U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team head coach Javier Perez sat down with ussoccer.com to discuss his team’s trip to France and Romania, and the current state of the U-18 roster
ussoccer.com: With the big trip to France and Romania on the horizon how do you feel about the current state of the U-18 Men’s National Team?
Javier Perez: “I feel very confident because we are in an advanced stage of this cycle. We are playing to prepare a very good group of players for the U-20 National Team and I think it’s coming along very well. The players want to come into the National team and I can feel that every time I’m speaking with the players. Many of these players when they started the cycle weren’t professionals and half of the team now has professional contracts, so everything is changing very quickly for them.”
“It’s always difficult for the clubs to release their players to the National Team but all the players are making a big effort to come into the team. They know this team is something special they want to be part of.”
ussoccer.com: How does the U-18 level help the players transition from where they were at the U-17 level to where they need to be to be successful at the U-20 level?
JP: “They know that the step from U-17s to U-20s is a big step so they know they have to be on the U-18 National Team to make that transition into U-20, I’m working closely with U-20 National Team head coach Tab Ramos to make that happen and make sure that he has a core group of players for the next cycle. Another thing is the players appreciate playing for the National Team, they know what the badge means, they want to represent their country and being called into the National Team is an honor for them.”
ussoccer.com: What is the ultimate goal of the upcoming trip to France and Romania?
JP: “Every time we go to Europe it’s a great opportunity for us to be better, to be more competitive so the ultimate goal is to be more competitive, be more consistent and prepare for the next two tournaments we have. We have a tournament in May in Portugal and we have another tournament in the summer in Northern Ireland. Every time we go to Europe we have very good competition and a very good place to test what level we are. In this case we’re going to be playing France and Romania. France, along with Spain are probably the two strongest nations in youth soccer national teams. France is going to be a very good reference for us to see where we are.”
ussoccer.com: What are you expecting out of the Romanian Youth National Team?
JP: “Romania has a very good team. They have always been a good reference in Europe and I think they’re going to be very competitive, very tough to beat. We want to expose the team to different types of play, the last trip we had in Europe we were based in the Netherlands with Germany, France, Belgium and we had the team exposed to all the different types of play.”
ussoccer.com: What played into the decision to only play National Teams as opposed to Club Teams on this trip?
JP: “The National Teams are definitely ahead of the clubs teams and in Europe you always have very competitive teams. The last time we were there we played PSV and Borussia Dortmund and these were very competitive games against their U-19 teams. So you can always have very competitive teams to play against at the club level. Realistically you want to be able to compete against the National Teams, because that’s the level they’re going to find in official competitions, whether in World Cup qualifiers or in the World Cup so it’s more realistic. On the other hand representing your country is very special for the players. So we know every time we play against other nations they are going to bring the most to represent their country. We want to be consistent, although we do think the clubs can be good competition we want to play other nations as much as we can.”
ussoccer.com: Since it’s been awhile since the U-18s last played competitively together what is the state of the team currently and how are the new faces in camp gelling with the players you’ve coached at the U-18 level before.
JP: “We have a 20-player roster for this trip, this is consistent with the rosters we’ve had when we’ve traveled internationally. We want to have two players per position, there are a couple of positions where we have only one player but we have certain number of players that can play in multiple positions. So we have every position covered. Every time we travel we want to have a couple players that can play in each position. That’s the first thing we want to make sure of. The other part of the question is new faces. Most of the players have been consistently with the team, as I mentioned before they know this team is special, they know the group is special and they want to be part of it. I’m really happy and proud at how the players have been progressing as a team. We work together very well, the players and the staff, and most of these players have been in multiple camps already.”
JP: “Yes definitely, it’s different because last year we had 94s and 95s mixed together although we know for the next cycle the 95 age group is going to be the main group of players. But just to be able to compete at the U-18 level we had a number of 94s just to balance the team. For instance at the competition in Portugal we were the only team bringing any groups of players based on 95s, while the European teams were mainly based on 94s. That’s a huge jump when you are competing at the international level, I think we did very well. This year is going to be different, we are way ahead in terms of preparation, we are much more demanding for the team, the team knows the style very well, the team has the chemistry between the players, they know what we expect from the different positions, they know what we want offensively on the field and right now there’s little bit more time to perform all these different things within the team.”