After winning the group with an undefeated 2-0-1 record and seven points, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has made three changes to the roster for the knockout phase. He talks with ussoccer.com about his review of the group games, the roster replacements and the huge value of the support of the U.S. fans.
ussoccer.com: People said from the beginning that Group A was the “Group of Death.” Coming out undefeated and with seven points, how do you feel about the team’s performance?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “Looking back at the group stage I think it really confirmed what we were all saying, even if some people didn’t really want to believe it. It was the most difficult group we received with Honduras, Panama and Haiti. With Haiti, a team that is very unpredictable, nobody really knew what the quality about that team is and now they are through. We might meet them in the semifinal again – it’s a team full of talent and good players. With Panama, they’re finalists in 2013, and Honduras is a team that went to Brazil for the World Cup – they’re another two strong teams. I said from the beginning that this will be very, very tough. Being already qualified after the second game with six points was huge, but it makes it a little tricky for the third game because obviously you’re already qualified and they play with the backs against the wall. It made it very difficult in the first half where Panama had a little bit of the upside, but we corrected things and raised the bar energy wise in the second half. I think overall it was a very good game for the fact that it was the third game in six days. Overall, I would say the group stage had high quality, good games. There are things we have to improve going in the quarterfinals now, but the group stage was very tense and it will get even more tense in the quarterfinal.
ussoccer.com: You said that each game in the group would be about character as much as anything else. What did you see?
JK: “Each game was so charismatic. They were real fights. The first game was the most physical one with a lot of fouls from Honduras. They tried to interrupt our rhythm badly and it was often on the edge or above the edge. With Haiti we have a team that we see now is very talented, very fast, with four attacking players that can create chances at any time. They’re maybe the big surprise so far in this tournament, but they are high quality and gave us a real game as well. With Panama, we see the last couple of years they are on the rise. There are a lot of good players coming through their system and getting better and better. They really gave everything they had to get a result, and we’ll see with the other groups if it’s enough for them to advance. It was a very good group, good games, awesome crowds and now we want to step it up in the quarterfinal.”
ussoccer.com: Is there a benefit to having played such tough games heading into the quarterfinal?
JK: “I think it can only benefit you if you’ve had real games already in the group phase. Two years ago, we had Belize and Cuba and things looked very easy. Going into this tournament, we needed to be on our toes from the first second and we were. There’s no real preparation for the Gold Cup, so it’s difficult to be in a flow, it’s difficult to be playing in a way that you’re going to see a lot of automatic things, in the way of passing flow and fine tuning elements. You won’t get them in the group phase because you don’t have the time to train those things. Now being together for more than two weeks, hopefully we can get more and more into that phase where we combine better, we’re shifting better and doing certain things better that only come with time.”
ussoccer.com: Jozy was still in the process of coming back from injury when the camp started, and the staff has been monitoring him from the beginning. What have you seen that led you to make the change for Alan Gordon?
JK: We believe that Jozy’s just not there yet. Jozy never really got into this tournament and never really picked up the rhythm. He’s just simply not in the shape right now to help us. For Jozy it’s just simply going back to Toronto, picking up his rhythm, getting in shape, working on his fitness and then he will start scoring goals again. That’s why Alan Gordon was on the standby roster from the beginning and that’s why we brought him in. He’s fully fit, he’s so full of energy, he scores goals with the Galaxy, and he fits in right away. He’s a pure giver to the group, and he might be a player that can make a difference at any second when you bring him in.”
ussoccer.com: Having the opportunity to make changes, you start with four-time World Cup veteran DaMarcus Beasley who captained this team to the Gold Cup title in 2013. How valuable is to have a player of his ability and experience in a tournament?
JK: Having DaMarcus come into the team is huge, because of his character, his giving nature, the spirit he brings, but also the high quality he brings. He brings a lot of experience into this group, and he’s hungry. He’s still as hungry as day one in his career. That speaks for us having him back in the group and now it gives us a couple of different options on how to put pieces together. We’re very happy to have Beas back. With Greg Garza it’s tough. It hurts when you have to tell a player that they’re not part of the final stage of the competition. Hopefully he joins us in Philadelphia for the final to be with the group again. He’s an emerging player. Greg Garza is there for the future. He’s only getting better. He’s done tremendously well these last two weeks, he knows that he has to grow more, get more experience and it’s as simple as that. It’s why we made the switch. It’s really fun to work with Greg. He has a great character, a great attitude every day – he gives you everything. For him it was another step in the right direction for the National Team and he totally understands that we want to switch it for right now.”
ussoccer.com: Where do you see Alfredo Morales at this stage, and what does Joe Corona bring to the table?
JK: “The switch with Alfredo to Joe Corona is a little bit because Alfredo is still on the rise. He is becoming a very strong player. He had a good year with Ingolstadt, he moved up to the first division in Germany, was their player of the season pretty much, but he’s still in the process to become a part of our team in the fine tuning element. There are certain things that just don’t click yet, and it’ll just take a little bit of time. Right now in the tournament, we don’t have that time. In the tournament now we need to produce results and get things done. With Joe we have that option to bring him in now. He knows CONCACAF inside out. Joe Corona is very experienced in playing against the teams from the Caribbean and Central America. He’s a player that can also help us, here and there, to hold the ball better, to take care of the ball. With his great technique, with his one-touch passing, he makes things very easy and simple. I think it’s a great opportunity to have Joe back, even if it hurts a little bit for Alfredo, but that’s just part of the game.”
ussoccer.com: In the group phase there were two sold-out stadiums in Frisco and Kansas City, and a record crowd in Foxborough. How important has that support been from the fans?
JK: “With a tournament like this where you go from city to city and it’s an intense rhythm and there’s a lot of work involved in it, it’s so crucial that the fans are behind us. It’s so big when the players know they go on the field and see the American Outlaws and all the U.S. Soccer fans giving them a hand, giving them a push. Having full stadiums is huge. Dallas was sold out, Foxborough was a record crowd, and Kansas City was sold out. Now going into Baltimore, it’s even more important that we have our fans behind us, because it’s going to be very hard again. It’s very humid there. It’s an awesome city – Baltimore treated us so great two years ago, so we want to repeat that. We want to be there and give them a great game. Now it’s about knockout games. It’s do-or-die. There’s no calculation involved anymore, there’s no fixing afterwards. You have to win the games now. Baltimore will be huge and hopefully have a fully-packed stadium with all our fans.”