ussoccer.com: There were eight goals scored by MNT players this past weekend. As a coach and a former striker, that has to make you smile …
Jurgen Klinsmann: “It has been a very exciting weekend from a goalscoring perspective for our National Team players. Two very big moments: Christian Pulisic’s first goal for Borussia Dortmund and then also Jordan Morris with his first goal as a pro at Seattle Sounders. That was definitely a huge highlight, and it’s always fun to see the other guys going in the same direction, whether it’s Bobby Wood, Chris Wondolowski or several other guys. It’s been a great weekend.”
ussoccer.com: For young players like Christian and Jordan, how much of a relief is it to get the first professional goal out of the way?
JK: “It’s a real memorable moment for Christian Pulisic, similar to Jordan Morris as well. When you score your first goal for your professional team, it really means a lot. You’ll always remember that moment and it’s special. I texted both of them congratulations. For Christian, it’s been a very exciting ride over the last couple of months. He’s very young, breaking into the squad of the first team at Borussia Dortmund and playing with the Under-19 there as well. Getting that experience now and getting the feeling that he can compete with the older guys, it gives him a big boost confidence-wise. He knows he’s a very young player. He has to grow a lot. I think it’s important to keep it all in the right perspective. He is a very talented 17-year-old who is exciting to watch and has a lot of potential. With young players, you have to do it one step at a time. You have to give them the feeling that they can make mistakes, that they can go through some downs and that they have a long way to go. The fact that he’s in Dortmund in a very intense environment is very helpful because they put him in line right away. He’s still 17 years old, a player who mostly comes off the bench or playing for the Under-19 team, and that helps because there is no hype around him in Dortmund. We’ll give him all the time in the world to grow and mature.”
ussoccer.com: As you look to bring him along the right way, do his consistent performances with Dortmund at this stage put him into consideration for Copa America Centenario?
JK: “With the statements he sends out there - scoring his first goal for Dortmund, starting a game in the Bundesliga, getting valuable minutes in that very intense environment - he sends messages out toward what happens with the National Team as well. We are just weeks away from Copa America Centenario, the biggest competition in the United States since the 1994 World Cup. He makes himself a case, similar to other players who are trying to get on the right track now, trying to perform with their club teams and he knocks at the door breaking into the 23-man roster for the Copa America. With every one of them right now, we are very close. We are watching their minutes, their touches, their performances, and it’s the best team that you try to put together for such a huge competition. Christian is in that run and others are as well. With a lot of scouts, we are very busy going from location to location every weekend and observing the games going on, seeing who is playing and who’s not playing, who gets the minutes, who’s making the statements, who has bad moments, who has good moments. In a couple weeks down the road, we are going to name a 23-man roster which will not be easy for us coaches, but it is just a fact that we can only take 23. It’s definitely good to see young players like Christian, Jordan Morris or DeAndre Yedlin, who is playing almost every game for Sunderland from the beginning on, coming out really strong and sending statements to their coach in the U.S. that they want to be in the Copa America.”
ussoccer.com: How will the Men’s National Team prepare for playing in the Copa America Centenario?
JK: “In preparation for Copa America, we are trying to get the European players over to the U.S. as quickly as possible. They have their last games the weekend of May 14-15, so we will start camp on the 16th in Miami with all the European-based players. Some will be Liga MX guys that are done with their season already. A group of players which will be a roster of about 18-20 guys will have the pleasure to go to Puerto Rico on May 22 to play Puerto Rico. This is a nice opportunity for those players to get a game in, but also to stay in a rhythm. That first week is intended to keep the flow, to keep them training and to keep them going so they are not falling into a hole after their season stopped. Once the MLS players join in, we can fully prepare for Copa America.”
ussoccer.com: With the tournament starting in the beginning of June, does it come at a good time for the group since the foreign-based guys are just finishing the season and the MLS guys are in full swing?
JK: “I think for everybody involved in Copa America, it’s a really good time since we come out of the European calendar straight into the tournament, which didn’t happen last year with the Gold Cup. The Gold Cup was moved into July, and our European-based players had to go on vacation first and we had to prepare them again. We never got up to the level they were before when they were still in the season. The timing now – having the tournament right away in June and right after the European season stops – is ideal for all the teams. This will show a different quality: our players that come from Europe and Liga MX are in a better flow, and the MLS players having just started their season get stronger every week, and towards June and July that’s where they will start to peak.”
ussoccer.com: How big is Copa America for the United States?
JK: “The Copa America is the second biggest tournament after the World Cup and really the biggest tournament since the World Cup in 1994 in the United States for us as a host. It’s unbelievable. When you’ve got the big players from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and all these places from South America and Mexico – our biggest rival from our region –coming in to play this tournament, it’s really special. This is a big deal. Once the tournament starts – and it starts with us playing Colombia in Santa Clara on June 3 – it will kick off an amazing month of June with good games and hopefully a successful National Team as a host.”
ussoccer.com: You have always said that the coaching staff looks everywhere for talent. Former NASL player Fafá Picault scored twice this past weekend in the 2. Bundesliga. Could he be on the MNT radar?
JK: “Over the weekend, Fabrice Picault – playing for St. Pauli in the second division in Germany – scored two goals, and people wondered why he’s not on the radar for the National Team. When he left Fort Lauderdale Strikers to St. Pauli, he was already looked at by us. The coach at St. Pauli, Ewald Lienen, mentioned to me a few times that there’s a kid who is extremely hungry and wants to prove a point. He said he has a way to go, but to just follow him. Now over the weekend he scored two goals in a big game in front of 30,000 people and got them really excited. It shows how diverse things are with the U.S. National Team. We have players coming through in completely different channels – if it’s through Europe, Mexico, NASL, the college system and MLS – everyone is so different and every one of these players is unique. So Fafá – the way they call him – Picault is a unique player, a counter-break player and very fast. We pay attention to a lot of players out there that maybe think they are not on the radar screen.”
ussoccer.com: The subject of video replay in soccer is a hot topic, particularly after some of the events in the MLS games this past weekend. Do you think it’s time for this technology to be used?
JK: “Watching the MLS games over the weekend, there were some really exciting games, but the last thing you want to see is a game decided by referee mistakes. Referees are trying their best. They are humans and mistakes happen. We are at a time now where technology is outstanding, and not only goal-line technology that was finally used in the last World Cup that was overdue for 20 years. Now we’re at a time where you can stop and have a look at the slow-motion replay on the sideline real quick – was it inside the box or outside the box? Was it a red card? Was it not a red card? Is it a penalty or not? Just take those 10 seconds and decide then and not leave it up to the human decision. I think video technology is overdue, and with important decisions on the soccer field it has to be part of the game in future time.”