'There's a lot at stake for players in the Canada game'
With the Los Angeles portion of the camp complete, ussoccer.com asked U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to give his assessment of the time at the National Training Center, what he has learned about the player pool and what he expects from the team Tuesday night against Canada:
U.S. Men’s National Team head coach JURGEN KLINSMANN
ussoccer.com: You've had this group of players together for three weeks now. How would you describe the work everyone put in at the camp in California?
Jurgen Klinsmann: "Describing the last few weeks of camp in January overall is a very positive impression. The players came into this camp very well prepared, they understood that we are not just doing a preseason camp, that we are not just building a bridge for their offseason. We are here to prepare for an international fixture – most importantly, Honduras and the World Cup qualifier. So the players did their homework, they came in prepared, they put in double shifts almost every day and were very focused, very dedicated and I think they understand that it takes a lot more to get to the international level. From a coaching perspective, you really can’t complain at all."
ussoccer.com: Many of the players here in camp were getting to know each other for the first time. How did you see the chemistry developing?
JK: "What we really enjoyed over the last few weeks was the way they built their own chemistry. They understand how to play the game from a tactical standpoint, how to build relationships on the field , how to work together, and how to help each other defensively and offensively. Over the stretch of three weeks you see this work really paying off with how they help each other and how they have an eye of each other. We often tell the players that when you think of your teammate and help them, you’re less busy with yourself and you’re less occupied with your own individual game. When you start thinking too much about yourself, that’s when you’ll most likely make a mistake."
ussoccer.com: You also chose to give the players free time throughout the camp and relied on the veterans to be the guides. Did that benefit the process as well?
JK: "It's important that the more experienced players such as a Kyle Beckerman, a Brad Davis and others are helping the younger ones when they come in. They make them understand what it takes to be a real professional and guide them. We gave them a lot of freedom in those three weeks, a lot of dinners were on their own and they could go out, which is a nice thing to do in L.A., and they were very disciplined with all those things. They understood the next morning was a training session where they had to go 100 percent again and they didn’t want to look bad in those sessions. In this process they exchange a lot of information, where experienced players pass it on to younger ones, where they try to get each other to another level. This was very interesting for us to see. This is what a National Team program is about. You want the experienced guys to step it up, to take more responsibility, to take ownership of the program and for the younger ones to learn about it, be disciplined and follow the older guys."
ussoccer.com: The coaching staff introduced a lot of ideas in this camp, both on the field and in the area of performance fitness. Did you see the players growing into it as the camp progressed?
JK: "We pass on alot of information -and maybe at times a bit too much - but in three weeks you have the time to give them a bigger load and you can see it actually being implemented. You see a younger player becoming more focused and becoming more confident, and dealing with the very intense training sessions that we do. Using the tools we provide they get fitter, they get sharper, they have the right fuel – meaning nutrition – they understand how important rest is, and how important treatment is. All these things show them in their own experience that there’s a big benefit to it. Within a time frame of three and a half weeks I got a chance to see a lot of the stuff that we talk to them about actually being implemented."
ussoccer.com: The payoff at the end of the camp is a game against Canada, and a huge opportunity for these players to make an impression. What you are you hoping to see from the game?
JK: "I really hope they enjoy it. It’s a reward playing an international friendly, playing against Canada who we tied last summer with our best group of players. We want them to express themselves, we want them to really show that commitment that they’ve shown for three and a half weeks packed into 90 minutes and go at them, play fast-paced soccer, be there for each other, do a lot of movement off the ball and really keep pushing it. Obviously we want to see players that step it up now and also want to be regarded as a key element for the Honduras World Cup qualifier, so there’s a lot at stake for the players in this Canada game."
ussoccer.com: The January camp is also a learning opportunity for the coaching staff. What will you take away from it?
JK: "The coaches, like players, we learn every day something new and we learn how to handle them differently than we did before. When you see all their individual personalities you learn to adjust to their character andtheir way of looking at things, so hopefully we find the right tone with the way we communicate with them, find the right information, but most importantly we hope that they can take ownership of their careers. Don’t wait for the coaches to tell you something; don’t wait for the [trainers] to tell you how to treat your body or what you should eat. Figure it out yourselves, be proactive in your life and be proactive in your soccer career. Don’t leave it up to other people is the basic message, and I think that message was very clear over three and a half weeks, and with that message in mind we hope that they’ll step it up to another level."
ussoccer.com: You have said many times heading into 2013 that with World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup there will be opportunities for a lot of players. Now having seen this crop, how do you assess the overall player pool?
JK: "With this really busy year in 2013, this opportunity to see these players in camp for three and a half weeks was more than worthwhile. It was really important because we have to build two rosters for the May and June period with World Cup qualifiers and then for the Gold Cup in July. Now we have a much broader vision and we have a much better understanding of how many players we have that we can bring to the international level. Our pool is getting deeper and is getting more competitive, too. These players are knocking at the door strongly. They want to steal somebody else’s spot and have gotten a sense for how this fight really works. It all goes through performance. Show me what you can do, show me how responsible you really are, show me how strong you are, show me how hungry you are. If you do that and do that day-in and day-out, sooner or later you will steal somebody else’s spot and that’s what soccer is all about. If you want to get to the next level you’ve got to kick somebody out. I think they got a sense for that, and that’s what makes us really happy looking into 2013 with a deeper pool and more options in hand for us coaches."