ussoccer.com: What was the approach to putting this roster together?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “When putting this roster together, a lot of different pieces kind of came together and came into place. One, we definitely want to have a competitive group together that plays two friendly games against Chile and then in L.A. against Panama. We want to do well in those. The other big thought was, ‘How can we continue building the Olympic team cycle early enough to build that group towards the Olympic team qualifiers by the end of the year?’ That’s kind of how we put the process together. We communicated a lot with the players and obviously their coaches as well. We have a great group of guys coming in and a lot of work that we’re going to attack and a lot of fun we’ll hopefully have. I think it’s a great group of guys.”
ussoccer.com: There are seven players on the roster from the 2014 FIFA World Cup. How valuable will their role be as mentors to this young group, particularly the U-23s?
JK: “Because we want to build now the Olympic team cycle, we’ve brought in a lot of younger guys purposefully. But these younger players they still need the leadership of the experienced ones. And that’s why these guys that went to the World Cup in Brazil that are part of this camp that I think about - Clint Dempsey, Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Chris Wondolowski, Jermaine Jones- these guys, they really have to look after them. They have to educate them, mentor them and show them what it takes to become a World Cup player one day. So this is the exciting part that we want to continue, the part of education in the camp and the part of leadership from the experienced guys, and hopefully breaking in a lot of young players so that they start to understand that it takes a lot to become a real player one day.”
ussoccer.com: There are 12-Olympic age players on the roster. In what ways will this camp be beneficial for them?
JK: “I think for a younger player to come into the Senior Team environment, every day is huge. Every day you will learn a lot on the field, but also in conversations with the coaching stuff and your teammates off the field. It a huge learning curve and having them in camp for about three and a half week gives them a lot of opportunities to learn. We want them to be sponges, we want them to ask questions, we want them to step it up, and we want them to develop personalities and kind of step out of their comfort zone and deal with problems on the field during training sessions. We also want to here and there maybe ask uncomfortable questions off the field. I think it’s going to be a nice learning curve for them; for some a little bit harder, for some a little bit easier depending on their personality, but a huge opportunity for all of them."
ussoccer.com: For many of these players it will be their first exposure to the Senior National Team. From your previous experience, is this camp useful for introducing them to the mission and expectations of the program?
JK: “I think the January camp is a great opportunity to show, especially younger players and players that haven’t been part of the senior team for a while, what it really takes to become a real pro, what it takes to understand their own personal next level, so there is a lot of intense training waiting for them. There’s a lot of physical work which means they’re also going to struggle mentally. They’re going to get tired, have to deal with it and make the right decisions when getting tired. They have to understand the higher tempo of the game and prove themselves. The learning curve they are going though in these types of camps is enormous, maybe sometimes overwhelming. But it’s not about proving to everyone that you’re a senior team player. It’s an introduction to understand that it takes a lot of consistency and hard work in order to become a really good player. So you’re going to see a lot of answers by the time July comes along, meaning the Gold Cup. You’re going to see how many guys out of the January camp make it into the Gold Cup roster. The Gold Cup roster will be our top team, so it will be the benchmark. We will see how this transition goes, how many can prove a point.”
ussoccer.com: The U.S. is playing in Chile for the first time in 15 years. It’s a very solid team, and an opponent like we will see in Copa America in 2016. How are these types of games beneficial?
JK: “Every game is a great test. Every game gives us a benchmark for that specific group that is in camp. Playing a team like Chile, which we owed a game after they came to the U.S. in 2011, is a huge opportunity. You go into a difficult environment. It’s a long trip. It’s a little bit of stress and you play a team, even if they’re without their top players who play in Europe, you play a team that is very aggressive, very hungry, and very emotional. You have a coaching staff of Argentinian background that is very, very ambitious. So we can prove to them that we’re able to compete with them. We have to expect a very challenging game, a very difficult one, and a team that will go with us 200 miles per hour. They definitely have a huge advantage because their season is going in full swing right now. They play week in, week out because it’s summer time in Chile, which makes it not easy for us but that’s what we want. We don’t want easy situations. It’s going to be definitely exciting.”
ussoccer.com: We have a great history against Panama, including the memorable game at the end of qualifying in 2013. What do you expect from this match, and how are excited are you to be back in front of the U.S. fans?
JK: “Playing Panama on Feb. 8 at the StubHub center is a wonderful opportunity for us. It’s a team that is in the top four in CONCACAF, a team that will always challenge you, with very good individual players as we know and it’s important for us to get our minds oriented towards the Gold Cup. We need to play a CONCACAF team to get our feet back on the ground after the World Cup in Brazil and measure ourselves with CONCACAF nations. Panama is a good opponent for that. It won’t be an easy task but that’s what the January camp is about; going through a lot of hard work, a lot of preparation and hopefully getting positive results as well.
“With Panama we obviously have the opponent that we kind of kicked out of the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. It was very, very emotional when we had that game in Panama City and kind of got the door reopened to Mexico who made it at the end of the day to Brazil. But it was also for us a shocking moment because they were up 2-1 until pretty much the last minute and then we scored two goals in two minutes and turned the game around because I think they were already overwhelmed that they were basically qualified the first time ever for a World Cup. That shows you how soccer can change within a second, in a heartbeat, and how emotional it can be in both directions positively and negatively. They unfortunately experienced it the negative way. I’m sure that gives them an extra kick into our game that they want to prove something to the U.S. team that didn’t allow them to go to Brazil. But first and foremost, we have a team that is always respectful, a team that always challenges us in the right way, great coaches and great people so we’re looking forward to hosting them in Los Angeles.”
ussoccer.com: There are some notable veteran players not in the camp. How do you approach the individual situations?
JK: “When you put together the roster for January Camp, you eventually talk to the players, you talk to their club coaches and everyone is in a bit of a different situation. The season here has a different schedule than overseas or in Mexico, and here and there you run into issues with players that you think it’s better if they maybe keep on curing some injuries, like in the case of Omar Gonzalez or Graham Zusi. They are not fully fit yet, so we decided to say ‘take it easy going into pre-season of your club team’. Kyle Beckerman wants to focus on his club situation because there are a lot of changes in Real Salt Lake. So you discuss every case individually and hopefully you come up with the right answers to it, but sometimes you’re missing a couple of players that are usually part of your team.”