U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team head coach Andi Herzog spoke with ussoccer.com about the USA’s CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying roster and the journey to earning a spot in Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games.
ussoccer.com: How did you go about assembling this roster?
Andi Herzog: “For us it was important that we find the right balance between attacking players and defensive-minded players. Because there are no FIFA dates for the first week of the tournament, there were challenges. We had discussions with a lot of teams, and while some clubs didn’t release their players overall we received a lot of support, especially from MLS. Until yesterday we were focused on getting the roster together, and there was a lot of competition for spots. Of course a few players will be disappointed that they didn’t make the roster and I understand, but we can only have 20 players on the roster and only 17 field players, so they weren’t easy decisions. Now we have to be focused on the games and we have to win.”
ussoccer.com: Why is qualifying for the Olympics so important?
AH: “With every youth national team, it doesn’t matter if it’s the U-17, U-20, or with the Olympic team, you always want to compete at the highest level with the best teams in the world. For everyone, I think it’s a dream to participate in the Olympic Games and it’s a great opportunity for us. But first we have to do our job and win the first game against Canada, which would make it a little bit easier for us because with a good start you get more and more confidence.”
ussoccer.com: What are the strengths of this group of players?
AH: “I think over the last couple of months the players had a very good working attitude and a lot of passion. They did very well and worked really hard and made it easier for us. This is a real ambitious group of players and hopefully we do well in the qualification.”
ussoccer.com: You made a point of scheduling challenging friendlies over the course of the year. How important were those in getting this group ready for this tournament?
AH: “These games were important for the players to make an impression. We got a couple new players in after the U-20 World Cup, and we had a camp in England to see them and the other players together. The Toulon Tournament was very special and we finished third out of 10 good teams, so I was impressed. For us that tournament was important because we had four games in seven days, and playing every two days will be similar to the schedule we have in Qualifying. We play on Oct. 1 and Oct. 3, and then on Oct. 6, so that means we have to be ready to mix the players from game to game and we got a good training run at that in Toulon.”
usssoccer.com: How important will the support of the fans be in this tournament that is played on U.S. soil?
AH: “It’s huge. For sure there will be a couple of moments where we need support from the fans to push the team. Overall I think everyone is excited. After the Men’s National Team qualified for the World Cup in 2014, and with the Women’s National Team winning this summer, this would be the next big thing for U.S. Soccer. We have a younger group that wants to show that the players in the U.S. have a really good quality.”