ussoccer.com: Congratulations on accomplishing the first goal of qualifying for the World Cup. As you look back on the game against Mexico in Columbus,
what did you take away from the performance?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “What we take away from the game against Mexico is certainly a huge positive in terms of how the players stepped it up, especially in the second half. In the first half Mexico started well and caused us some problems for the first 15-20 minutes. We slowly got into the game, and the way we played the second half with the determination and character that we showed was very positive to see. It was great to see the players coming in because of yellow cards, injuries and whatever the situation and really play the game at the top level.”
ussoccer.com: It was another amazing display from the U.S. fans, and it’s something that the team has experienced throughout the last two years. What’s
been your impression of the fan support?
JK: “It’s fantastic to see what has happened over the last two years playing in all the different venues in qualifying, as well as friendlies. It looks like our fans are just multiplying from game to game. We are getting bigger and bigger support, and it’s real soccer support in terms of passion and singing songs and helping the team in very difficult moments. The people are very sensitive when the team is a bit of trouble and needs a bit of extra help to push us forward. This is an amazing experience, and it’s really fun to see.”
ussoccer.com: With a place in the World Cup already secured, what will your approach be for the final two World Cup Qualifiers?
JK: “Definitely for our last two qualifiers against Jamaica and Panama, our approach is six points. We want to win these two games badly, and we are going to bring in the best players. We are going to bring in everyone that is available and finish this qualifying campaign on the highest note possible. It’s been a tremendous year so far in 2013, so we want to finish it off in the right away. Also, we owe that to the fans. Kansas City is sold out. Our fans are coming from so many different places in the United States – in Columbus, fans came from 48 states - so we owe them a real good game. Therefore, everybody that is fit and healthy and belongs in that group will be there.”
ussoccer.com: This final round in CONCACAF has been one of the closest competitions in history, and three teams are still in the hunt for spots. Now
going through it for the first time, what has been your assessment about the competition?
JK: “If you talk about the Hexagonal and this round of qualifying, for me it was the first time I went through a phase like that, it is a different animal like a lot of people told me. It is difficult to go into Central America or the Caribbean and get your points. It’s very emotional in those places. It’s very passionate. If you’re not on top of it and maybe waste a game or two in the beginning, then you’re in trouble. Mexico is the biggest example for that. They haven’t done that much wrong - they just didn’t get enough points to have a calmer environment. They failed to get points in the beginning, especially at home, and suddenly the whole environment got really nervous. The media got on top of them. Everything turned into a very negative environment, and they have to pay the price right now for it. That’s why you just can’t take it for granted that it’s expected to qualify for a World Cup. Yes, it’s expected, but it’s still a very, very difficult task. Therefore, when you finally make it like we did in Columbus, you really have to give our guys a huge credit for it.”
ussoccer.com: During the past two years, a tremendous amount of depth has been developed. Coincidentally, there aren’t a lot of matches for the
National Team between now and the World Cup. How do you continue to foster an environment of competition?
JK: “Competition is an ongoing, never-ending topic in our environment. We want to challenge everyone. The starting guys need to feel there is a guy behind that wants to take his spot away, and even that guy is challenged by another guy. We want to go deeper and deeper into our pool to find more players and more competition. This race will go on until May 2014 and a moth prior to the World Cup, and then we have to narrow it down and at the end of the day name the 23-player roster going to Brazil. This is a process that will go on during our games, and also while they are at their clubs. We observe week in and week out all the players, no matter if they are in Mexico, Europe and MLS. We get the feedback from their coaches. This competition is really just starting now.”
ussoccer.com: What are next steps for the team and the organization as the focus starts to shift toward Brazil?
JK: “The next step for us after qualifying, which was not an easy road, is obviously making it clear to the players that the World Cup is another two levels up. It’s a moment that only comes around every four years, and they have to prepare for it and work for it, and not only when they come into camp in May. It’s already starting now that you have to put into your mindset that you always have to do extra work, more work than your teammates at your club because you represent the National Team going to Brazil. We have to make it clear that everything is important going forward from now on, if it’s how they live their lives off the field in terms of sleep, food, regeneration and all those things, and how important it is to keep a rhythm in games and show in their performances that they deserve to be a National Team player, which means they have to be better than the rest of their team. We constantly look at that and evaluate them. It’s good that we know we are qualified from an organizational standpoint, because we can start to look deeper into the infrastructure in Brazil, hotels, training fields, how we want to do the preparation, where we want to prepare in the United States, and what friendly games we want to set up prior to the World Cup. We will have a better picture once the draw is done in December. This helps us to plan in a deeper way, but the players aren’t getting any rest – they are observed week in and week out.”