ussoccer.com: One of the challenges putting together this roster was the fitness of the players who have finished their seasons. Are you pleased with what you have seen?
JK: “We are pleased with the shape that the players were in coming in, especially the ones that were on a break. They had their training plans and they followed them, but still you’re not in a team environment and you’re not in a game rhythm, so it’s really our job to get them up to game speed and get them sharp as quickly as possible, and with sharpness and physical shape comes confidence. Overall it’s going well. We are now two days away from the game in Guatemala, which is an important benchmark for us because we can clearly see where our players stand right now. We hope for a good atmosphere and a good game for our guys. It’s this kind of spirit we hope to carry into the Gold Cup from the beginning on.”
ussoccer.com: With an eye towards the opening game of the Gold Cup against Honduras, how will you approach the lineup choices for the Guatemala game?
JK: “I think the game against Guatemala will give us a really big hint toward the starting eleven a couple of days later in Dallas against Honduras. In the friendly with Guatemala we have the chance to use six subs. We will use all six subs most likely to give the players minutes and give them a chance to show us what they have. As we get closer to the opening game we’re going to zoom in and plan through hopefully a long tournament.”
ussoccer.com: You said when you announced the roster that once you got into camp that you were going to have a coffee with Clint Dempsey. How did that discussion go?
JK: “I had a very, very good conversation with Clint about what happened during the Open Cup, but also about how we want to approach things. For the time being we thought it’s the best thing to give the captaincy to Michael Bradley and let Clint focus on what he’s all about. Clint is about scoring goals. We need Clint Dempsey badly with the National Team. We need him in a good spirit. What happened was a mistake, but it was the first red card in his career and a lot of people went at him. I think the best thing for everyone right now is to let him concentrate really on playing and doing what he does best. It’s his performance on the field. It’s his delivery for the U.S. National Team, and he has always delivered. He’s at 40 goals for his country and I told him I want him to score many, many more. Hopefully in this summer’s Gold Cup he becomes the top scorer in the tournament. We need Clint in a free spirit and that’s why we decided to kind of take that captaincy and move it over to Michael for the Gold Cup and then we’ll see.
ussoccer.com: Jordan Morris suffered the first setback of his career with the stress fracture in his leg. What was your message to him as he begins his recovery process?
JK: “Well obviously Jordan Morris was a guy on our radar for the final knockout stage. He would have come in already training with the team for the first portion, but with the injury that he got we felt that it was safer to deal with it right now immediately, so he’s going to be out for four to six weeks. It’s a bummer for him, because he’s done extremely well over the last year. He’s one of our most promising talents coming through the ranks, but those setbacks happen and maybe we see him towards the end of the tournament joining the group just for the fun of it. It’s just sad for him because he was in very good shape.”
ussoccer.com: You came into this tournament saying the priority is “win now.” What was your message to the team as camp started?
JK: “Well the message to the team is very straight forward. We are under the expectations of winning this tournament. Even if we know that teams like Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico all are very good teams and can also beat us, you’ve got to be on top of things. You’ve got to be very disciplined, you’ve got to be focused and in a CONCACAF tournament you’ve got to be patient. We give them all of those bullet points and keywords that they hopefully always remember throughout the entire tournament. When things don’t always work out the way you want them to work out, we rely a lot on our fans. We need our American Outlaws. We need our fans everywhere we go, especially when things get a little bit tricky or a little bit edgy on the field. We really need them to push us, because we expect most of the teams to play against us in a very defensive style. It’s not going to be an open game like in a World Cup where you have the best teams in the world and they just go at you. In most of our games in the Gold Cup, it’s going to be the opposite. They’re going to defend first of all and then hope for a counter break or for a set piece to score against us. We told the players right from the beginning that it’s expected that we go through it with a lot of discipline and with a lot of aggressiveness and a lot determination, and that they represent the most amazing country in the world and that they always keep in mind who they represent and what they stand for. It’s with that spirit we want to go into this Gold Cup.”
ussoccer.com: What’s been your impression of the Women’s National Team and message would you send along to them heading into the Gold Cup?
JK: “Our entire team is thrilled. We all watched the game against Germany and we all were cheering for them and kept our fingers crossed. They’re in the World Cup final, and this is amazing. They’ve done tremendous job. They went through a very tricky group stage and a very difficult one. They won knockout games, which are very difficult to play, and they made it to the finals. This is huge for Jill Ellis and her team. It’s a tremendous accomplishment already, but now it’s about getting the icing on the cake. We’re going to watch it all. We’re going to be as loud as we can, even though they won’t hear us, but already a huge accomplishment for them and we’ll keep our fingers crossed for the final.”