ussoccer.com Q & A with Jurgen Klinsmann: “This Isn’t a Preseason Camp, It’s a Preparation Camp”
The 2012 campaign saw a record-setting winning percentage, historic road victories, and a first-place finish in the Semifinal Round of World Cup Qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. But that was just a prelude to 2013, which will encompass the Hexagonal, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and U.S. Soccer’s Centennial (CENTENNIAL HOME). Against this backdrop, the annual January camp convened in Los Angeles, but with a decidedly different agenda than in recent memory. ussoccer.com sat down with U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to talk about the year ahead, the makeup of the roster, and what makes this January camp so critical for this month and beyond.
ussoccer.com: You are coming off a successful campaign in 2012 and now have a huge year in front of you. Are you feeling excited about what lies ahead in 2013?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “I think we all are very energized about 2013. There’s so much on the plate. Obviously the biggest thing is World Cup qualifying. It’s our 100th Anniversary of U.S. Soccer so there are going to be some very special friendlies, and there is the Gold Cup again in the United States which is fantastic, too. We’re beginning already with the January camp, which is a jumpstart because we go straight into a World Cup qualifier. That changes the dynamics of everything. This camp, which has traditionally been like a preseason camp for a lot of MLS players to bridge the gap from a long break, now becomes a preparation camp for a World Cup qualifier.”
ussoccer.com: There is the immediate goal of getting ready for Canada and Honduras, and also the other activities you mentioned throughout the year. How did you go about putting together this roster, and what are your goals for the group?
JK: “The roster is who we believe are the players that are in line to challenge for spots in the National Team. This raises the competition within our squad. We want the players to understand that they are here because they are good and they deserve it. We want to see them stepping it up, taking over responsibilities and maturing because being a part of the National Team roster means you have to become a leader on and off the field. You have to show how serious you take your profession, and that you live for it and you think about it 24/7. This is an important learning curve, especially for younger players, and they have to grow into it very fast.”
ussoccer.com: There is a short period of time for players to get up to speed before the games, especially a World Cup qualifier. What do you expect from the veteran players in this situation?
JK: “You expect the guys who have been here before, like Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi, to pass on their experience as quickly as possible to the next group. They become your right hand, your communicators and your connectors. There are quite a few players who have been in with the National Team who are mature enough to understand what this is all about. I want to see them take over responsibilities, and show all the other guys how serious this is. At the end of the day, we are going into a very difficult World Cup qualifier in Honduras that will demand everything from us. We expect those players to step it up.”
ussoccer.com: Given the time off most of these players have had, how do you go about getting a group ready in this type of time frame?
JK: Traditionally it’s always been very difficult to shoot these guys up from 0-100 within a couple weeks in January. The players should understand that if they look after themselves and are really focused on and off the field, then they can achieve a lot in a short period of time. Giving them the perspective of having a chance to become part of this big year and part of our vision toward Brazil in 2014 should really give them a lot of motivation and inner drive to go through difficult sessions and grow in a short amount of time in a way that they are ready for World Cup qualifying. In these couple weeks, I think we can achieve a lot if we are all pulling in the same direction.”
ussoccer.com: The first challenge comes Jan. 29 against Canada the only game before World Cup qualifying starts. What are you hoping to get out of the game?
JK: “First of all, we would like to beat Canada because last year we played a friendly in Toronto and we only tied that 0-0. I was really frustrated after that game, so I’d like to correct that if possible! It’s also very important that the players have something to look forward to. When you are doing double sessions every day and putting a lot of energy and focus into the camp, you want to get a reward for it. Hopefully there will be a reward for this group and they give us a really good game against Canada. On top of that, it’s a nice opportunity for us to play in Houston’s fantastic new stadium in front of our fans, and to give us the confidence at the end of the day that we are prepared for a World Cup qualifier.”
ussoccer.com: Last year’s January camp allowed you the chance to see Geoff Cameron and Graham Zusi, two players that went on to earn important roles in the National Team. Are you optimistic that there are players on the roster with the same potential?
JK: “I think from this roster there will be another couple guys who emerge out of it and hopefully make our National Team environment even stronger. We hope with the January camp that the players understand that if they really grow, become personalities and take their lives and careers in their own hands, they can make the jump like Graham Zusi or Geoff Cameron or others before. We hope that will be the case in this camp, as well. Whether it’s Omar Gonzalez, a Brad Davis, a Brad Evans … there are so many guys that are mature enough to make that jump. It’s for them to take the next step. When you talk to people overseas, especially in Europe – and I’m constantly talking to the coaches there – they are watching MLS a lot more than they ever did before. They are pulling players out of MLS a lot more. This is a huge recognition for American soccer and all the coaches that work here in this country and who are a doing a tremendous job with our talent. It will only get better going forward.”
ussoccer.com: You had many of these players in the January camp last year. How have you seen them progress?
JK: “We saw from a lot of players that were part of last year’s January camp that they changed their mindset and their approach. They understood that it’s the player who is the driving force in getting themselves to the next level. We are here as coaches, as well as the Federation, to help them, but at the end of the day they have to do the work. I think they understood that – guys like Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Brad Evans, Geoff Cameron and many others understood that if they take things in their own hands they can make the jump to the next level. A lot of those players last January played a very consistent season afterward. Some of them made the jump to next level right away, but even others that maybe weren’t in the big picture yet still played a very consistent MLS season. Consistency is an important point that we are trying to work on. Be consistent over the whole year and not just give me only one good game and then two or three mediocre games. You need to be consistent on a higher level throughout a whole year. Players more and more get that approach, and they want to know how to get better.”