U.S. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann sat down with ussoccer.com to discuss a broad range of topics ahead of the USA's upcoming European friendlies against the Netherlands and Germany in Europe.
ussoccer.com: How would you describe the makeup of this roster for the games against Germany and Netherlands?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “Putting together the pieces now for these two very, very prestigious friendlies, obviously in the back of your mind there’s the Gold Cup. It’s a huge opportunity to play nations like these two in order to see a lot of things that you want to see from your players. In a certain way, we want to see a couple of guys get thrown in the freezing cold water and see how they can swim and where they stand right now in the ranking of the Men’s National Team. That’s why I want to see Ventura Alvarado or John Brooks play in games like this. Up front, because Jozy Altidore is not here and Clint Dempsey is not here, the youngsters that jump on board now have got a point to prove. For all these guys, games like these are opportunities that don’t happen often in a lifetime, so you better jump on those.”
ussoccer.com: Without three of the team’s top players - Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Bedoya, and Clint Dempsey - in this camp, what’s the message to the other players about the opportunity that exists?
JK: “I think every player always thinks day-in and day-out how far can I go in my career at the international level, and sometimes when you have big names in front of you maybe just don’t believe that you can get there. You have Clint Dempsey in front of you, Jozy Altidore in front of you, also Alejandro Bedoya, who really became an important piece in our team, in front of you, and then maybe you don’t expect to get that opportunity. So now you get that opportunity. You can play against Holland, you can play against Germany, and now you have to understand that you better use it. You better make the best out of it and prove to the coaches and the fans that you deserve to be a part of the program moving forward. So I think that’s pretty cool. I think that’s very exciting, even though it’s difficult for a coach when some key players are not there because you also want to have positive results and show these big name teams that you are able to play with them.”
ussoccer.com: You talked about the period after the World Cup as a transition phase. During that period 46 guys have gotten minutes and 13 have earned their first cap. Where do these games fit into the transition portion of this cycle?
JK: “I think they fit in perfectly in that transition period. We want to see now throughout this past year, what was the learning curve of those players that we gave an opportunity. Where do they stand right now? I think with these two games against Germany and against Holland we can kind of close the loop and say ‘Okay, now we know where to put them in the ranking’. Eventually it’s down to naming a roster for the Gold Cup that is able to win that tournament and you have to kind of leave the transition phase on the side. We will go into the Gold Cup with the 23 players that we believe in, in order to win that tournament, so it kind of all wraps up here in the next 10 days.”
“At the same time our U-20 team is in New Zealand playing a very exciting Under-20 World Cup and the Under-23’s are in France right now playing in a very prestigious tournament, so we observe all those youngsters as well.”
ussoccer.com: How do these prestigious matches challenge the coaching staff?
JK: “They are just fun really. They are just challenges that you would love every week because there’s so much in those games where you get answers to a lot of questions, but you also have this learning curve. I have a very good picture of where their players are and what type of soccer they play and why they are the No. 1 team in the world. Holland, which finished third in the World Cup and is now No. 6 in the world, is there for a reason. They have great players and great programs and great coaches and they have consistency, and this is especially what we’ve been looking for ourselves for a couple of years. We want to build consistency in our performances. We want to play against those nations and show them that we not only came here to defend, but that we came here to attack and that we want to go forward and we want to score goals against them and we want to make life very miserable for them. So the learning curve is big, and for us coaches too because we get a lot to see and afterwards we know a lot more.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve coached against Germany in the U.S. and in the World Cup in Brazil. Now you’ll coach against Germany in Germany. What do you expect that experience to be like?
JK: “I just expect it to be fun for everybody involved, especially the players. I mean you’re playing against the world champion. Who else do you want? It’s a beautiful stadium and it’s a beautiful atmosphere as it mostly is for the home games of Germany. Obviously it’s my home country too, and it’s a program that I took care of for two years before the 2006 World Cup and I had a great time. It’s my former assistant coach that has since then led the team very well and to a World Cup title. It’s going to be a special day for all of the German-Americans that are on our team. For us it’s kind of the last exclamation mark we can send before the Gold Cup, so we want to do well. We want to have a good result and leave a good impression and then we will make our decisions toward the Gold Cup. We want to see Germany no later than two years from now when we play the Confederations Cup in Russia.”
ussoccer.com: You had been concerned with some of the European-based players losing their spots after the World Cup. When you saw players like Fabian Johnson helping his team get a spot in the Champions League and Aron Johannsson finishing with four goals in three games, how satisfied were you with the way things ended for those players?
JK: “We are all hugely proud and happy for quite a lot of players who turned the corner in the second half of the season in Europe. They had quite a lot of difficulties after the World Cup to get themselves back into balance. Most of them lost their starting spots because they came late into preseason and they were taken. They had to fight back and pick up a rhythm. That happened with Fabian Johnson. In the first part of the season he struggled at Moenchengladbach, and in the second part he was outstanding. He was one of their best players and helped take them to the Champions League.
Alejandro Bedoya put his stamp in Nantes in the French league. Aron Johannsson finally came through in the second part of the season after struggling with injuries and started to score his goals. Alfredo Morales is a wonderful story. Two years ago we thought he took a step back going to Ingolstadt, but he actually took two steps forward. He was one of their best players throughout the season and helped them win the championship and get promotion to the Bundesliga. He’s just hungry; he’s stronger and has a lot more charisma. This is why he’s back in the team. John Brooks is another example of a guy who really picked up in the second half of the season. He helped his team avoid relegation and is now comfortable playing in front of huge crowds every week.”
ussoccer.com: If you look at the pool of strikers on the roster, it’s a pretty young group that is still making its way at the international level. What is the message to these players on how to move forward?
JK: “The topic of strikers for us is a huge one. Obviously we have Jozy that we rely on, and Clint who has done this job for so many years, but we need the next generation of strikers to come in and score goals on a consistent basis. The key message to our young talented strikers is you have to score consistently. You can’t ever get satisfied. They need to have a ratio where they score at least a goal every third game. That’s what you expect from an international-caliber striker. You have to figure out ways to score goals, ways to create chances for yourself if you aren’t getting them from your teammates. That’s a lot of work.”
ussoccer.com: How does a striker get better?
JK: “A striker progresses by always pushing himself towards finishing and staying calm in front of the goal. He has to stay extremely hungry. If you don’t score, it should drive you even more to be aggressive in the next game. As a striker you can never have a sense of satisfaction, that you are happy that you got one goal on the day. I can see it in the body language of strikers. When they celebrate a goal, I can see if he is already content. Meanwhile, then I ask him to get a second one. This is the type of striker we would love to develop, but again it’s an inner-driven game. The player decides that hunger and that drive. We have such a talented young group of strikers that haven’t broken through quite yet, so it’s about time for them to ask more from themselves.”
ussoccer.com: Brad Guzan is back in for the first time in 2015, having missed the March friendlies with the birth of his child. Where do you see him at this stage?
JK: “We are excited to have Brad Guzan back in our group. He will be the starter in the Gold Cup. He is our number one, so it’s really important for him to pick up games with us. It’s exciting, even if he had some tough weeks at Aston Villa where suddenly the coach for whatever reason decided to put him behind Shay Given. That surprised us big time, but he fights through that and he will be sharp and hungry for the long summer.”
Another big fixture for us is Jermaine Jones. He’s going to be back in midfield because of the fact that we have so many high-quality center backs. With the discovery of Ventura Alvarado who won the CONCACAF Champions League with Club America, we think we have a very strong and stable backline and we don’t need Jermaine in the center back role. We also talked with his club coach and we are both on the same page there. He will be back in his number six or number eight role, wherever he fits best.”