With 2016 in full swing for the U.S. Men's National Team, Jurgen Klinsmann sat down with ussoccer.com for a two-part Q&A. In part One, Klinsmann discusses the performances of MNT players shining for clubs and the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League. Part Two will be available on ussoccer.com in the coming days.
ussoccer.com: Bobby Wood is developing a consistency as a scorer for Berlin. He also seems to be growing in confidence. What has been your evaluation of his performances this season?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “Seeing Bobby Wood on a run scoring goals is very exciting to us from the U.S. National Team program perspective. It’s really nice to see how he’s becoming a mature player. It’s nice to see that he takes things in his own hands - we always tell the players to be more self-responsible and to have that inner drive to go through problems and to go through issues and make things happen, and Bobby right now makes things happen. He starts to score goals on a consistent basis, and has an influence on his club team getting out of relegation area and then hopefully to get them higher up in the end of the day. He’s also adjusting himself to the lifestyle in Berlin, in a very, very different place to where he was before in Munich, and just becoming more mature in what he’s doing. It’s a real pleasure to see Bobby being really consistent right now and having strong performances, which is for us is very important toward the World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala in the end of March.”
ussoccer.com: Fabian Johnson scored his fifth goal of the season this weekend, this a fantastic run from start to finish. Did you expect that goal scoring would become a part of his contribution?
JK: “Well not only Fabian Johnson is doing really well, especially also Alejandro Bedoya at Nantes in France is on a very, very good stretch right now scoring goals and delivering assists and just being involved constantly in very, very important moments of the game. This gives us different options going toward the World Cup qualifiers at the end of March. Now with Alejandro Bedoya being in top form and Fabian Johnson being in top form that’s for us big because they are difference makers, and you need players on the field that can make a difference.”
ussoccer.com: What are your thoughts on how Omar Gonzalez has fared since moving to Pachuca?
JK: “It’s really fun to watch Omar Gonzalez adjust to his new life in Mexico. He went down to Pachuca and everybody was a bit surprised about his decision going south of the border and earning his trade now in Mexico. From day one on, he was very determined and focused to make a statement. Not only did he become a starter right away, he made a big difference in most of the games, defensively obviously with his very strong presence that he has and also his capability to play out of the back or even go with the ball into midfield, but also here and there scoring a goal. So it’s a real pleasure to see Omar being happy and having a smile on his face and being very strong at the moment, and it definitely makes his case much strong for the National Team as well.”
ussoccer.com: One of the benchmarks for MLS is having success in the CONCACAF Champions League, but the teams are at disadvantage with the knockout rounds coming even before their season starts. How do you view this tournament and this opportunity and what can be done to improve MLS teams' chances?
JK: “Having the CONCACAF Champions League on the horizon with our MLS teams involved is obviously very exciting. It’s big because the benchmark at the end of the day is always international for all of us, and now seeing our MLS teams compete in the CONCACAF Champions League is exciting and obviously we keep all of our fingers crossed. It will also be very difficult, especially when you play Mexican teams. They are in their season already since the beginning of January, so it’s very difficult to go eye-to-eye with them because MLS just started its own preseason. So hopefully things are going well, but it is very, very important for our MLS clubs to beat the teams in Champions League and to make their stamp on this very important competition.”
ussoccer.com: Ethan Horvath has been part of a remarkable run for Molde reaching the knockout stage of the Europa League. How valuable is this experience for a young goalkeeper?
JK: “Another big talent on the horizon for us is definitely Ethan Horvath goalkeeper at Molde FK. Playing the Europa League against Sevilla with his club in the next round is wonderful to watch. It’s really encouraging for us because obviously we have Tim Howard, we have Brad Guzan, but we also need a new, younger generation of goalkeepers coming through, and Ethan is the number one in that term for our Olympic team. Having him play week in and week out in the league in Norway, but especially now in the Europa League, is big. So we’re going to go there and watch him and we’ll keep our fingers crossed for him that things are going well and take it from there. But having Ethan play already international football at that very young age is big time.”
ussoccer.com: Horvath is one of the keepers in the U-23 player pool. How do you see his situation and other members of the U-23 team based in Europe in terms of being released for the Olympic qualifiers in March?
JK: “Well obviously having our Under-23 players being involved in several clubs in Europe right now is very important to us. Even more important will be that they’re going to be released by their clubs for the Olympic team qualifiers with Colombia at the end of March, which is not mandatory, so we really rely on the willingness from their clubs to let them go; players like Matt Miazga from Chelsea, with Emerson Hyndman from Fulham, with Ethan Horvath from Molde and so on. We have a good group of young players coming through the ranks in Europe and they are fighting their way through, but obviously we have the issue that their release is not mandatory, so hopefully we can get that done.”