Eddie Gaven is no doubt one of the best young players in the United States right now. Over the past year, he has also become one of the most experienced on the U-20 Men’s National Team after with stints with the full MNT, the Under-23 MNT and the MetroStars. Now, back with the Under-20s after recovering from a hernia injury, Gaven will look to lead the U.S. to their fifth straight FIFA World Youth Championship when they compete at the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament from Jan. 12-16 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. With the team already in camp as they get set for their first match against Trinidad & Tobago on Jan. 12, Gaven sat down with ussoccer.com to talk about coming back after hernia surgery, how his experience can help the rest of the team and what he expects from their qualifying opponents.
ussoccer.com: You are just getting back to the field from hernia surgery, which held you out of the last two Under-20 camps. Talk a little bit about when you found out you’d need surgery and what the process was after the MLS season.
Eddie Gaven: “I found out about midway through last season as that’s when it first started to hurt me. It was something I was still able to play on, but it was always there, kind of like a thorn in my side. The trainer for the MetroStars and coach Bob Bradley thought the best time to do it was at the end of the season. Basically, about a week and half after the season I saw a doctor in Milwaukee, Wis., who was a specialist and he agreed it would be good to get done and that I would be out about six to eight weeks.”
ussoccer.com: How did the rehab go?
EG: “For about two weeks after the surgery I couldn’t really do much because my stomach just hurt a lot. Then the next two weeks I was able to walk around a bit. The following two weeks I could start running again, and I started to kick the ball around a little bit. Now is the first time I’ve actually played full out.”
ussoccer.com: How do you feel now?
EG: “The first day when we had a double session I was a little sore. But now, I actually feel really good. I don’t feel really any soreness anymore, and I’m starting to get some of my fitness back. Hopefully, I will be 100 percent before the first game of qualifying.”
ussoccer.com: You only have one cap with the U-20s, but you are definitely the most experienced player as you’ve been in with the U-23s and the full team, plus are one of the top players in MLS. How does your experience in those situations help the rest of the team when you’re with the U-20s?
EG: “I think having any guys that played in MLS is going to help because they’ve played in big games before. These games for qualifying are going to be big games and will definitely be tough games as qualifying games always are. So, I think the more number of guys that have played in big games will help our team during the qualifying tournament.”
ussoccer.com: As most people know you’re kind of quiet, but you definitely are a leader on this team. How do you take on that leadership role?
EG: ‘Every time I go out on the field, I’m trying to work. I’m not always talking, but if I see that the game is getting a little slow or the team is slacking off a bit, maybe I’ll step in and make a hard tackle or something to try and set the tone a little bit. That’s how I try to lead.”
ussoccer.com: How has the team looked during the first few days of camp?
EG: “I think the team has looked great so far. I know the team has done really well the past few camps and beat some good teams like Mexico, Honduras and Canada. For guys that haven’t really played together much to just click after the first few days of practice shows that we have a pretty good team on our hands here.”
ussoccer.com: You haven’t played with a lot of these guys on the team. What are your impressions so far?
EG: “It’s been great. Everyone’s work ethic has been good. Everyone has come with an attitude to go out and play and really push it so that by the time the first game comes everybody is clicking, everybody is fit, and everybody is sharp, both mentally and physically. I think we’ve been working really hard and we still have a week to go before our first game, so we have to keep it up.”
ussoccer.com: Do you know much about your three opponents in qualifying – Trinidad & Tobago, Panama and Costa Rica?
EG: “Not really, but I do know it is going to be tough. Anytime you play those teams there are certain things you can expect. They are really good with their feet, a lot of the guys can take you one-on-one. Sometimes the games are a little wide-open, so we have to be able to deal with that and close the game down to make it a little tighter. We will watch some tapes of Trinidad, but right now I think we are just focusing on us and just trying to make our team the best it can be.”
ussoccer.com: Are you looking forward to playing in the U.S. at The Home Depot Center?
EG: “I think it is going to be great. Anytime you play in the U.S. for qualifying it’s always huge. Sometimes when you go down to some of the Central American countries the crowd can be very hostile and the refs don’t seem to go your way. I don’t know what kind of (home) crowd it is going to be, but just to be able to play in front of our own fans is a plus for us.”
ussoccer.com: How do you like playing at the HDC?
EG: “Actually, the first time I played in this stadium (with the MetroStars) this year is when I scored my first (two) goals of the season. Hopefully, I can just keep that going.”
ussoccer.com: What is the main focus going into the first game of qualifying?
EG: “Three points. We want to do anything we can to win. Whether it be pretty or ugly, we just want to win. Obviously, we are just focusing on getting those three points against Trinidad & Tobago. That’s basically our main focus this week leading up to the game.”
ussoccer.com: This is your first time with head coach Sigi Schmid. What are your first impressions?
EG: “Coach Schmid is a great coach. He has definitely helped me in the short time that I’ve been here, not wanting to push me too much since it’s my first time back. He’s helped ease me into it a bit. Just the way that he coaches you can tell that he really knows what he’s talking about with the way he puts players in the right spot and the little points he makes in training. Obviously, it shows as he’s done really well with the team since taking over. Knock on wood, this team hasn’t lost yet so hopefully we can keep that going.”
ussoccer.com: The U.S. will be attempting to qualify for their fifth straight FIFA World Youth Championship. How much pressure is there to make sure you keep the streak going?
EG: “I think the pressure is always there because the U.S. isn’t looked at like a team that sometimes qualifies and sometimes doesn’t. Now, everyone knows that we should qualify, so that pressure is always there. I think that is something the guys on this team know. I don’t think anyone on this team is naive about that. Everyone knows that we should qualify and everyone has that mindset, which I believe will help us in the first game.”