U.S.Under-17 MNT head coach John Ellinger was the most successful coach in the history of the U.S. Soccer’s Men’s National Teams program in the ’90s with a .723 winning percentage and a 30-8-9 record. Under the guidance of Ellinger, the ’99 U.S. Under-17 team closed out a brilliant run through the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Championship in New Zealand finishing fourth, the best finish at an Under-17 World Championship in the 21-year history of the U.S. program. In two weeks, he’ll be trying to improve on that ’99 performance as the U-17 MNT competes in the ’03 World Championship in Finland. In his final preparations, the team is playing four preparation matches in England. Ellinger talked with ussoccer.com about what these he’s looking to get out of these final four games before heading on to Finland.
ussoccer.com: How does the team look going into these four preparation matches for the World Championship?
John Ellinger: "Our preparation in Minnesota and Los Angeles two weeks ago went really well. But, the first two training sessions here have been a bit rugged. We had two training sessions in Bradenton, Florida before we left, but with the travel, the two practices we had yesterday and today could have been better. Hopefully, as the week progresses and we get our games in we’ll look better."
ussoccer.com: What are you looking to get out of these four games in England?
JE: "The games against Blackburn, Australia and Manchester United I think will help us replicate how South Korea plays. Their styles of play and work rates are very similar, so that will help us prepare for our opening game. It’s also a great opportunity to play Nigeria, which will help us replicate the style we will see when we play Sierra Leone. The whole reason we came was to help us get ready for our first two games."
ussoccer.com: Will you look at changing your line-up during this week?
JE: "We’re not sure. Right now, we know Korea, but we haven’t seen Sierra Leone. Without having much information on them, we’ll try and go either between a 3-5-2 and 4-4-2. We’ll go back and forth. I think our players are prepared to play both of those situations. As of late, we’ve actually played better in a 3-5-2. We have played some pretty good soccer using that formation, so it’s something to think about."
ussoccer.com: Is there any particular aspect of the team you will be concentrating on improving this week?
JE:"We’re just going to try and move people around defensively, so when we get to Finland we have our strongest back four or back three, whatever it is going to be. Danny Szetela is emerging as a player for us. He’s had some great games in the past for us, but he’s lacked the consistency to play well in more than one game. That’s changed a little bit recently and he’s become a force. His emergence is one of the main reasons why we are looking at a 3-5-2, to keep him on the field."