualified for the next round helped put some of the players at ease and I think it helped our performance. Drawing Mexico in the quarterfinals was obviously a big CONCACAF game for us, with the rivalry. We started slowly and then gave up a penalty kick, but D.J. Countess came up with the big save to give us the spark we needed and we were in control from that point on."
ON AUSTRALIA'S TEAM: "We were fortunate enough to see Australia play Qatar in the quarterfinals (won by Australia, 1-0). Australia is a big team with hard-working players. They play a very direct style, very similar to New Zealand, but a little more technical and creative."
ON THE STRENGTHS OF THE U.S. TEAM: "Right now as far as the strengths of the team, it has been our ability to stay organized. Although we gave up an early goal against Mexico, we've been able to stay disciplined in all the games and have been able to play better as the game goes on. We are patient, not forcing opportunities, and taking the time to probe a little from one side to the other, with the exception of the game against Poland, where we tried to keep the ball on the ground and they tried to keep it in the air and we had some problems."
ON THE PLAYERS' OPPORTUNITIES AFTER THE TOURNAMENT: "Opportunities will present themselves to these players. Some have already committed to college, but that doesn't mean they will end up there if opportunities open up for them, which could happen."
ON THE TEAM'S AMAZING 24-GAME UNBEATEN STREAK: "As far as the streak goes, we haven't really talked about it much, but I know it is on the minds of some of the players. But from the beginning, we have installed an attitude to try and always be in each contest and try and be in position to win every game."
ON LUCK vs. BEING GOOD: "We did catch a break in the first game, but we've played well and are deserving of our success. We felt that first game was our game anyway (despite playing with a man advantage), and we are very good at creating our own breaks, like Jordan's goal against Mexico (on a breakaway misplayed by Mexico's defender) and on Landon's late penalty against Poland. We feel very good going into the game against Australia."
ON THE TEAM'S PRESS IN NEW ZEALAND: "The press has been very good to us down here. Before the first game, the New Zealand coach had some things to say about us, so the press focused on that a bit, but since that time the media has picked up on how talented our country has become and how skillful and technical the players we have here are."
ON THE TEAM'S SUCCESS AND WHAT IT MEANS TO U.S. SOCCER: "It's a huge step for U.S. Soccer and the boys are excited about it. It really is huge. But all along we are focused on the next game. The team was very focused yesterday in training and we need to get through the initial stages of the match tomorrow and keep our discipline. They are in the same situation we are, really, with this being Australia's first-ever trip to a semifinal, so hopefully the pressure is equally distributed on both sides."
ON JORDAN CILA'S FORM: "Jordan has progressively played better in each match so far. His work rate up front and ability to hold the ball under pressure helps a great deal and he created some great opportunities in the Uruguay game, and was unfortunate not to score. But he created some chances for himself, which is important. For him to be able to score the second goal against Mexico was a big boost for him, and I think the same grand piano I had on my shoulders heading into El Salvador (the team's CONCACAF playoff last spring) he had on his back, but he got rid of it with that goal."
ON THE PLAYERS' NEXT MOVES AFTER THE TOURNAMENT: "I think for those that have gone professional, they are already chomping at the bit to get to their clubs and finish high school and get on from there in their professional careers. I think a lot of these players will be a part of the next Under-20 National Team, and Wolfgang Sunholz (U.S. U-20 head coach) has been here for many of the games and is getting very comfortable with the talent pool of this age group."
ON THE TEAM'S LEGACY AND PROJECT 2010: "This is an extremely talented group of players. They've worked very hard and been focused for two years. We've had a core of 13 to 15 players from the onset, and the 2010 training environment created for this group has helped accelerate their development more than players in the past. The confidence they have acquired will help them in the future, and the same thing will help the players coming in behind them. The residency program was a big plus for us, but the determination of the players has put them at a higher level.
"I think for these players, the experience they gain will help them internationally. Obviously, Bruce Arena (U.S. head coach) will be looking to bring in young players at various times to check on their development, and it will be a continual thing that as players below get better and better, that will continue to push each age group above to a new level in the future."
ON THE POSSIBILITY OF U.S. SOCCER WINNING TWO WORLD CUPS IN ONE YEAR: "We feel that the first step was to get to the semifinals, and now we know we are 90 minutes away from the finals. That in itself is our first step. Winning the World Cup is a moot issue if we don't make it into the final. It is one step at a time for this team, and the feeling is good, but Australia is a great team. It would be great to win two world championships in the same year, and I know the thought has crossed the minds of some of us here."
ON THE TEAM'S CONFIDENCE: "We were quite confident coming in, and this group has shown in the past to always raise their level in each game and accept new challenges. I think in each of the games so far we have grown a bit as individuals and as a team. They don't want to be denied this opportunity."
ON THE BRAZIL-GHANA SEMIFINAL: "We've seen both teams from highlights and watching games. Ghana has been the most explosive team in the tournament. Their game against Uruguay became an ugly, ugly affair near the end with fouling and rough play. Brazil has played good, but they got off to a bit of a slow start in certain games, which helped Australia win the group. They seemed to come to life against Paraguay in the quarterfinals, which they won big. Ghana likes to throw as many players forward as they can. From what I saw the other day from Brazil, though, I think Brazil has the edge in the game."
ON THE TEAM'S MARYLAND-BASED PLAYERS: "Kyle Beckerman is playing our attacking midfield role, and is our 'go-to guy', a player to play through. He opens the game up looking for opportunities to put people through. He's getting some focus from other teams after they've seen him play and he has been double-teamed a bit. He has adapted well to the pressure from both sides and he scored a great goal against Mexico to show his ability to raise his game. Alexander Yi and Oguchi Onyewu have been solid, but both received a one-game vacation out here, so they've been missed at times. 'Gooch' has a goal and two assists going front to help out a lot, and Yi has been steady in the back; our backbone along with Nelson (Akwari). And Kenny Cutler has been outstanding as one of our starting defensive center midfielders. He is a great presence for us, and the kind of player with no real peaks and valleys, just very steady game in and game out. Abe Thompson has been giving us a tremendous boost in the late going of each game, with his strength and pace and technical abilities, and his ability to finding seems in our opponent's defense. We will continue to use him in that capacity. All of these guys are ready to turn pro. It's whether or not the opportunity presents itself. Some have made commitments to college, but I believe each would look seriously at the right professional offer."
ON THANKSGIVING DAY PLANS: "We have arranged for a Thursday evening dinner for staff and players and family, those that are still here, to celebrate Thanksgiving, so that will be a nice opportunity to spend time with everyone and relax."
Forward Landon Donovan
ON REACHING THE SEMIFINALS: "I don't think it has really set in yet that we are in the semifinals. For us, each game is like just another game we want to win. After the tournament, I think it will all set in and we will be able to say we did something special, but right now we just want to play Australia and beat them. The excitement around New Zealand has been great, with most of the games on TV. In Auckland the fans have been great to us."
Midfielder DeMarcus Beasley
ON THIS TEAM AND PROJECT 2010: "I feel that soccer is really growing as a sport in the country, and this tournament for us really is a starting point for 2006 and 2010. I feel that Project 2010 really revolves around our team and some of the younger guys still coming up, so that in the next couple of years we will continue to grow and play more and more and play better."
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman
ON HIS DECISION TO NOT YET TURN PRO: "I wanted to wait until after the world championship and to leave my options open. Depending on what comes along, I'm still undecided. A bunch of the guys have picked a college, but if the opportunity comes up during this tournament, depending on what comes along, they will keep that option open, as well."