Q&A With Under-17 Men's National Team Head Coach John Ellinger and Goalkeeper Phil Marfuggi
U.S. Head Coach John Ellinger
A veteran of numerous coaching assignments since becoming a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach in 1992, John Ellinger is currently in his sixth year as the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team Head Coach. In addition to his coaching duties, Ellinger took over as U.S. Soccer’s Director of Youth Development in the summer of 2001. He has also served as Clive Charles’ assistant with the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team, helping that team reach the semifinals of the Olympic Games for the first time in U.S. Soccer history and also helping them capture a bronze medal at the 1999 Pan American Games.
What are your thoughts heading into qualifying?
John Ellinger: "This is my third time going through qualifying at the Under-17 level and it has always been difficult to qualify, and I don’t expect it to be any different this time around. The key to qualifying has always been to go out and get a good result in the first match, and that is what we are going to try to do on Wednesday against Jamaica. Right now that is all we are focused on is Jamaica. We won’t worry about El Salvador until after Jamaica, and then we’ll worry about Guatemala after El Salvador."
Who do you think are the favorites in the group?
JE: "People look at us as the favorites because we’ve qualified in the past and the success of our other national teams. Our team was in a similar situation in 1999, when he had to qualify in Jamaica, and it is always very difficult to play against the host nation in qualifying. In 1999, we faced the hosts Jamaica in the final match, and they needed only a tie to qualify, and we needed a win. They came out fired up and we drew 0-0, sending us into a play-off against El Salvador for the final CONCACAF spot. Playing the host team is always tough, and I expect Guatemala to be tough this time around."
What are some of the strengths of this team?
JE: "I feel we have good balance all over the field with this team. We’ve worked very hard to improve the technical abilities of the players, and I think that has turned into a strength for us. In the past we’ve had players with good size and great athletic ability, but at times we’ve lacked technical ability on the ball. We’ve trained hard to get the players for comfortable with the ball, and I think we’ve succeeded in that."
How do you think the altitude or the heat will effect your team?
JE: "We got here a little early to try to get used to the altitude, and it hasn’t been a problem yet for our players.If the humidity stays the same we’ll be fine in these conditions. I don’t think there will be a problem at all."
U.S. Goalkeeper Phil Marfuggi
Phil joined U.S. Soccer's Full-Time Residency Program in 2001 and has made more appearances than any other U.S. Under-17 goalkeepers since then. In that period he has posted a 17-9-6 record with 10 shutouts and established himself as the team's first-choice goalkeeper.
What does the team expect to face against Jamaica?
Phil Marfuggi: "We expect them to come out very strong, because that is what the have done in the past against U.S. teams.The beginning of the game, the first five minutes, will be really important to set a tone for the entire tournament. We usually are able to come out very strong, so I don’t think that will be much of a problem or cause us to change our strategy at all."
How are you getting ready for what will be the three biggest games you have played in?
PM: "We’ve prepared the last two years for these games, but now that they’re here we have to treat them like any other games. We always have the attitude that we have to come out strong to win, and
obviously since this is qualifying we know that we have to keep that attitude. And because it is qualifying it is even more important to make sure everything is perfect in our preparation, but at the same time try to keep the same routine before each game that we always have."
Is the team ready to get the games started?
PM: "I think we’re really prepared for these games.I don’t think we’ve ever been more ready than we are right now."
Is the team nervous heading into the matches?
PM: "I don’t think its nerves. I think it is excitement. In the past when we would be talking about the qualifiers we would get excited, but it would always be, ‘the games are still two months away’ or something like that. Now the games are only two days away, and I think what we’re feeling is more excitement than nerves."
What does the U.S. team have to do to get good results?
PM: "I think we have to play really good defensively and try to get as many shutouts as we can. If we can lock down on defense and put away our chances I think we’ll do fine. If we play like we are capable of playing I think we can take care of business."
What else do you think you’ll have to deal with to qualify?
PM: "People have been telling us that the fans and the crowd won’t be on our side, so we’ve prepared ourselves for that. But I think mentally and physically we’re ready, and there is nothing that
will really bother us. We just need to go out and play like we can and play our game."
How has the team adapted to the Guatemalan conditions?
PM: "I don’t think it has messed with us so far. Going to South Florida to train before coming here really helped us out a lot. It seemed hotter and more humid there. We’ve been getting pretty good training here, and I don’t think the heat or the altitude has effected us. The field we are training on isn’t that great, but that is what we expected coming here. In Brazil and in other trips we’ve been on we’ve had worse conditions, so we know we have to deal with it and not allow it to effect us."
The U.S. kicks off CONCACAF Qualifying on Wednesday (March 5) at 7 p.m. ET against Jamaica, then faces El Salvador on Friday (March 7) at 7 p.m. ET and concludes qualifying play against the hosts on Sunday (March 9) at 2 p.m. ET. Fans can follow all the action live on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics.