ussoccer.com: How do you feel about this roster you were able to assemble?
Richie Williams: “I think it’s a pretty well-rounded roster. When you look over the two-plus years we’ve been together, we’ve had the ability to push forward and score goals with a lot of talented attacking players, but also on the defensive end we’ve had a lot of great games where we’ve defended well. We were able to play a good amount of international matches and domestic matches and we hope through all of those experiences we have a really balanced team of 21 players that comes together and gets positive results.”
RW: “There’s always difficult decisions to be made. There are guys that have been with us the whole time here at residency and didn’t make the roster. It’s difficult because they’re 16 and 17-years-old and they put a lot into it and worked extremely hard. To leave players off the roster is definitely always difficult, but I think we had a very fair process and we had the ability through these two years to play many international matches. Everyone has been able to start in international matches, come off the bench and have opportunities to play through training and through games. I think we came up with a really talented and strong group that we think will do really well for us.”
ussoccer.com: Are there certain qualities that, with your experience, you know are important that players have to be successful in a World Cup?
RW: “I think you need a group of guys that are willing to compete. For as talented as you are, I think you need to be able to get out there and compete and play as a team. You need players that are willing to play their role and do what it takes for the team to be successful and that’s not always the guys scoring goals or keeping the goals out of the back of the net, but willing to do whatever it takes to get positive results. Whether you’re starting or coming off the bench, you’re there for the team and I think in any major tournament, with a team in any sport, you’ve got to be competitive and willing to give your best for the team and that’s ultimately the end product to win the World Cup as a team.”
ussoccer.com: The team will play in the opening game of the tournament against Nigeria. Is it a challenge playing in the first game?
RW: “I think it’s a great challenge and I think the guys will be excited. It’s a great opportunity to compete against the champions of the last World Cup and I think our guys are going to have a lot of energy, they’re going to be excited and they’re going to be ready to play, so we’re looking forward to it. I think every World Cup game is important. You can’t say one is any more important than the other. You can’t overlook any team. It’s a World Cup game and everybody’s got to be ready to go. Whether you think they’re the strongest opponent or the weakest opponent, it’s the World Cup and all the games are very important and very competitive and anything could happen, especially if you’re not ready to play.”
ussoccer.com: In group play you will also go up against the host, Chile. What challenges does playing against the host nation present?
RW: “We’ve played them before. We played them in Chile and drew them 2-2. It was a good game and we had more opportunities to score that we didn’t take and we made a couple of errors on defense, but I think we played very well against Chile. We have experience against them, we’re familiar with them and I’m sure they’ve developed like we have and gotten better so we have to be ready. I think games against the host can work in two ways. They’re going to come out with energy so we have to be ready to match their energy, they’ll have the crowd behind them and it’ll be the third group game so there could be a lot on the line and we have to make sure we’re ready to go and be able to absorb their energy from the beginning. But I think also sometimes it can, especially with young players, potentially work the opposite where they could be really excited and feel a little bit of pressure because they’re playing at home and are expected to do well and if that’s the case we have to take advantage of that to and potentially pressure them and get after them right from the beginning of the game.”
ussoccer.com: Was it helpful to have played against Chile in Chile a year ago?
RW: “I believe so. We’re familiar with the country, even though we’ll be in different cities. We’ve taken the flight from Miami and we have the same travel plan. Just being there the year before, I think it helps and definitely benefits us.”
ussoccer.com: Have the last two years prepared the group for the challenge ahead?
RW: “I believe so. I think we have an experienced team and I think we have enough games. We’ve traveled to different parts of the world and we’ve had games here in the United States and we’ve been able to play different teams from different parts of the world. Again, for me, that Chile game that we were able to play was important. We were able to play Turkey in Turkey, France in France, the list goes on. I think we’ve given our guys a ton of experiences through International matches and again in our training here in Residency over the last two years we’ve been able to look at players. We’ve had some that were right with us in the beginning. We’ve had some that have been added over time, because we know over time with development, things change and guys are going to step up and do a little bit better and some guys might fall off, but I think the process has given them a huge opportunity. It’s really going to benefit them. I think U.S. Soccer has done a really good job of being able to give them these opportunities to play domestic and international games to get them ready for the World Cup.”
ussoccer.com: What is the team’s schedule between now and the start of the World Cup?
RW: “We will play South Korea twice in the next week (in Bradenton). They are a World Cup team, so it’s another great preparation opportunity for us, and we didn’t want to go too long without playing 90 minutes against an opponent. We’ll do an intrasquad scrimmage on Oct. 9, and then we take off two days later for Chile. We’ll have four good days of training there before we open up against Nigeria.”
ussoccer.com: When you informed the 21 players who would be going to Chile, what was your message to them?
RW: “First of all to say congratulations and that they should be proud of the fact that they have made the final roster and will get to represent the United States. We started this process two years ago and want to finish in a very positive way. We still have a couple weeks to train and focus on all the little details, and they need to focus and get ready.”
ussoccer.com: With almost three weeks to go before the tournament, why the decision to tell them team now?
RW: “We thought a lot about the timing. Things are a bit different here with Residency, because the guys didn’t make the final roster will still continue to train and stay in school, so we wanted to give them a chance to be prepared. Obviously they are disappointed, but we also want them to understand that this is only the beginning for them. Not making the World Cup roster doesn’t mean the end, and they will still have opportunities to come. For the guys going, we wanted to let them know now so everyone can start focusing. It’s been a great two years of building camaraderie and chemistry, now the focus needs to shift on the 21 guys that are going to Chile. As a player when you know you are on the list and who is going to be there with you, things get even more locked in as a unit. We can speak with guys individually so they know exactly what roles they are going to play, and make sure everybody knows the expectations and that they are ready to go.”
ussoccer.com: There are two players on the roster – Luca de la Torre and Danny Barbir – who have never been in Residency and others who have moved on to professional clubs. How were you able to monitor them and keep them integrated in the group?
RW: “Luca and Danny started with our U-15’s so they knew the group, and we have been able to keep them in involved from day one in terms of participating in the majority of domestic and international trips. We also monitor them through updates from their clubs. Other guys were here for a year and then signed with professional clubs, which has been a great experience for them. Being around older professionals has helped them mature and develop as players. You can see they are growing, and that’s a positive.”