ussoccer.com: You had a chance to review the game against Denmark. What were your impressions on the second look?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “It’s frustrating because you put so much work into it. We don’t want to lose. We want to win, but these are also important experiences. We want to make progress in managing the game and taking the game to the opponent and winning away from home and not being in our comfort zone. We were out of our comfort zone [in Denmark], and were pretty much in the game until the last couple of minutes before the end. After Michael’s beautiful pass and Aron’s goal, we looked in control. We controlled the next 10-15 minutes completely, but then with the equalizer, it became a little bit shaky. Still, we had a good opportunity with John Brooks to level the game. At the World Cup he put it in the net, this time he put it just a little bit wide.”
ussoccer.com: What does it mean in a game like that, where we don’t necessarily have more possession, but are still playing well?
JK: “I think it’s an interesting learning curve for us playing a team like Denmark, which is known for having a high amount of possession. They’re really good without necessarily putting too much pressure in the final third. They want to move the ball around. They make it hard for you to get the ball back, and then they are pretty smart to quickly regain the ball because that’s what they’ve done for years under Morten Olsen, who’s one of the longest serving national team managers in the world. So for us, the challenge was how do you manage the game once we get the ball? Here and there we did really well, and here and there we gave the ball away too early.
ussoccer.com: So you planned for the fact that Denmark would have a lot of the possession?
JK: “We knew that Denmark with its style would kind of move us into a style where we would try to get them in transition, because that’s where they’re vulnerable; that’s where they leave space behind its fullbacks. We needed to get a way to find those spaces and feed into our strikers. We prepared that tactical approach, and for most of the time it was good.”
ussoccer.com: With the issue of the late goals, how do you correct that?
JK: “Part of the transition is developing chemistry and gaining experience, and over time this will happen. You build that strength to grind it out, and for younger players they learn the little things you need to do in order to finish off a game. To be up 2-1 on the road to Denmark said a lot, and even if we came away with a tie it would have been an accomplishment. But when you lose the game at the end like this, it’s a disappointment for everyone. So that’s the process that we’ve got to go through. We’ve got to grind through it and also build chemistry. Still, we are not satisfied not getting a result.
ussoccer.com: Three of the four starters on the back line were 24 years old and under. Are you trying to give those guys an opportunity to grow?
JK: “Right now, these games are to see if players can break into the inner circle and into the starting lineup. Are they consistent? That’s why we want to have players showing us where they are at, a couple of months away from the Gold Cup, when we have to make the decisions. At times, it looked good. At times, they looked composed; they looked confident, they stayed calm on the ball and they combined well into midfield. However, at the end of the day when you have a couple of individual mistakes against an experienced team like Denmark, you pay the price for it, and we did, even if we could have equalized the game still in the last minute.”
ussoccer.com: How do you manage the frustration of losing games late, while also knowing that giving players opportunities means that these growing pains are an important process of building toward the Gold Cup?
JK: Well, it is quite frustrating at times. Obviously, you want to be successful. Winning games helps build confidence. However, if you have one phase to introduce new players, to try out different things, to play very, very difficult opponents, then it’s in the period right after a World Cup. Now is probably the only time we can do this because once we are in the Gold Cup, we can’t be experimenting anymore. We need to deliver results. We need to win the Gold Cup. A year later, we need to go to Copa America and deliver results and then, hopefully, go to Russia for the Confederations Cup in 2017 and the World Cup a year later.
So, right now we are choosing highly competitive opponents like Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Germany in order to help evaluate new guys and new combinations. We know it’s a difficult approach that we have taken. In this period, we want to learn. We want to see things about our players: how they react under pressure; play against excellent individual talent; communicate and fit in with the team. This causes us to swallow some bitter pills from time to time.
MNT forward Jozy Altidore scored his second goal of the year against Denmark.
ussoccer.com: How do you manage the communication with the players, particularly the younger ones, of dealing with mistakes?
JK: “I think part of the learning curve is when things go wrong, how do they react? What you don’t want to see as a coach is that they blame each other. That’s just not good spirit. You want them to take responsibility and say ‘shoot, maybe I should have positioned myself this way anticipating the ball better, reading the game ahead better,’ or ‘I should have closed that passing lane at that specific moment.’ You want them to acknowledge a mistake and get even hungrier to correct that and to do better the next time.
ussoccer.com: Can you talk about the individual successes of players in the last game?
JK: You don’t always want to talk about everybody one-on-one, but I thought Jozy had a terrific game, not just because of a beautiful goal, but because of his work rate. He covered a lot of ground both offensively and defensively. He also connected well with Aron. It seems like they have good chemistry. He was a handful for the Danish defense. I thought John Brooks had a very focused, solid game. Michael Bradley was covering a lot of ground as always. So there were really good performances, and there were a few where we thought it could’ve been a little bit better.”
ussoccer.com: Next up is a team that is ranked No. 12 in the world and was a seeded team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. What challenges does Switzerland present?
JK: “Switzerland is a great team. From a style perspective, it’s a little bit similar to Denmark. They move a lot off the ball, they’re very technical and they have a couple of special individual players like Xherdan Shaqiri from Inter Milan, who can turn it on in a second and make a difference. So you’ve got to be focused, alert, concentrated and aggressive for all 90 minutes. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
ussoccer.com: Will you make changes to match what you know about Switzerland, or is it more about what you want to accomplish from your group?
JK: “We’ll mainly focus on what we want to achieve from our group. This is really important. These 10, 12 days that we’re on the road, it’s important that we build the chemistry. We will fine-tune elements on the field because obviously we want to see who’s going towards the Gold Cup, which is so important to us. So we focus on our game, what we want to achieve, how we want to do it.”
ussoccer.com: How do you manage stability when players go from the World Cup, to playing with a club team, to quickly back to international play?
“There is a tricky balance, especially when you are willing to try new players and new things against high quality opponents. We expected challenges following an emotional World Cup, after which players go on vacation and the guys based in Europe get to their club teams later. Some of them lost their starting spots; others suffered some dip in form. We have players in so many different leagues, each of which has their own timing, and that complicates matters. Right now, the guys from MLS are at the beginning of their season while the players in Europe are near the end, and those playing in Mexico are in the middle. All of this can kind of unbalance the situation for a little while. To regain that stability, to regain the confidence and assurance that we’re back on track, it’s a matter of timing. It’s going to get there eventually.”
ussoccer.com: One of the new players you have in camp is William Yarbrough. What are your initial impressions?
JK: “William has a wonderful positive character. He’s highly motivated and wants to learn. Chris Woods, our goalkeeper coach, is full of compliments already so we are really glad to have him in camp.”