Upon completion of World Cup Qualifying, ussoccer.com hears from U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann as the USA turns its focus toward the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil next summer.
ussoccer.com: Share your thoughts on completing your first Hexagonal and finishing top of the group:
Jurgen Klinsmann: “Looking back at the [Hexagonal] and finishing on top of the group is something we worked hard for. I think we deserve to be no. 1 right now in the CONCACAF region. It’s not an easy road as everyone knows. Looking at Mexico now, I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned in how fast it can go in the other direction.
“Therefore, we are very pleased. We put a lot of energy and enthusiasm in it. We know that we still have to improve a lot because when you go to the World Cup you face many different dimensions of countries, but the team proved that they were eager and hungry to take things seriously and go into these Central American countries, or even Jamaica, with the willingness to go for three points.”
ussoccer.com: What kind of experience did the players take away from the final group match against Panama?
JK: “I think what we experienced in Panama is quite unique. There are comparisons to other games that get decided in the last minute. It’s always dramatic, but the experience in Panama City was just beyond imagination because there’s a whole country feeling the fact that you almost qualified, you’re right there for the first ever time in their history, and then with Graham [Zusi’s] goal basically you silence an entire stadium, an entire nation dreaming about the World Cup. That has been a shock to us as well.
“When you look a little bit deeper into this whole case, when you lose a game like that in the last minute, when you give it away, there are reasons for it. I think that Panama simply got carried away emotionally after they scored their second goal. They emotionally thought, ‘OK, we are there now.’ They almost switched off, they almost thought, ‘OK, these couple minutes, it doesn’t really matter anymore,’ instead of refocusing and saying, ‘OK, we kick the ball in the stands, we’re going to bunker in, we’re going to play on time, and let’s just get it over with.’ They got carried away emotionally, and you can’t afford doing that on that level, therefore it happened and you feel very sorry for them.”
ussoccer.com: What do you see when you look at the results of FIFA World Cup Qualifying around the world?
JK: “If you look around the world and you look at all the teams already now being qualified and the ones in the playoffs for it, there’s really no big surprise. There’s the teams you expected to go to Brazil are pretty much there. In Europe, it’s going to be a tough playoff situation, but you expect Uruguay to go through, you expect Mexico to go through. Therefore, you’re going to face all the big soccer nations around the globe in Brazil, and I think it went according to plan in a certain way for many people. It’s going to be a World Cup packed with quality.”
In the last two years, the MNT has played against quite a few teams that have qualified for the 2014 World Cup. What are the benefits of playing such a
difficult friendly schedule
JK: “I think it’s a big plus that we played a lot of those nations in friendlies over the last two years that we might face in Brazil because they give you a different benchmark. That’s why I always said if we can get good teams to play against, let’s get them and let’s get the experience. Hopefully we’re going to beat them once in a while, but if we lose those matches like what happened with Belgium or in France then so be it. You get a learning lesson with that. I think we learned a lot from those games. Especially we learned the fact that we can play with them, which should give us a bit more confidence.”
ussoccer.com: What are your thoughts on the upcoming World Cup Draw in Brazil on Dec. 6:
JK: “Looking at Pot no. 1 and the seeding of the World Cup, it kind of makes you think a little bit, if this is the right way to do it. You have to find a way hopefully to make everybody happy. It’s not going to happen, nobody will be happy with everything. But, when you have a Pot no. 1, you expect countries in there that really proved it in World Cups, in the history of the World Cup. Now you see teams that haven’t really done that much in previous World Cups and you wonder ‘Why is it that way now?’
“The consequence is that you will have a couple of groups getting drawn on Dec. 6 in Brazil that are Groups of Death that will be killer groups; there’s not even one easy team or whatever. Then you will find maybe two or three groups that are much easier, at least on paper easier. It’s unbalanced now with that seeding procedure and it will cause a lot of question marks, a lot of discussion and debate once the groups are finalized. It is what it is, but I’m not very happy with it.”
ussoccer.com: The MNT will finish 2013 with friendlies against Scotland and Austria. What are you looking forward to most about those matches?
JK: “Playing Scotland and playing Austria, you’re playing two countries that just missed it to go to the World Cup. They’re really good. Scotland beat Croatia and sent them into second spot [in Group A], into the playoffs, and Austria just by very little finished off third in a group with Germany and Sweden there. They will give us real games. It will help us to see our players and where we’re at against very good teams.
“The fact that MLS scheduled their playoffs according to our schedule is a tremendous plus. It’s very respectful and gives us a chance to take some MLS players with us to Europe. How many we’ll take, we’ll see. We’ll see how things are going for every individual player. But, I think it’s a really good sign from MLS looking at our schedule, respecting the FIFA fixture dates there and giving us the option to take MLS players to Europe.”