Q & A with U-18 MNT Head Coach Javier Perez about Team’s Success at Limoges Tournament in France
The U.S. U-18 MNT recently returned from a four-team international tournament in Limoges, France where the USA placed second with a 2-0-1 overall record . The 18-player squad tied France 2-2 in its first game on Oct. 9,beat the Czech Republic 1-0 on Oct. 11, and closed out the tournament with a 2-0 victory over Poland on Oct. 13. Perez spoke to ussoccer.com about the team’s success at the tournament.
: What is the coaching staff’s overall view of how the tournament went?
Javier Perez : “It’s always very challenging every time we go to Europe to play European teams. All the teams have good, strong players. This time, we were going to play against France, which is one of the biggest soccer nations in the world, especially in youth soccer. In the past summer they won the U-20 World Championship and they have a very solid program. [They give us] a very good reference point to see what the level is of our team. Everything was very positive. Our team was very competitive and we were really happy with the trip.”
: What were the objectives of the trip? How successful was the team in meeting its goals and where does it need improvement?
JP : “Right before this trip we had domestic camp with 36 players. This is the very beginning of the cycle; we finished the ’95-born player cycle and right now we have the ’97/96-born players. We want to focus mainly on the ’97 age group, but at the same time, we have an opportunity to see some of the ’96s, who can contribute for the next U-20 World Cup.
“We have a couple of objectives, mainly to check the level of our team and our players at the international level to see where we are, and to provide some international experience for players who don’t have that. Some of the players from the ’96 age group have been part of the Residency Program and they have extensive experience at the international level, but many of the ’97s don’t. So, the second part of the objective is, ‘How do we build the ’97 group for the U-20 World Cup in four years’ time?’
“The way we structured the team, we had 18 players for this trip. One third of the group was ’97-born players. These players are going to lead the group for the next cycle, so we want to progressively bring ’97s for the next two, three trips. We want to comprise 50 or 60 percent of the group [for those trips] with ’97-born players. Doing it this way, we were the youngest team at the tournament and that’s the challenge in Europe.”
: Did the tournament help identify players who are ready to continue moving forward in the process of joining the next U-20 MNT?
JP : “I think so. That’s something [U-20 MNT head coach] Tab Ramos and myself have to work together on. We are always talking two World Cups ahead. He is working with the ’95-born players and some ’96s for the soonest one, and we are building with the ’97s for after that.
“I’m glad to see we have a lot of talent. We have competitive players, and I think right now the players who came to the tournament did very well. We are building the structure and the experience of these players to compete at the international level. We were very happy that they responded well.”
: How effective were the players at absorbing what they learned in training camp and translating it into a competitive setting?
JP : “That was crucial because when we go compete overseas, we always face the challenge, especially with a team like France, the challenge of competing against very physical players, [who are] very strong, very powerful, very fast. We have to find ways to counteract all that strength and physical power. I think we did that very well. We took control of the games by keeping possession of the ball, moving quickly, and I think the players understood that message from camp. They have very clear guidelines on how we want to play and they brought that to life.
“On the other hand, you have Eastern European countries like Poland and the Czech Republic; they focus more on things like set pieces. You have to be very aware, very concentrated on the game, and I think our team did very well in that sense, preventing goals on set pieces and taking advantage also of that circumstance. We were working in the first camp on possession, quick transition, creating goal scoring opportunities, and we put that into practice. I think that the results during the tournament were a consequence of the players putting into practice all these principles in the game.”
: What do the players who were not on the roster for this tournament need to do to make the squad next time around?
JP : “We still have time to evaluate before our next tournament. What’s more important at the next camp is to send a message to the players that they are top players in the country for their age group. At 18, years old, 17, 16, it’s an interesting age because they are not children, not adults, but kind of in between. I think it’s a critical time where the players can change very quickly. Let’s say there’s a player not performing very well and three or four months later he’s doing very, very well. We have to track these kinds of players, late bloomers, so they can contribute to the National Team.
“In that sense, the discovery team, Tony Lepore and the Technical Advisors, they do a great job. They follow and track every player who has been in the National Team and they provide information to our coaching staff in the U-18 National Team. We have the opportunity to see which players assimilate all these concepts properly during camp and will be ready for the next camp or tournament.”
: What is the next step for this team?
JP : “The objective is to build a strong U-20 team for after the next U-20 World Cup. The next step for us is to integrate more ’97-born players. The way we’re structured the first year is half ’96, ’97s and the second year is for the ’97-born players. We want to be consistent with what we have been doing, but at the same time, we want to bring more ’97s into the group to provide them with international experience. Instead of doing that all at once, we think that until we see players progress, it’s going to help for the team to be more successful.”