The U-18 Men’s National Team and head coach Javier Perez are in Sweden for the Open Nordic Cup. Perez talked with ussoccer.com to discuss the team and the new players which open a new cycle with this tournament.
ussoccer.com: What’s it like to be back at it with a new group of players for a brand new U-18 MNT cycle?
Javier Perez: “Every time we start a new cycle it’s very exciting. Especially for us coaches. We just finished two years of work with the ’97 group and we feel that’s a very strong pool for coach Tab Ramos and the new U-20 Men’s National Team. We have 87 players in that pool, from all over the world, from Europe and from MLS, and many of them, which is different than previous cycles, are already professionals and many have already logged minutes with their first teams, which is great. I think that pool is really strong. As we start with this new group, the ‘99’s, this is a very good group because we can start all over again and we have two years ahead of us.
“We’ll start in a different way than we have in the previous cycles. [In the past], we started with a domestic camp where we invite 36 players and we take a look at them. In this case, I’ve had the chance to attend different events and I’ve already been looking at these players for six months now. In April, I was with the U-16 National Team, which is a part of this group, for a tournament that they played in Holland. After that, I was at the DA Cup in Dallas, and after that I was at the Showcase and finally I was at the Academy Finals; so, I’ve had a good six months to make a proper evaluation and prepare this team for the first camp, which is going to be a little different because we are going to a tournament. We want to throw players into the cold water right away and see how they respond to the competition.”
ussoccer.com: This is a young group, but an experienced one that has played in the Academy and at the U-15, and U-16 levels. What will they bring to the table?
“We are in a country where we have a lot of resources and we are a country in progress in soccer. We are hungry. We’re hungry to know more about the game, we’re hungry to be one of the leading nations in soccer and all the changes that have been made in the last three or four years have been changes that have gone in the direction of creating a leading program.
JP: “One of the things, for instance, in the Academy was a goal of making the Academy bigger to add more players and reach more age groups. That was accomplished with the Academy extending its age group to U-14’s, which is really good for us because it gives us an opportunity to see players at a younger age and make a proper identification. Then we bring them into the program with the U-14 National Team and the U-15 National Team with John Hackworth and then on to the U-16 and U-18 groups.
“Right now we are making an earlier identification of the players and we provide them with more experience at an earlier age, which is beneficial for them to build the knowledge and the background that they need to compete against the top players in the world.”
ussocccer.com: What do you hope to accomplish at the upcoming Open Nordic Cup in Sweden?
JP: “This is the first camp for us, so I think the most important aspect for us as a coaching staff is to get to know the group and to provide experience to the players and then go there like we always go with the mentality to just compete, with a mentality to play with our style of play and with a mentality of course to win games. Every game we go on the field we go with the mentality that we are going to win. We want to do things right.
“I want to give opportunity not only to players that have lots of experience but also to some new ones that did well in the Academy and in the Showcase in Indianapolis. Right now they have the opportunity to show that they belong at the next level.”