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Q&A with U.S. U-20 WNT head coach Steve Swanson Most of your player pool is heading into their college seasons right now. What are some of the challenges you'll face in getting ready for CONCACAF qualifying as they came back into the national team after playing for different coaches in different systems?
Steve Swanson: “There have been approximately six camps in the past six months (including one foreign tour) which have provided an excellent foundation for us in terms of identification, development and implementation of some of our principles of play. I also believe in our college system (which will include the majority of our players) and know that these programs will continue to develop the current players in our pool. It is a good environment for them to be in at this time and our hope is that everyone will continue to develop in all the areas of the game during the fall. I also feel the fall season will help identify some new players, precisely because they may play in different positions or in different roles, who potentially could impact this team in the future. We are waiting to get word on when our qualifying is but whenever it is we feel confident we can bring our team together quickly.” How much will you be looking to expand the player pool at this point in the cycle?
SS: “We’ve got some core players who have been in to the majority of camps and have done exceptionally well. We also have players that have been in one or two camps that have caught our eye. We feel good about the depth at some positions but will certainly continue to evaluate players throughout the fall in college, from the U-18 pool, and also within the club system. It is an ever-changing pool because players come into camps at different stages in their career, injuries happen unfortunately, and players can come in and out of form. So for all those reasons we need to continue to evaluate and identify players we feel could help us in certain areas of our team. Hopefully the network we have established throughout the country in terms of the coaches (from national team, college, club, ODP) will help us gather the best possible pool as we continue our preparations at the end of the fall.” How important is the growing the network of scouts and confidants in the U.S. Soccer community to help make sure that the best players in the country are coming into training camps?
SS: “To be honest, this is one of the areas that I feel we need to continue to work at so we can share more information. We have a huge country with a lot of developing players so we have to communicate as much as possible to ensure we are looking at all the players who potentially can impact the team. There are so many quality coaches in our country who know the demands of this level who can help us. We already have opened up good communication lines but this is something we will continue to address as our program moves forward. For a program like ours to succeed we need the help of many people.” How important will it be to expose players to international competition between now and the qualifying and World Cup tournaments?
SS: “The matches that we play between now and qualifying, which will include international competitions, will be extremely important to our preparation.. We faced some good European teams in La Manga, Spain, in March and also played Japan twice in June. We gained some insight into the way these teams play, how they organize their attack and defense, what they are like technically, etc. There is no question this type of experience is important since it is difficult to replicate the way some of these teams play, but we also have to be mindful of the quantity of games that we are playing in conjunction with how much we are training.” How will you aim to help players in this age group continue to improve?
SS: “Well, to me, players, at least the motivated ones, can be shaped and molded technically, tactically, mentally and physically at all ages, but especially at this age. We have some amazingly talented players in the pool, but all of these players have room for improvement. I see my role as continuing to help our players improve, specifically in terms of emphasizing skills and a better understanding of the game in their decision making. All these players have obviously had a great deal of success in their young careers, but as each player continues to climb the national team ladder, the more challenges the game presents to them. In order to impact future national teams, they might have to work harder in one area, alter their technique, play a little bit faster, think a little differently or take up a different position. Our goal is to help them with this stage in their development. It’s a big goal of the program to help these players develop into full team players. If you look at some of the players on this current U.S. Women’s World Cup Team who also played in an U-20 World Cup, they developed enormously in the seven-year span from 17-18 to the 24-25 range. I strongly feel that we have a future Megan Rapinoe, Heather O'Reilly, Rachel Buehler or Becky Sauerbrunn amongst this current crop of U-20's.” What changes have you seen in the international game during the past decade?
SS: “What sticks out the most is the dramatic technical improvement of international teams over the last decade. I think you only have to look at a team like Japan in this past Women's World Cup to see how important good technique and organization is to the game. The addition of both the Under 20 Women's World Cup and the U-17 Women's World Cup in the last decade has really made a difference in terms of how much countries are investing into their youth teams. The end result is that countries throughout the world are becoming more and more competitive. They are training more, expanding their talent pools, becoming more organized within their national organization and therefore the road to qualifying and winning a World Cup is much more challenging.” What do you consider to be the strengths of this player pool right now?
SS: “We are excited about the depth of some of our positions within the U-20's now. As is the case with many U.S. teams we have some exceptional athletes in the pool who compete tremendously hard whether it is in matches or training. We also have some very gifted technical players as well, which is exciting to see. I believe with good planning and hard work this team can come together and not only secure some good results but also can play some quality soccer in the process.”