Heading into the U.S. MNT’s annual January Camp and ensuing friendlies against Iceland and Canada in Carson, Calif., ussoccer.com sat down with head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to discuss the roster construction process, expectations for the friendlies and preparing the U-23s for Olympic qualifying against Colombia in March.
ussoccer.com: How will you go about putting together the roster for the January camp?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “The make-up of the roster for the January camp in 2016 is a little bit tricky because we have World Cup Qualifying on the horizon at the end of March. So one part will be the Senior Team players that we’re looking at for those qualifying games, and the other part will be for the Olympic team that also needs to qualify for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. We basically have two groups coming in; one under the focus of our World Cup Qualifiers and the other group under the focus of qualifying for the Olympics. So it’s going to be two groups, mixed together and working together side-by-side, and hopefully we see a lot of good stuff there with two exciting games at the end of the camp.”
ussoccer.com: What are your goals for the team during camp?
JK: “When you do a January camp, obviously the goal is always to give them a head start into their season because they have a long break coming out of their MLS season, so we try to get them back on track and try to get them going and step-by-step give them a head start to 2016. Obviously we are also a little bit selfish because we scheduled in two games with Iceland on January 31st and against Canada on February 5th. We want to do well. Those are international games where we want to see the players step it up and to make their case, because we are going to go into a very, very busy year in 2016 with World Cup qualifying and the huge highlight of Copa America in June.”
ussoccer.com: How valuable will it be to have some of the key U-23 players mixed in with the Senior Team as they get ready for the qualifying matches against Colombia in March?
JK: “Having a part of this group being part of the Olympic team, I think it’s a big advantage because we’re going to give them a chance to get already prepared towards those playoff games with Colombia at the end of March, which is hugely important. We want our Olympic team to qualify for the Olympics, to go to Rio de Janeiro and to have this outstanding experience down there, so having them in camp as well with us is huge and hopefully it will pay off.”
ussoccer.com: Iceland has been one of the surprise teams in Europe in recent years. What have been the reasons for their improvement?
JK: “We’re very excited to play Iceland on January 31st at the StubHub Center because it’s one of the emerging soccer nations in Europe. They are qualified for the European Championship in France next summer, and they almost qualified for Brazil 2014. It’s a country that has done a wonderful job in developing talent over the last years, and they have very good players playing all over the place in Europe. That earns them a lot of respect, and we are looking forward to a very competitive game on January 31st.”
ussoccer.com: For people who haven’t seen them play, what kind of game can we expect?
JK: “When you’ve had the chance to watch some of Iceland’s games in the last couple of years, it’s a team that is very courageous, technically very gifted and very well organized. It’s definitely an opponent we’re going to enjoy in that friendly that will demand a lot of attention and make it very difficult for us.”
ussoccer.com: Canada is a very familiar opponent. What makes this a good game for us?
JK: “With Canada in our second friendly on February 5th also at the StubHub Center, we’re going to meet our neighbors, our rival, and that is always difficult to play. The last couple of games we played with them, we tied 0-0 because they brought a very defensive style to the table and made it difficult for us to break them down. That’s what we expect again. Obviously their top players are playing in MLS. You know they are thankful to get that game because their break is long as well, so we will expect also a good opponent, a difficult game, but definitely a game we want to win.”
ussoccer.com: What makes Canada difficult to play?
JK: “Canada is always difficult to play because they are very well organized. They are tactically very well structured, very disciplined and obviously physically very tough to play. They always bring their physicality to the table and make it very difficult. They want to close you down and don’t want to give you space to outplay them, therefore we need to find ways to break them down and to score goals. It will be interesting to see how our MLS-based players deal with that challenge.”