The U.S. recently completed its annual January Camp, which this year took on a different flavor as a combination of senior team players and U-23s who are each preparing for important qualifiers in March. Following consecutive victories against Iceland and Canada, ussoccer.com spoke with MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann about his takeaways from the four weeks in Los Angeles. In the second half of a two-part Q&A with the MNT boss, Klinsmann discusses the importance and effects of selecting a camp roster that blended senior and U-23 age players, how roster factored into the squad selection for both friendlies, and finally the long-term outlook at the goalkeeper position.
ussoccer.com: Going into this camp, you said the primary goals were “identification and development.” Were you able to achieve those?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “I think we achieved the goals. We looked after the Olympic team, preparing them toward the Olympic Qualifiers at the end of March, and also got them closer to the Senior Team. I think having these two groups both together and feeding off each other really worked out well. I think it gave the younger players a real boost of confidence, of understanding of how it really works with the experienced guys. Obviously they struggled a bit in the beginning because the level, the tempo, the intensity is more than they are used to. So they adjusted then, and after a week to 10 days into camp, it really got into a flow and was very smooth. The spirit and atmosphere of the camp was very positive because everybody was looking after each other.”
ussoccer.com: With so many U-23 players in camp, you also said that you hoped to see the senior team players taking on a mentoring role. How did that play out?
JK: “We think that the older players really took care of the younger ones. I think that the younger players, after the first couple of days, really opened up and started to ask questions. The experienced guys, like Michael Bradley, Matt Besler, Jermaine Jones, Jozy [Altidore] … these guys really embraced that role and just helped them everywhere they could. The feedback I received from a lot of the players, it was really very positive.”
ussoccer.com: There was a solid core of the U-23 group in camp that is getting ready for the Olympic Qualifiers in March. How important was it for them to work with [U-23 head coach] Andi Herzog for almost a month?
JK: “This is our big wish that Andi Herzog really benefits now from this camp in terms of his Under-23 players because that opportunity to have those two playoff games with Colombia and then hopefully go into Rio de Janeiro is just so big. We really hope that all the work we put in now these four weeks for these younger players will eventually pay off in the qualifiers with Colombia.”Read more
The U.S. recently completed its annual January Camp, which this year took on a different flavor as a combination of senior team players and U-23s who are each preparing for important qualifiers in March. Following consecutive victories against Iceland and Canada, ussoccer.com spoke with MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann about his takeaways from the four weeks in Los Angeles. In the opening half of a two-part Q&A with the MNT boss, Klinsmann expounded on which players stood out, and how the camp and friendly wins set the table for 2016.
ussoccer.com: After four weeks, no injuries, and two wins to start the year, what were you most satisfied with from the camp?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “I’m definitely most satisfied with the spirit of the group, the willingness to work hard, helping each other on the field in many, many training sessions, and off the field where they are looking after each other. Obviously in January camp, traditionally we look for new faces so we find maybe the next special talent around the block, and I think we got great feedback from the players. None of the players really was at a disadvantage or put himself in a disadvantage. They all did well. We had a couple surprises. I would say Kellyn Acosta certainly. We were impressed by his level of maturity for an Under-23 player. Brandon Vincent as well. Lee Nguyen, as we discussed many times, came in very well prepared. Steve Birnbaum became a difference maker in both games. Obviously we are pleased with the leadership of the older guys - that was awesome. We constantly hope now that this helps - especially the younger players - to kind of step it up more and more, to bring out more and more personality in the game and not just go with the flow with what you’re used to in your club environment. Do more than anybody else. This is our key message. So we were very pleased with every one of them.”
ussoccer.com: You mentioned Steve Birnbaum. What stood out from his performances?
JK: “He was a difference maker against Iceland with his assist to Michael Orozco’s goal, and then obviously scoring the winning goal, and I think he had an outstanding game against Canada. He had to play at right back suddenly because there was no real option at that moment, and the way he kind of intercepted so many balls, cleaned them up and connected them cleanly with midfielders or even strikers was important. We talked the last couple of days about wanting to keep the ball on the ground, get it into the feet of people so it’s not bouncing all over the place, and he was outstanding from that side. He also kept the backline really safe. No matter who hits a ball over the backline, Steve was there to clean it up, and that’s what he really did outstanding. He raised a level of aggressiveness in one-against-one battles; that was one thing we wanted to see more against Canada because we missed that a little bit in some one-on-one situations against Iceland. I said, “Guys, you know we’ve got to be physical. It’s part of the game.” He took that on 100 percent, and I think he won every one-against-one situation throughout the game.”
ussoccer.com: Virtually all of the players on the roster were from MLS clubs. How beneficial will this be for them as they move into the league season?
JK: “I think it’s big. It’s big that they really have a feeling now that they gained a lot of fitness. They gained a strong foundation going into preseason. Obviously it puts them ahead of the curve once they go now into their club environment. They are already kind of used to going full speed. It’s huge.”
The U.S. MNT recently finished its annual January Camp with back-to-back last-minute wins over Iceland and Canada. Look back at the most notable numbers from camp:
2,394 – Number of days since Luis Robles’ last start with the MNT prior to Jan. 31 against Iceland
90 – Steve Birnbaum scored the game-winning goal in the 90th minute against Iceland
89 – Jozy Altidore scored the game-winning goal in the 89th minute against Canada
45 – Career wins for Jurgen Klinsmann following the two victories, putting him second all-time among MNT coaches
33 – Altidore’s career goal count for the U.S., putting him one behind Eric Wynalda for third on the scoring list. Altidore reached that mark in 91 caps, the fastest of any MNT player.
22 – Players on the match-day rosters who suit for clubs in MLS
20 – Michael Bradley’s career assist total for the USA, which ranks third all-time behind Landon Donovan and Cobi Jones
20 – Age of Kellyn Acosta, the youngest player on the roster. He earned his first two caps by starting both victories to open the USA’s 2016 slate
8 – Consecutive games started by Altidore, Jermaine Jones and Gyasi Zardes, the longest current streak among MNT players
6 – Players who earned their first cap (Acosta, David Bingham, Ethan Finlay, Jerome Kiesewetter, Tony Tchani and Brandon Vincent)
5 – The highest number of U-23 MNT players to appear in either of the year opening matches
4 – Goals scored by the USA
2 – Goals scored by Altidore
1 – First career international assist for Ethan Finlay, posted in his second capRead more
The MNT will continue its 2016 slate in March when World Cup Qualifying resumes against Guatemala. The teams meet twice in quick succession, first on March 25 at Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City, Guatemala (beIN Sport, NBC Universo), before returning for the home leg on March 29 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio (7 p.m. ET; ESPN2, UniMas, UDN).