The U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team wrapped up its camp in Bosnia with a win 1-0 win against the Bosnia and Herzegovina U-19 National team. With just one more camp in this cycle, head coach Javier Perez talked with ussoccer.com about the most recent trip and the team’s continued progress.
ussoccer.com: What the overall objective of the camp and what are your thoughts on the team’s performance?
Javier Perez: “We actually entered this camp with two objectives. One was to provide the opportunity to some of the new players to join the core group and increase the player pool. Part of that was the five new players that made their international debuts for the first time ever with any national team, which is great. The second objective was to really test the teams and see how far they can go. We played the Bosnia and Herzegovina U-19s and that one year difference is a big challenge at this age group. Bosnia and Herzegovina were preparing for the European qualifiers which they start on May 14. They have some of the players in Europe. The captain for instance plays for AC Milan. We thought it was a great opportunity. Those were the two objectives for us. We also had the chance to have a preparation game against the reserves of the best club team right now in Bosnia, club Siroki Brijeg. again it was an older age group that was physical and competitive, because at the end of the day we are more on the technical side and we’re more of a technical team, but we want our players to be able to find alternatives when we are playing a big strong and physical team, which probably is the most challenging competition for us.”
ussoccer.com: What does that fact that five new players made their international debuts in this camp say about the ever-growing U.S. soccer talent pool?
JP: “The objective and one of the conversations of the scouting team and Tony Lepore and U-20 head coach Tab Ramos was about how we can increase the player pool and how we can reach out to more players and develop players through our youth national team system. We have one camp remaining for this ‘97 cycle and we have reached 85 different players. So 85 players have had the opportunity to come in at some point with the national teams to participate, and that gives a good start to Tab Ramos in the next cycle for the U-20s. It gives him a good base of players that can be a part of that next U-20 National Team.”
ussoccer.com: Speaking of Tab Ramos, you will be joining him and his team when they head to New Zealand for the U-20 World Cup. As the last team before the U-20s, what are some of the central messages that you share with your players and how are they aligned with those of Tab Ramos?
JP: “This is a bridge team in terms of preparation for the U-20 National Team. What we want to do is reach out to as many players as possible and let them know that it’s an ongoing process, that it’s not static and that we are not building the team just based on 20 or 30 players but that at any given moment, any player has a chance to break in to the player pool. That can happen even if that player has never been with the national team. Everything depends on the form that that player has at that particular moment and that’s something that we see now with coach Tab Ramos consistently. When he calls players for qualifiers or when he calls players for the World Cup, the players on the list are always those that are sharper and fitter at that particular time.”
ussoccer.com: How are these European camps helpful to the development of these young players?
JP: “There are two places in particular in the world where soccer is played at an especially high level. It’s no secret, one is Europe, and the other is South America. Europe is a great place for us to travel because it is very organized and because there are a number of teams that you can face and get a competitive match. For instance, last week we had the opportunity to play three good competitive games in a short period of time.”
ussoccer.com: Going into the last camp of the cycle, how do you rate the overall performance of the team this year?JP: “I think it has been very successful. Obviously we don’t have the pressure of the U-17s or the U-20s because they go to the World Cup, but I think we have been successful in many ways. One place we’ve found success is in building a great player pool with 85 players that came during this cycle to the camps. In terms of the results, I think they have been fantastic since the team won the Vaclav Jezek Tournament in the Czech Republic last summer, which was really great for the players. Then beating teams like Germany in December in Spain. We had a chance to play against Germany and we beat them there in our first game. There are many positives that have been accomplished during this cycle. Our goal by the end of this cycle was push the teams to the limit. We entered into the tournament that we were in in January in Mexico where we knew we were competing against teams that were one year older than us.”