The Younger Yanks Are Coming

Ahead of two matches during next month's FIFA fixture window, U.S. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann spoke with about the next generation of players breaking into the Senior National Team and the importance of connecting the team on the field as well as to the Youth National Teams. Having reviewed the win against the Czech Republic, what are your lasting impressions of the performance?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “There are a lot of positives we can take out of this game. We asked this younger generation - the group that here and there was not a big part of the World Cup in Brazil - to step it up and make statements. I think that young group made a very, very strong statement. We asked players such as Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, Jozy Altidore and others to take the responsibilities into their hands and guide that young team in Prague, and that’s what they did. Winning in Prague against a Czech team that barely missed out on qualifying for the World Cup is a strong statement. So overall, it was a very positive trip. We learned a lot, and this group deserves to come along.” There seemed to be an increased aggressiveness in the midfield. What were your instructions to those guys?
JK: “With every young group that comes through the system, you want them to step it up physically year by year. You want them to take over responsibilities, you want them to grow, to be louder on the field, but also to send out signals physically. It’s a physical sport, and in many cases it’s about one-on-one battles on the field and winning those battles. That’s what Mix, Michael Orozco, Joe Corona, John Brooks, Jozy Altidore, Ale Bedoya did. They stepped up and showed they can compete physically. That’s what we wanted to see, so for that reason they deserve a compliment.” The team also seemed to show a commitment to playing out of the bac, particularly with the distribution by Brad Guzan. Did you ask them to stick with that plan and not be afraid to take risks? Is that something you plan to preach moving forward?
JK: “It’s definitely a huge step for us to play out of the back, to find defenders and open up the game right away and not to play long balls all the time. Pretty much every long ball is a turn over. In the first half with Brad Guzan delivering those balls into Diskerud, into the fullbacks, into the centerbacks, that looked really nice. Obviously for Nick Rimando, he’s used to doing that. He’s almost like a field player and he’s very comfortable playing out of the back. We told them not to worry about making mistakes. Here and there it might happen, but we want this game to be developed from the back into the midfield and then into the forwards and not to be forced always to play long balls. This is something we are going to encourage more and more going forward. We want to keep the ball. We want to build out of the back. We want them to have the confidence to do that and not worry about mistakes. I think it was a big step forward, and we will emphasize that going into the October games as well.” While Jozy didn’t have many scoring chances, he seemed to show improved hold up play. What were your impressions?
JK: “It was huge for us to have Jozy Altidore back in our lineup. This was the biggest bummer for us in the World Cup, to lose Jozy in the first game. I think we could have made a huge step in the World Cup, especially facing a team like Belgium in the Round of 16, if Jozy had been on the field.  I asked him to guide this young group. He’s still a young guy himself - he’s 24 years old but he already has 70 caps. We made him the captain and told him to guide these guys and he enjoyed that. He battled the whole game. He won most of his one-on-one battles, he provided great assists. He connected with Joe Gyau to the right and Julian green to the left, and connected to the midfield. It was a very strong performance by Jozy, even if he didn’t score. This is what we want to see from him. Sooner or later, I told him you are going to score your goals in the Premier League and continue to score goals for the National Team.” Fabian Johnson showed a lot of skill defensively and aggressiveness going into the attack. What are you asking of him moving forward with this team?
JK: “Fabian Johnson is a bit similar to Bedoya and Diskerud in that we ask them to take over responsibilities in the group. I think he understands that now. We told him his move from Hoffenheim to Borussia Moenchengladbach is a huge step. He’s going to be playing against big European competition in the Europa League and he’s in a strong club. He has to get used to playing weekend games on Saturday and Sunday and also midweek. More games mean more physical demands, and he has to learn how to deal with that. He is going through that transition right now, and it’s fascinating to see because technically he is so gifted.  He has speed to go along with his good technique, and this is what big clubs around the world are looking for: speed and keeping your technique at a high tempo. He can do that. He showed that in a very strong World Cup, and that’s why bigger clubs are already looking at him. Now he has to prove it at ‘Gladbach. We want him to step it up on our team and become a leader along with Jozy Altidore and other younger players, and I think he’s making those steps right now.” You and the coaching staff were able to the lay the groundwork with a lot of the new young players. How do you continue to enforce those messages with these players?
JK: “At the start of a new World Cup cycle, you always want to use that chance to introduce new players and give them the messages about what it takes to become a Senior National Team player. We are very, very excited about the next generation of players coming through. Having seen in training now players like Emerson Hyndman, Rubio Rubin, Joe Gyau, and Julian Green, who has been with us for quite some time, seeing that potential in those players as well as many others in line is exciting because we can foresee a path over the next four years. We would like to give them more opportunities to play, more opportunities to become more comfortable with the speed of the Senior National Team and the standards that we ask for in this environment. That creates competition with the more experienced players. This is what happens in between World Cups; one just finished and one is in sight. You want them all to compete and go eye to eye.

“The base for all of that is their performance in their club teams. Emerson Hyndman is a starter at Fulham. Rubio Rubin is a starter at Utrecht. Julian Green moves to Hamburg, and we need him to play there. They play in European clubs and fight their way through at a very early age. With all these youngsters we want to see growth, and how can you grow better than coming into the Senior National Team environment and proving it to us coaches directly.” With their effort and performance in the camp and the game, are the youngsters sending a message?
JK: “The young players that were part of the camp in Prague and won against the Czech Republic sent a very strong message out there to the more established players. They sent a message of competition. They sent them a message to say we are coming through the ranks. They put themselves back in line, but they want to climb the ladder of hierarchy within the team and be part of the success going forward. This is what you want to have as a National Team coach. You want these youngsters coming in not being scared or afraid, taking risks and making some statements. They did that in Prague, and that also means they have a very strong case of getting called back into camp for the games in October.” How do you plan on building the roster for upcoming games in October against Ecuador and Honduras? It’s a double fixture date on the FIFA calendar – do you plan on bringing a full strength squad?
JK: “Looking toward the October games against Ecuador and Honduras, we definitely look at the strongest squad possible. It’s exciting for the fans and for us. We look at bringing the players back that won in the Czech Republic, and also to mix them with the players here in MLS. We can make our comparisons and see where they are at. Obviously then for a coach, the most exciting part is choosing the starting XI for both games. The first game with the farewell to Landon Donovan is very special, so we want to give him the most exciting event possible. The second game against Honduras in Florida is another chance for players to make a statement. It’s fun to look forward to these two games.” The U-18 MNT recently won the Vaclav Jezek Tournament in the Czech Republic and the U-20s tied Argentina.  What do you take from those results and what are the steps moving forward with these age groups?
JK: “For us after the World Cup, it’s now a great time to evaluate where our Youth National Teams stand. It starts with the U-17s that went down to Mexico for a tournament and did fairly well. Our U-18 team went to a six-nation, international tournament in the Czech Republic and came out the winner after beating Ukraine in the final. Tab Ramos and the U-20 team are coming back from Argentina where they had friendly games and had a 2-0-1 record. They tied Argentina, 1-1, which was great result. And obviously we are focused on building the U-23 team towards the next Olympics.

“We want to give our youth players games and camps, hopefully at the same time as the Senior Team, to bring them along and build a strong team towards Rio de Janeiro. All those teams are the foundations for the success of the Senior National Team in the next four to six years, so they are very, very important to us. Therefore, we need to have these players in camps as often as possible. We need to help them understand what it really takes to get to the highest level possible for them. We are on a very good path with those teams because we connected all of their coaches with the Senior National Team in the last three years. Tab Ramos was with us in Brazil. [U-18 coach] Javier Perez was in Brazil. [U-17 coach] Richie Williams comes into our camps. They know now what the standards are on the senior level. We all communicate with each other. We build the Olympic cycle together. Having connected the dots on those areas allows us to step it up on those programs moving forward.” You have said that tournaments like the Champions League and the World Cup set the trends in tactics and style of play. What are the trends you are seeing in terms of how the top teams around the world are playing?
JK: “It’s interesting to see that some teams are going back to old systems like the 3-5-2. You see it with Holland and Mexico, and also on the club level with Van Gaal and Manchester United. A lot of teams are becoming a little more conservative. The trend overall is that everybody attacks and defends as a unit. No matter what system you play, at the end the day you have to have strikers that are able to high pressure. You need to have defenders that step it high up and shift the game into the opponent’s half. You need to have goalkeepers being able to play out of the back and be technically gifted and not just bang the ball long and cause turnover after turnover. Those overall trends have been happening for the last few years. It makes the systems look more and more irrelevant, because at the end of the day it matters how a team plays as a whole unit. No matter what the system, it’s really interesting to see that every coach at the highest level wants to see his team connected. It’s getting more and more difficult for so called “star players” if they don’t have the willingness to work both ways. If your number 10 or your forward doesn’t want to put people under pressure or doesn’t want to work defensively, it will be more difficult for them because you can’t afford just to have eight or nine guys work and have one or two guys not doing all that work. That approach doesn’t work anymore.”