The U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team capped off the 2014 campaign with a two-game split and an even aggregate score against a strong Germany side in Marbella, Spain. Head coach Javier Perez thought the players’ performance was a fitting end to the year, showing that many of them are ready for the next level in the Youth National Team system and beyond.
The U-18s program has brought in 83 players during this cycle, so Perez and the YNT coaches have had an opportunity to survey an extensive talent pool.
“This camp was great to see new players respond against a big nation like Germany,” Perez said. “Five players were with us for the first time in this cycle, including two with their first national team ever. We had about nine players out with commitments who were a big part of the team this year, and the new players were ready for the challenge.”
The USA opened with a 2-1 victory on Dec. 17 and dropped a 3-2 decision in the rematch against Germany on Dec. 19. Though the U-18s fell in the second game, the USA fought back from a 2-0 first-half deficit and had multiple moments in the second half to cash in with a late equalizer.
“The second half, we were focused mentally, and scoring in the first two minutes of the second half really pushed us,” Perez said. “Germany was asking for the final whistle at the end, and we created some chances. Overall, it was positive because it’s always difficult competing against big nations. They were not fazed and showed they can compete at any level. It was a good benchmark for us and a good reference point.”
Perez was impressed with the performances of wide array of players among this particular trip, from the back with the likes of goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann to the front line and Brooks Lennon, who scored the winning goal in the opener against Germany.
“Jonathan Klinsmann was really strong in goal in the first game and made a couple key saves in the first half. He has a good frame and is very talented,” Perez said. “Our outside backs did very well. Pablo Pelaez was consistent, and Kyle Duncan made his international debut and his second camp and we’re intrigued with how he will do. It’s also important to highlight Brooks Lennon because he has matured so much as a player. He had not been with the national team for a while, but he came back and showed the type of player we need up front.”
Perez and U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos had the opportunity to assist MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff during the year, including the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The symmetry among all levels of U.S. Soccer is a constant point of emphasis, and for Perez and the YNT staff, that experience and knowledge involved with the senior team translates well for the lower age levels.
“We’ve tried to give them confidence as a coaching staff and in the program itself,” Perez said. “With our connection with Tab Ramos with the U-20s and Jurgen Klinsmann on the senior team, we provide them the information and opportunity to understand the system of play and the level to be successful. In past years, it might have been a bit more challenging. Our players are really talented and compete at a high level.”
At the start of this new cycle toward the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Klinsmann has already brought in several players who are still competing at the YNT level.
“There’s nothing that makes us happier than seeing the players improve and be rewarded with playing for the U-20s, the Olympic team or senior team,” Perez said. “You’re seeing players like Rubio Rubin and Emerson Hyndman making the senior team earlier this year with Coach Klinsmann, and that makes us extremely proud.”
For the first half of 2015, the U-18 MNT programming will consist of the 1997-born players and the second half of the year, starting in August, will focus on the 1999-born players. Among some of the programming will be the 2015 Copa Chivas in late January and early February in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the Slovakia International Tournament in April.
For Perez, he will open the new year assisting Ramos with the U-20 Men’s National Team at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica as the USA looks to qualify for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
“I’m really excited, not only for the event, but because I know the players very well,” Perez said. “I’m happy that Tab Ramos invited me to join the team. That means a lot, and I only hope to continue to help them as much as possible.”