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Caleb Porter

Conference Call with U.S. U-23 MNT Head Coach Caleb Porter

U.S. U-23 MNT head coach CALEB PORTER
Opening statement:
“When I took over this position, I looked at it as a nine-month process with two phases – the first phase being to qualify our U-23 Men’s National Team for the 2012 Olympics in London, and the second phase being to enter the Olympic games and give a good showing. We are reaching the final stages of Phase 1, which has been a four-month process with four training camps and we’re very excited to come into camp with eight days preparing for our first match on March 22 with Cuba. I’m excited to announce our roster for this camp. Obviously, it’s a culmination of four months, four training camps, and our objective was to select the best team to represent the United States in qualifying and to accomplish our mission, which is to qualify for the Olympic Games.”

On the one open spot on the roster:
“Going into this camp, my goal was to name a 20-player roster with the understanding that the official roster will be named on March 20, but we thought we were in a good spot in terms of the player pool and selecting 20 players to come into camp. We had a player that went down with an injury this weekend and right now we’re exploring our options on the 20th player. We’re in discussions right now with clubs to name that player. At this point, we don’t want to close any doors and we’re not going to rush into a decision. Right now we’ll keep the options open and if we name a player it could be in the next couple days or it could be March 20.”
(UPDATED: U.S. U-23 MNT forward Tony Taylor was named to the training camp roster.)

On how he keeps in contact with age-eligible players in Europe who are not in this camp:
“I’m not going to get into specifics of players who are not in camp. But it’s obvious, reading between the lines, there are players of Under-23 age that could be in qualifying and in all honesty, we’ve already been in conversations with those clubs. We’ve asked for their release in several situations. We’ve invited players into camp and at this point, we have not gotten their release and so we need to keep our options open until March 20, but at the same we always knew that this would possibly be a situation and we’ve prepared and planned for their alternates. At this point, I’m very confident in the group that we have and we’re, again, realistic about the situation. There are players that have not gotten released, so there comes a point where we need to move on and we need to focus on the guys that we can get for camp. Like I said, I’m very confident in the group that we’ve named and I’m operating under the assumption that the players we have in this camp will be in qualifying.”

On how excited he is to be going to Nashville:
“We’re very excited to be reaching the final stage of our preparation going into qualifying. This has been a long process for four months, four camps. We’ve had a lot of players in our camps and now we’re reaching the final stages. I’m very excited and very confident in this group. I’m very aware of the past history of the National Team being in Nashville. Crowds have been very good here and we expect nothing different at this year’s qualifying. We’re looking forward to getting on the pitch March 22, on our home soil, and we need the support of our U.S. fans here to get our team to London.”

On how he assesses Cuba, Canada and El Salvador:
“We’ve known for quite some time who our opponents will be in the group stages so we’ve been collecting scouting information on all of our opponents. Obviously we’ll see Canada and El Salvador after they play their initial games but we also scouting information. We’ve seen those teams, whether it’s live or on tape. We have people who have devoted time to scouting these opponents and we’ll have someone assigned to scouting the games in L.A., we’ll have someone doing the scouting in Nashville. But with Cuba, we did see them live and we’re collecting information on them, as well. We’ll have a great read on all these teams going into each game. I think the interesting thing with our group is that you have three teams that are different in the way they play, the way they align their system, the way they play, style-wise, and we need to make sure that we’re focusing on what we do well. We need to come up with a plan, though, that makes sense for that game and ultimately getting three points. I like the group that we have from a personnel standpoint. I think we have a lot of different diversity in how we can change a bit of the dimensions that we throw in the game from a personnel standpoint. But yet, you’re going to see a very clear style from this team with some subtle adjustments, personnel-wise, game-plan-wise, in order to get a result. We’re well aware that what we see in Cuba, versus Canada, versus El Salvador is potentially different and we need to be prepared to switch gears without losing our own identity and our own strengths. We have a very talented group. We want to put the group together in a way where we’re accomplishing our goal. Ultimately, it’s a team sport so we have to take a collection of very talented individuals and put them together in a way where we are a cohesive group all on the same page, with good chemistry, playing the way we want to play and understanding and respecting the opponent, what they’re going to do, while still getting three points.”

On the group opponents’ strengths and weaknesses:
“I’m going to get into all that at this point. We’re focused on Cuba. We’re going to be continuing to evaluate all the teams but right now we’re locked in on Cuba. We’ve seen them live. They’re a very organized team. They have some attacking guys that are dangerous. We expect it to be a tight game. They’re going to be organized and disciplined and I don’t think they’re going to open up and run with us. I think they’re a team that’s probably going to sit and counter and in soccer, that makes things difficult but we’re prepared for that. We’ve been in games through our preparation where we’ve had teams that have done that so we’re looking forward to the game and we’re focused right now on Cuba. But we’re well aware of Canada and El Salvador. We know their personnel and the systems they’re utilizing and some of their tendencies. We’ll really get locked in more to each game when we get closer to each game.”

On overage players after qualifying:
“We’re not thinking about that right now. We’re thinking about qualifying. After qualifying, we’ll evaluate our group, we’ll evaluate those things. And once we have a better understanding of where we feel like we need to enhance our group then we’ll make those decisions. But right now we’re entering the first phase, four months. We’ve got another five months hopefully after we qualify. Right now we’re focused on qualifying, and that’s it. We can’t use the overage players in qualifying, so really those decisions are irrelevant at this point.”

On forward Terrence Boyd and his progression through the camps:
“Terrence, in the Lakewood camp in Florida, we had heard good things about him. Obviously he was also in the Germany camp with Claudio [Reyna] and Tab [Ramos]. They really liked him there. He’s a guy that fits in that No. 9 spot. He’s a big, strong, athletic kid, very determined and lethal around the goal. He’s been great with his club, Borussia Dortmund 2, the reserve team. He’s really been doing well and scoring goals. For me, he can hold the ball, he can stretch and he’s great around the box and he can score goals. So I think those things are very attractive in that role. He’s a great kid, as well. He made a great impression on us in that Florida camp. He hasn’t been able to get into any of the other camps with us, but we’ve been monitoring his progress. Again, I think he fits the system we’re playing and he brings some things to the table that we feel are important.”

On the team’s defense and its versatility at center back and outside back:
“We really like Ike [Opara] and Perry [Kitchen as center backs], and obviously everybody in the camp still has to win the job. There are no decisions at this point that have been made on the starting lineup. The next eight days will determine that. Ike and Perry really did well as a tandem against Mexico. I thought they were very solid, and together they really provide the balance of what we want in those two positions. Zarek Valentin can also shift in there. He had played in the last two camps in L.A. and Costa Rica and a little bit in this past camp in Dallas. He was in that position in numerous games. He’s played in that spot with Montreal a little bit. Obviously I’ve seen him there with my team at Akron. That’s where he played for two years. So he’s a guy that I think can shift into there, along with even Amobi Okugo, who can drop in and play that spot. I think we feel good about our cover. What I like about our backs is they’re very versatile. We can shift guys – the left, the right back – like I said Zarek could go into center back, Perry could go to outside back or even holding mid. Amobi has even seen some time in training and for a short period in one of the games at center back. So I think we’re covered there. I like the fact that we have versatility within that group. You look at a guy like Josh Gatt, he can play in one of the wide forward spots, but he’s also played quite a bit for Molde at right back. They’ve had four preseason games and he’s played two of those games at right back and has done very well. Kofi’s (Sarkodi) capable of playing the left or right back, Zarek the left or right back, so we have quite a bit of versatility there in that group depending on what we’re looking for and also who’s healthy.”

On collaborating with U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann regarding U-23 roster decisions:
“I’ve been working with Jurgen for the last four months on a weekly basis just to discuss the players in the pool. Obviously there are a good number of players that are going to be with us in qualifying that have been with Jurgen, and with each camp we talked about which players would come with me, which would go with him. It’s been a great cooperation from the beginning. In terms of the actual roster decisions, those have been my decisions. Obviously it’s my team and it’s my job to qualify this team for the Olympics. So I need to make those decisions based on what I’ve seen in the training camps and based with what I’m looking for out of my group, individually and collectively, and how the pieces fit together. But clearly I’ve been in discussions with Jurgen for the past four months on numerous occasions on the players, and it’s been a great cooperation.”

On the team’s style of play and adaptation to the use of the 4-3-3 system:
“Well, 4-3-3 is a system. Obviously, the style is separate from that. 4-3-3 is a system that I believe in, in some ways, but I can certainly adjust the system depending on the personnel. More so it fits the style of play of that I think is really what we’ve tried to implement with this group and through our training imprint those concepts of how we want to play, how we’re going to attack, how we’re going to defend, the philosophy behind it. It’s clearly something I believe in. I think it’s the best way to play, to highlight the talents that we have in this group. I think it’s the best way to go into qualifying and for me, it gives us the best chance to win. It’s a winning philosophy. Players have completely bought into it, they believe in it. We’ve had great results playing this way recently and we’ve got a really nice run of momentum going from Costa Rica all the way to the Dallas camp. We’ve had good results, good performances, and the players really enjoy the way we’re approaching things. Again, I think it fits this group of players. We’ve got technical players, we’ve got some dangerous attacking pieces, we’ve got athleticism, which is important to be able to do things in certain positions – go box to box. And we’ve got a group that’s honest and willing to defend immediately. I think it’s really resonated with this group and they’re bought into it, and I know they’re looking forward to executing it in qualifying.”

On Joshua Gatt’s role as a defender versus a midfielder:
“I think we’ll look at him in both spots. It all depends where he fits best and where we need him and where he’s performing best within our group and with what we’re looking for. The idea with him is that he’s versatile enough to play both spots, which is important with 20 players going into qualifying and 18 players having to be named in each game and only three substitutions. We’re playing three games in five days in the group stages and five games in 12 days total. We need versatility and it’s nice to be able to shift guys to different spots without necessarily having to name specialists in this group. I think we’ve got very few specialists in this group. We’ve got guys that can shift different spots all across the board, in every position. We’ve got a lot of versatility, which I think helps us over the course of these 12 days.”

On the MLS-based players joining camp:
“All the MLS players will be joining us this week. MLS has been very cooperative. We’ve been in discussions with them since the beginning. We were prepared for this and they’ve prepared the MLS coaches for this window. All the MLS coaches have been very cooperative. Again, I’ve been in discussions with them since the beginning. [MLS Executive Vice President] Todd Durbin has been great in making sure that there’s an understanding of the schedule and cooperation. The MLS side of this has been very seamless. It hasn’t been as easy with some of the overseas clubs but that was to be expected. That’s not a surprise. The nice thing is that 13 of our 20 players play in MLS and all of them will be in camp leading up to qualifying.”

On the team consisting of more professionals than college players:
“I think it’s easier with pro players – not to take anything away from college players. Obviously I think there’s a good number of programs out there that are approaching things in a professional way with the way they do things, and a lot of players that end up going into Major League Soccer, a good majority of them are from college soccer. There are players in college that are future pros that just happen to be in college. But I think it helps when these players have been in a pro environment and they’ve played in pressure games with big crowds and they’ve played for a living. I think that helps them manage, potentially, the pressure. This is a pressure situation – we have to win to qualify – and these guys, because they’ve played in a pro environment, they’ve been dealing with that already. Every time they take the field, they’re playing for keeps and for a living. The fact that they’ve been in pro environments, I think that’s helped to polish them – tactically, mentally – a bit more than some of the college guys.”

On watching players grow and develop:
“It’s been interesting to see the evolution of all these players. Most of these players, I’ve been aware of. A lot of them have been guys that have been in college or guys that were with the Youth National Teams – guys that I’ve tracked and watched and studied over the years. Some of the guys we got, I hadn’t seen, but it’s been interesting to see their evolution over the course of four months, even. These are young players, very talented. In all situations, these players are still growing and it’s been neat to see them grow over the course of four months but also interesting to see some of these guys who I’ve watched with the U-17s, the U-18s, maybe U-20s – teams that I’ve coached – to see their progress and continue to see their maturation as professional players. A guy like Perry Kitchen, he’s a young player and he started almost every game last year with D.C. United. He’s made big progress. But all these players have, every single one of them. Over the course of four months, I’ve seen all these players make progress just in four months.”