: With only one National Team game left and less than two months before the World Cup preparation camp begins, opportunities are scarce for the players
to make their case. Do you get the sense that everyone around the team feels the clock is ticking?
Jurgen Klinsmann : “Everyone knows the clock is ticking and that they need to impress in those games with their club, and the only way you can impress is if you play from the beginning on. So the players have a sense of urgency now. With whomever I communicate, whether it’s a text message or on the phone, I hear from the players that now theyhave to step it up.”
: Are there players reaching out to you asking, ‘What else can I be doing?’”
JK : “We have players who shoot us an email or a text real quick asking if there’s something additional they can do, which they should. We give them the input right away. We’re trying to be more connected and in communication every week. If it’s not me as the head coach, it’s the assistant coaches or it might be Masa our fitness coach communicating with their clubs. It’s really important now that they get a sense of the timing that we are only a couple weeks away.”
: As anticipated, you have named a 22-player roster for the USA’s match against Mexico, presented by AT&T, that consists primarily of MLS- and Liga
MX-based players. What do you expect from this group?
JK : “What we expect is that they show a really strong performance against a Mexican team that is now basically coming back on track. They went the difficult route against New Zealand to qualify as the fourth-place team in CONCACAF. They got their lessons in 2013, very harsh lessons that they had, many coaching changes, and now they want to get back on track.
“There’s nothing better than doing that against their main rival the United States. So we really have to be on our toes. We have to be very focused and alert. Similar to what the MLS teams faced in the CONCACAF Champions League, we don’t have as many games for our players that the Mexican team has. They’ve started their championship already at the end of January, so there might be a little advantage for them. But we’ll make sure everybody is on board, and they’ll have a point to prove because we are only a couple weeks away from deciding on the 23 guys that go to Brazil.”
: With MLS back in action and a full slate of games this past weekend, one player you must be happy to see back on the field is Michael Bradley.
JK : “Definitely having MLS back in the picture and picking up its rhythm, it’s just great seeing Michael Bradley there on the field showing everybody how good of a player he is. He had to be stitched up a bit after that clash, but he had a good performance. It’s very important to us that our leaders in our group are really getting a rhythm and getting games in. Seeing Michael back on the field and the others as well is really important.”
: With Matt Besler on the bench this past weekend, the armband in Kansas City went to Graham Zusi, another guy who you expect to be a leader.
JK : “Graham over the last two years has established himself strongly with the National Team and especially in many World Cup qualifiers as a very good performer. Looking at all the match-ups in MLS and seeing our players all over the place, it’s really important that they pick it up.
“It’s been a tricky weekend because prior to that, there was the CONCACAF Champions league and all of our three MLS teams lost against Mexican opponents. That was a big bummer for us and gives us a lot of questions to be answered on how can we avoid that next time.
: There could be a sold out crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium and you have mentioned some of the things Mexico will bring to the table. With so
much going on around this game, does it give you a better opportunity to see what level the players are at right now as opposed to a normal friendly?
JK : “Yes, that is why we badly wanted to play this game. We don’t have all our players on board because our European players are not being released except Julian Green, which in his case Bayern Munich did us a big favor to release him for possibly his first cap for the United States with the senior team. So it is definitely a game we need to see where our MLS and Mexican-based players are. They need to prove now that they badly want to go to Brazil. Therefore, it’s going to be a tense couple of days. It’s going to be a test for what they can expect going into our World Cup preparations because it’s performing at the right time. It’s about understanding that they have to be tough now. It’s not about slowly getting into a rhythm, it’s about showing if you deserve to get into this World Cup roster. In that way, it will be a little bit different camp. It will be measured different because it’s the last game before we go into World Cup preparations. Therefore we tell the players from day one when they come in on Sunday to step it up.
: Earlier this week, Julian Green was approved by FIFA to play for the U.S. With that behind us, you now have this 18-year-old player coming into camp
to play for the first time, and doing it with so much on the line and against our biggest rival. What do you say to him when he gets to Phoenix?
JK : “We tell him the same as we did when he came into camp prior to the Ukraine game, to make himself feel comfortable, to get connected with his teammates, to get to know them. I know we have awesome leaders in our group that will put a hand around Julian and make him feel comfortable, make him feel welcome. Also just to enjoy the training sessions and show us what he is capable of doing. There’s no reason to be nervous at all. It’s just a one-step-at-a-time process that he’s going through.
“But, Julian is very ambitious. He knows about his qualities. He knows about the club where he trains every day with Arjen Robben, with Franck Ribery, with big players who are on the big stage for a long period of time. I think he has the confidence to come in and say, ‘If the coach gives me the chance to play there, I want to show him that I want to go to Brazil.’”
: Maurice Edu is on loan from Stoke City and getting into a rhythm with Philadelphia. What are you looking for when you see him?
JK : “We’re looking for Mo to show us that sense of urgency. To come back on loan, get playing time and jump into the Union team, become a leader right away and help them get off on the right foot in MLS shows that he understands that the timing has to be there now if he wants to play. He could have sat there on the bench at Stoke maybe not playing much, and then there’s no chance for him to get on the World Cup roster. But he understood that, made the decision to come back and now he’s picking it up. We’re looking forward to have Mo back with us because once he’s in a rhythm, once he is fit and really zoomed in, then he’s a very good player.”
: Many of the guys on this roster left January camp with your message that they have to keep pushing forward, be leaders in their team and make an
impact. Are you looking forward to seeing how much they have progressed since then and if they got that message?
JK : “Yes. We want to see that now over the next couple months, not only in our game against Mexico – that’s the best stage they can have – but especially in MLS games. We literally over the weekend follow all the games. It’s pretty intense now the amount of scouting we do with everyone on our staff. We want to see that they have that sense of urgency, that they are sharp, that they do the right thing, and they show the right leadership because every senior national team player has to be a leader on his club team. That’s why he’s a national team player. We follow all that now week-in, week-out and the players are going to make it very difficult for us at the end of the day to choose 23 players out of that big group.”
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup