: 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.”
The U.S. Men’s National Team rode a shock opening win against fourth-ranked Portugal, a draw against the host Korea Republic and a little help from the goalposts to advance to the Round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Finishing second in the group meant that the MNT would have less than three full days rest to turn around and face regional rivals Mexico in the highest stakes match the two nations had ever played. With little time to prepare, in some respects the U.S. was lucky to have drawn the team with which it was most familiar.
Despite the U.S. having won four of the previous five meetings, according to U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, when the team arrived at Jeonju World Cup Stadium that June afternoon, there wasn’t much respect shown from the opposition side.
“Before the game we walked out and we were walking around the field. We had this focus and concentration as a team as you do preparing for any game,” the former team captain told ussoccer.com. “I was with Eddie Lewis, Frankie Hejduk, Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart and we were ready to go – we were foaming at the mouth for this game. We looked over and the Mexicans were laughing, joking and looking at us…That was it.”
Reyna called the team over to quickly finish their pre-game pitch inspection and head back into the locker room.
“We sort of wanted the game to start, we were so ready to go,” he continued. “Back in the locker room, I remember saying, ‘These guys are laughing at us. They think they’re going to beat us easily.’”
Mexico had done efficient work to get to that point. Having finished with seven points atop a group that featured Italy, Croatia and Ecuador, El Tri’s run to the Round of 16 had the side brimming with self-assurance ahead of the match.
“They were feeling confident, but the lack of respect they showed was clear – you never do that,” said Reyna. “I would never do that in my career, even if I felt really comfortable about beating an opponent. That you’d be giggling, laughing and joking at the opponent. It was pretty clear that it was directed at us and at some of our players, and obviously we play them all the time so there’s that rivalry.”
“I remember saying, ‘We’re not losing this game guys.’ Everyone went around and you could feel it all the way through that we couldn’t wait to get out there.”
Reyna gets past Ramon Morales in the most famous "Dos a Cero" in Men's National Team history.
Injuries and suspensions limited the U.S. options, and Bruce Arena used the uncertainty to confound the Mexicans by deploying a 3-5-2 formation for the match. The switch saw Reyna move from his regular central midfield position to the right flank, with the move paying off almost immediately. Following an eighth minute foul in the Mexico half, Brian McBride quickly restarted as he saw Reyna pushing up the flank. The U.S. captain beat two defenders to the end line before centering for Josh Wolff, whose deft touch teed up McBride for a clinical finish and an equally gratifying goal celebration.
The goal set an early tone and played perfectly into Arena’s game plan, allowing the U.S. to sit in and pick its moments to counter against an increasingly frustrated Mexican side. Landon Donovan’s second- half header off an Eddie Lewis cross helped ice the game, giving the MNT its first ever World Cup knockout round win and a quarterfinal date with Germany.
“It was just a great team performance. To beat them 2-0, eliminate them and afterwards realize this was a big deal back in the States,” Reyna said.
The win raised the profile of the Men’s National Team more than any other since the 1994 FIFA World Cup, but in an age before social media, Reyna admitted the players didn’t realize how big an impact the victory had made.
“We didn’t know how huge it was at home,” he said. “We were in Korea and we knew it was sort of growing in momentum. I remember seeing some of the news clips from Mexico City where there were people in plazas and squares crying over the result – that felt good.”
U.S. supporters celebrate during the MNT's 2-0 win against Mexico at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Though the momentum was already building towards U.S. domination of the rivalry, the World Cup win tipped the scales. Since 2000, the MNT has held a 13-6-5 advantage against El Tri.
“From that moment on, it continued to be a real domination of Mexico,” Reyna said. “We went on and beat them all the time. That was the point where we felt we were no longer playing behind them, that we were better than them.”
“It was one big coming out party on the biggest stage.”Read more