ussoccer.com: The primary goal for this camp was to win the Gold Cup, and that was mission accomplished. How did you feel about the progress of this group?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “Overall it was a very exciting Gold Cup for us because we had the goal starting it to develop a special chemistry, a really good spirit. We wanted to get better game by game and peak towards the end of the tournament. We put in a lot of hard work with a lot of double sessions, and set things out that the players had to execute at the end of the day. It worked out because they had an enormous discipline, they had a focus, they were committed to win this trophy, and we wanted to see every player improve personally. That’s what we saw towards the end of the tournament. Every player, even players on the bench that didn’t come on, the players that didn’t get enough playing time, they improved throughout those four weeks. It’s just fun to watch that.”
ussoccer.com: The other goal of the tournament was to give players a chance to “prove their point.” Which players did you see prove their point during the Gold Cup?
JK: “When you bring players in, you hope that they will leave this camp with a huge improvement, with another gear that they have to now challenge themselves to reach. You saw players like Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud step up. You saw a maturing process in our young goalkeepers in Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson; Sean when he got that opportunity to play that Costa Rica game. Alejandro Bedoya is a different player than he was six months ago. You saw Wondo (Chris Wondolowski) kind of finally break in to the international level and finally score goals on the international scene. You saw Landon Donovan coming back and reintegrating himself and being ready for World Cup Qualifying and the higher stage where you expect him to be. We got a lot of answers. We’re thrilled with the process Stuart Holden was going through. He was ready for the Premier League now and to go back to England to prove a point, and then the shock in the final with his injury that hurt us a lot. Everything worked out the way we hoped it would work out, bringing him through both camps and have him peak towards the end of this tournament, which he proved in the semifinal. In a lot of individual performances where you hope they will prove that point, actually they did.”
ussoccer.com: When you bring together a group like this with not a lot of experience both individually and as a group, it’s hard to know how things will all come together. Are you surprised at how well this group stepped up?
JK: “I don’t know surprised, but we were just happy, we were pleased. We were also pleased how the more experienced players like Clarence Goodson, like Nick Rimando, Landon, how they kind of took this team and guided them. Beas [DaMarcus Beasley] as the captain really took this very seriously. He looked after the lads, he looked after everyone involved, and he looked after problems and approached me often during the tournament and asked ‘Can we do maybe this or that?’ or ‘The guys maybe need half a day off.’ And I said sure. You have the sense for it, you’re an experienced player, and you run the show in a certain way. They did it. The younger ones, they took the advice, they tried to step it up, and they took every comment seriously. Young players that we integrated like Jack McInerney or Corey Ashe grew in the group. Will Bruin gave you a thousand percent in every training session, and he’s hungry to get to the next level. That mixture of experienced ones and the younger ones worked out great, but only because they respected each other, were respectful to each other and because they knew that it goes only through hard work.”
ussoccer.com: The business of qualifying for the World Cup still isn’t done, and we look to Brazil a year from now. What did you see from this tournament that helps you build moving forward?
JK: “It helps you tremendously because you can see now with this group how they deal with high expectations, how they deal with the daily grind or how they deal with a very intense training session. What is their attitude, what is their willingness to go through all that sacrifice? That gives us a deeper player pool; that gives us more quality. It also means they bring that type of quality back to their club teams, and now are more ready to challenge themselves there and become leaders in their clubs and step it up there. Overall it helps everyone involved, if it’s MLS, if it’s their club environment, if it’s wherever they are in Europe. At the end of the day we want to improve the product in this country. It makes it not easier for us coaches then going toward Brazil with more options because at the end of the day you can only take 23 to the tournament. It is a good challenge. it is a good thing to have now. It keeps everybody on their toes, no matter where they play. You think about a lot of the Europeans not being part of the Gold Cup. They know now there are a bunch of other players trying to break into this group. It makes it more interesting for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in Costa Rica and against Mexico to know exactly who you want to have there on board, which is a good thing for us coaches.”
ussoccer.com: Eleven games won in a row, four more than ever has been done by this National Team. Streak aside, numbers aside, what does that say about the progress of the program with this accomplishment?
JK: “It’s a sign of consistency. It’s a sign that the guys are willing to take things seriously and become 24/7 professionals. It’s a sign that they want to go to Brazil in 2014 and be a part of that. And it’s a reward of a lot of hard work we’ve put in there since two years. When I took over, I was given a very good foundation by Bob Bradley, and I said my goal is to add to that. What Bob built, I want to improve and give them even more cards to play where they are on the field. It starts to pay off, that players start to understand that international music is a different type of music. Therefore, in one word, it’s consistency, this winning streak, even if sooner or later it will end. It’s also a reward for all the hard work everybody, including the staff. It’s a compliment for it.”
ussoccer.com: Today is the two year anniversary of the day you were hired by U.S. Soccer. For you personally, how has the journey been?
JK: “For me personally, it’s just a joy to work with everybody involved. If it’s the federation, if it’s the staff, the inner circle, or the players, and I think they realize that. I’m not here to run a one-man show - that’s not me. I want to build a group of people who are very focused and successful in the long run. I want to help everybody involved in soccer in this country to get better. With a bit of my knowledge, with a lot of knowledge of other people, I just want to see the game improve in the United States, and I want to see us compete with the best in the world one day. It only comes through a lot of hard work. I’m kind of a bit of a workaholic when I start in the morning until I go to bed. I’m dedicated to my role, and I love it. I want to see a certain confidence being built over the long run that people believe what you can achieve at the end of the day at a big tournament. A big tournament when you go in it is a lot about chemistry, spirit and the belief that you can compete with the best nations in the world. It’s not going to go the easy way. You will have some defeats and you will have some lessons like we did with Belgium this year. Then you’ve got to swallow those lessons, you’ve got to learn and keep going. Everybody involved in the program can be proud of where we are right now, but there’s a lot still to improve.”
ussoccer.com: Kyle Beckerman is a guy you’ve relied upon since you took over as coach, sometimes on the field, sometimes off. You even brought him in to training before the game in Salt Lake just to bring up the level there. What does Kyle Beckerman bring and what did he do in this tournament for you?
JK: “Kyle Beckerman really is the face of this group that won this Gold Cup because he knew exactly how to step it up when it really matters. He’s somebody that you put your trust in because you know always what you get from Kyle is one thousand percent commitment. He gives you everything. The last two games he had, the semifinal and the final, he was absolutely outstanding. He really put his stamp on those two games and made sure we were going to come off as winners. He’s a pure giver as I’ve often said. I wish I could have had Kyle ten or twelve years ago because as a player I could have helped him reach higher levels, even going to Europe and playing in Europe. We are happy with where he is. He’s in a very good environment in Salt Lake, he’s the leader there, and he’s the captain there. He deserved to be man of the match in the final, the final match of Gold Cup 2013, and he deserves a special compliment.”
ussoccer.com: Brek Shea is a young player that you’ve also been mentoring since you took over in 2011. It’s been a long process for him. How did you manage Brek over the last two months and how did he come along?
JK: “When you have special talent coming through like Break or Joe Corona or Bill Hamid or Sean Johnson or Juan Agudelo, all these kids that have so much talent, it’s about teaching them to become consistent on and off the field. Brek went through a lot of rollercoasters, all the Olympic team guys went through a roller coaster, and we’ve got to help them become more consistent. With this move to England and the challenge there of breaking into Stoke City, there are mountains ahead of him. He looks at those mountains and sometimes he doesn’t know how to climb them. We’ve got to patient with him and help him in that process. He takes those lessons, he takes the advice. He came twice on now and decided games. He decided the Gold Cup final through his goal, through his instinct to be there. It’s not about putting that ball in from half a yard away; it’s that he was there. He has that smell, he has that instinct, he has what it takes to get to the real top level, but he’s not consistent enough yet. (FC Dallas head coach) Schellas Hyndman helped him so much in Dallas, and now it’s about Mark Hughes at Stoke going through those learning years of really becoming a consistent threat to the opponent. That’s where we see Brek, and we’re going to keep helping him like we help everyone coming through the ranks. It’s down to him to take those lessons and advices, and also take the bad moments and learn out of those. We are thrilled for him that he put that ball in the net.”
ussoccer.com: One of the players who has played his way into the picture in the last year has been Eddie Johnson, a guy that you brought in after the group stage. He made an impact as soon as he came in, but also you played him through the final. What did he do well and what do you like about him as a player?
JK: “With a lot of U.S. based players, it’s about consistency. We got Eddie into this group and suddenly he’s right on focus and he’s ready to deliver to the group. Not only scoring a goal, but to make those runs and hold the ball, to occupy the opponent’s defense and do a lot of work. He’s done a tremendous job. Similar to Kyle Beckerman, you wish had this player when he was 20 or 21 so you could say here is the international level and we’ll help you to get there. Eddie has a lot in his tank. He has four, five, six years at the highest level. What we expect now is for him to go to Seattle and improve there too. Be there for (Seattle head coach) Sigi (Schmid) and the Sounders and make things happen before you come back to the next world Cup Qualifiers with Costa Rica and Mexico. Become consistent, look after yourself, and look after your body. Just really focus and become that athlete that you can be.
ussoccer.com: This was the third Gold Cup final for Clarence Goodson, a guy whose name you don’t always hear very often because he’s unassuming and just goes about his business, but he’s a guy you would say could count on. How happy are for Clarence to get this trophy?
JK: “I was thrilled for Clarence because the last two months I could see in the previous camp how badly he wanted this title and how badly he wants this competition. If you haven’t won it yet and were in two finals, you know you’re missing something here. He’s a very balanced, very focused top professional. He’s a giver. He’s calm, quiet and he leads through example. He took this team under his wings. With Nick Rimando, with DaMarcus Beasley, with Landon, they made sure the younger guys are not too nervous and the younger ones are not too worried about things. He ran it from day one to the very last day. That’s why I was extremely happy for him when he raised the cup up in the air. And I said ‘Clarence you deserve that’.”
ussoccer.com: Six players on this roster came from Liga MX, the first time we’ve had that many players at one time from the Mexican league. What was the influence of those guys and what they bring?
JK: “The influence of all our guys coming from Mexico is huge. It’s huge because they’re coming from a top league. They get challenged from a different way. They have to stand their man in a country that is our biggest rival. They did well for us. If you look at Jose Torres and how he played his games, for me it was difficult to leave him out of the starting lineup in the final. Michael Orozco, until the moment that Matt Besler came back, he did a tremendous job. Herculez Gomez throughout the whole stretch of the last two months with injuries was not at his peak, but a pure giver. You see Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo coming through the system there. Obviously DaMarcus Beasley is becoming the new mayor of Puebla. You see their influence on the field and off the field. They are focused and hungry. They live in an environment where they are accountable for what they are doing because it’s a soccer crazy environment south of the border, and we benefit from that. We benefit from their professionalism and focus and their qualities. Jose playing at Tigres, they have a tremendous crowd always behind them; they have 20,000 fans follow their team to away games. It builds you and makes you accountable for the fans and the people that follow you. Tijuana playing in the Copa Libertadores against Brazilian big clubs, this forms you. The more players that can compete there the better it is for us. As long as we keep beating them as well in international play!”
ussoccer.com: One of the players you chose to have in both camps this summer was Michael Parkhurst, and he got his opportunity to play throughout this tournament. How was his performance and what he brought you the last two months?
JK: “His performance throughout the tournament was outstanding, and that’s why he’s playing in the Bundesliga. He hasn’t played much for Augsburg because of injury issues and then internal issues. They didn’t give him enough playing time before he came into the May/June camp, but we had a plan just like we had a plan with Stuart Holden, saying we’re going to go through May/June, you might not play that much, but you’re going to be a starter probably in the Gold Cup and one of the leaders with your experience and the way you play the game. It paid off. He got almost all the games and got it at a very high level and at a consistent level. Now he goes back to Europe confident and saying I want to break in there now as well. It was really fun to watch Parky play his right side because his vision on the field and his technique is exceptional. That’s why he is in Europe and he plays in the Bundesliga. I hope now that gives him enough confidence to push whoever is in front of him out of the way an become a regular in Augsburg as well.”
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup