U.S. Under-19 WNT head coach Mark Krikorian took over the team after Tracy Leone was named an assistant coach with the full WNT in February and has been molding his squad ever since. Taking over the reigning world champions can be a difficult transition, but Krikorian has done a remarkable job of melding the players with the new staff and making a comfortable, determined and fun atmosphere that will hopefully transcend onto the field during the team’s first match in the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament against the Dominican Republic on Friday. Krikorian sat down with ussoccer.com and talked about his thoughts on the tournament, what the team needs to do to be successful and how the recent roster change will affect his squad.
How is the team looking going into their first match?
“I think the team is prepared and ready to have a game after being here for about a week. All of us are at a point of anticipation and excitement as we are looking forward to the actual competition. I think we are in pretty good shape and pretty good spirits.”
How was the week of training in Ottawa leading up to the tournament?
“It has gone pretty good. It’s not really a training camp per se because we’re in a situation where we have to prepare for the actual matches, so we’ve really just been trying to fine tune points as opposed to doing a whole lot of actual training. I’ve been quite satisfied that a lot of the messages we’ve been trying to get to them have been received, and I think we look pretty sharp.”
What affect does the injury to Jennifer Redmond (who was replaced by Chioma Igwe) have on the team make-up?
“We know that Chioma is a very good player, but we also know that Jen Redmond was very good as well. Jen was someone I was projecting to potentially be in the first 11 and have a substantial impact. Chioma is somewhat new to the national team program, and I think as she gains some experience and confidence her impact on the team will be greater and greater. She certainly is a good player.”
Does playing on turf instead of grass have any effect on the game and how has the team handled that transition?
“It does affect the game some and as (soccer) purists we’d all like to see it played on grass, but in the northeast turf fields often times make good sense with the weather situations. I think our group is both physically and mentally prepared to play on the turf and I don’t think it will be a disadvantage in any way to us. I think we have a technical team and pretty good pace on our team, so those two qualities will hopefully lead us to having a lot of success on the turf.”
How have you handled being a favorite in the tournament and what have you told the players about being in that position?
“Well, I think it is relatively easy to gain their attention when talking about games where the expectations for you are high and maybe you are favored. We don’t have to look real far to find very good teams that haven’t qualified for tournaments when everyone has pretty much expected them to do that. I can assure you that our focus will be one game at a time and will be about going out and doing the job that evening or day and preparing for the next match. CONCACAF and the rest of the world is getting better and I’m not sure the days are still around where you run through the bracket scoring 30 goals and giving up none.”
What are you looking from in the first match?
“I think it is important that we go out and establish the style of play that we are looking to have, which is a possessive style with a varied attack. I think the other thing that is important to me is that we are organized in our defense at all times, even when we are attacking we need to be prepared for a counter attack. In the attacking end it is varying our pressure and having different methods of attack and not just relying on possession soccer or long balls. And in the defense making sure we are compact and prepared for the counter.”
How are you prepared to handle playing three group games in five days?
“I think one of the strengths of our team is that we have very good depth. While three games in five days is not optimal, I think we’ll be able to deal with it in a decent fashion. We’ll take each of our games one at a time and know that the ultimate goal is qualifying for the World Cup. It’s just a matter of keeping the players healthy and fresh and still putting the best team we can on the field.”