March 2015 is the curtain raiser on a busy cycle for the men’s side of the U.S. National Team program.
And USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will use the March friendlies at Denmark and Switzerland as prep for this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, while also wearing his other hat as Technical Director as he helps oversee a busy time for the U.S. U-20 and U-23 MNT sides that will hold simultaneous European camps at the end of the month.
Beginning preparations for CONCACAF Olympic qualification in October, USMNT assistant coach Andi Herzog convenes his first camp in charge of the U-23 side ahead of games at Bosnia-Herzegovina (March 27) and Denmark (March 31). Meanwhile, having recently qualified for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, U-20 head coach Tab Ramos will bring his team to England for a pair of matches against the England U-21s and Tottenham Hotspur U-21s.
“For the youngsters to look towards the U-20 World Cup is huge,” Klinsmann told ussoccer.com. “For the U-23s, we have to get them going in order to prepare for the qualifiers later this year towards the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Andi Herzog has his hands full with that group. For me and the Senior Team perspective, I’m looking at all these youngsters and thinking who can come through these periods and develop the fastest possible in order to make himself a strong competitor for the senior group. So this is a great time now, and we can’t wait to get these games going at the end of the month.”
BREAKING DOWN THE ROSTERS
The balance has a telling diversity among the 62 players that have been summoned.
With all three camps taking place at the same time, the understanding between the three coaches, all of whom worked together at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, has been key as Klinsmann has continued to develop a structure that works not only for the senior team but helps develop players that will one day play for it.
“In terms of style of play, it’s the same approach that Jurgen has and what Tab Ramos has done with the U-20s,” Herzog said in regards to coaching the U-23s. “We all work together with the senior team. For this group, I want to have a team where there are a lot of variations. We want to be attack-minded, keep possession, and have the whole team proactively working to win the ball back as soon as possible.”
- Q&A: Klinsmann Breaks Down Thinking Behind Current MNT Squad
- Q&A: Herzog Laying Foundation for U-23 Olympic Qualifying
- Q&A: Ramos and U-20 MNT Ramp Up Prep for 2015 U-20 World Cup
Though just beginning the U-23 cycle, with the previous team missing out on qualification for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Herzog said the task of getting the team to Rio next year begins with his new side understanding the playing philosophy being handed down this initial camp.
“It’s a big goal, and I think it will be really important to start from the first session to get the players into this philosophy.”
Beyond ensuring a similar playing style, the understanding has perhaps been most important when figuring out how to balance three different rosters with players that could go between two different teams.
“It’s all very clear,” Ramos told ussoccer.com. “Jurgen and I have had a conversation to make sure that we put all things in the right places as we’re moving forward. Obviously having three National Teams go to camp at the same time is not easy. We don’t all get the players we need at times, and it’s not easy on the clubs because MLS doesn’t stop for the FIFA dates and we’re at times asking for a bunch of players from the same team. We try not to deplete any one club at one time so the conversations between Jurgen, Andi and me as he passes down the information have to be very clear. We’ve done that, we’re all on the same page and I think it’s going to go smoothly.”
A past member of U.S. U-17 and U-20 World Championship squads as well as the 2008 Olympic team, U.S. senior international Jozy Altidore spoke to the value of these experiences for players who are beginning to develop international careers.
“It’s great to be involved at these levels because you get exposed to different types of teams,” said Altidore. “You see early how competitive it is, and how good the up and coming players are. Even getting used to things like travel is valuable. Dealing with all the elements of being an international player helps you get used to it and it becomes less of an issue as you progress, because it doesn’t get any easier. All these things prepare you for what’s to come.”
Altidore joins Beijing 2008 teammates Michael Bradley and Michael Orozco for USMNT camp this month, while another six of the senior players called in have represented the U.S. at various youth World Cups or in qualifying.
“These are important experiences,” continued Altidore. “A lot of the things you see at that level can prepare you for when you make the jump to the senior team, so these guys should take it seriously and get the most of out of it.”
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