The U.S. recently completed its annual January Camp, which this year took on a different flavor as a combination of senior team players and U-23s who are each preparing for important qualifiers in March. Following consecutive victories against Iceland and Canada, ussoccer.com spoke with MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann about his takeaways from the four weeks in Los Angeles. In the second half of a two-part Q&A with the MNT boss, Klinsmann discusses the importance and effects of selecting a camp roster that blended senior and U-23 age players, how roster factored into the squad selection for both friendlies, and finally the long-term outlook at the goalkeeper position.
ussoccer.com: Going into this camp, you said the primary goals were “identification and development.” Were you able to achieve those?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “I think we achieved the goals. We looked after the Olympic team, preparing them toward the Olympic Qualifiers at the end of March, and also got them closer to the Senior Team. I think having these two groups both together and feeding off each other really worked out well. I think it gave the younger players a real boost of confidence, of understanding of how it really works with the experienced guys. Obviously they struggled a bit in the beginning because the level, the tempo, the intensity is more than they are used to. So they adjusted then, and after a week to 10 days into camp, it really got into a flow and was very smooth. The spirit and atmosphere of the camp was very positive because everybody was looking after each other.”
ussoccer.com: With so many U-23 players in camp, you also said that you hoped to see the senior team players taking on a mentoring role. How did that play out?
JK: “We think that the older players really took care of the younger ones. I think that the younger players, after the first couple of days, really opened up and started to ask questions. The experienced guys, like Michael Bradley, Matt Besler, Jermaine Jones, Jozy [Altidore] … these guys really embraced that role and just helped them everywhere they could. The feedback I received from a lot of the players, it was really very positive.”
ussoccer.com: There was a solid core of the U-23 group in camp that is getting ready for the Olympic Qualifiers in March. How important was it for them to work with [U-23 head coach] Andi Herzog for almost a month?
JK: “This is our big wish that Andi Herzog really benefits now from this camp in terms of his Under-23 players because that opportunity to have those two playoff games with Colombia and then hopefully go into Rio de Janeiro is just so big. We really hope that all the work we put in now these four weeks for these younger players will eventually pay off in the qualifiers with Colombia.”
ussoccer.com: Part of the process of this January camp was to move players along for both World Cup qualifying and Olympic Qualifying in March. Did this impact your approach to lineup selection?
JK: “Obviously when you play games it’s still the senior National Team, so that’s why a few of those younger ones had to take a step back and be patient and wait for their first chance with this group. So you still want your older group to have the priority of things; that’s just normal. Bringing the Under-23’s with us and giving them four weeks of a high-intensity environment and trainings and giving them a real confidence boost is hopefully paying off at the end of March. Obviously we had an eye on Guatemala already, so when we try things out - if it is different midfield variations, different attacking variations, and obviously we were a bit limited in the backline with Brad Evans leaving the camp and also Michael Orozco going back to Tijuana - we move pieces around a bit. We brought Jermaine Jones back as a center back against Canada. We will still play him in midfield usually, but unfortunately with his six-game suspension he won’t be available for the Guatemala game. So I think all the things that we tried out worked out okay, and throughout the camp we always said, ‘Would that apply now to Guatemala at the end of March?’”
ussoccer.com: There are the well-established goalkeepers in Brad Guzan, Tim Howard and Nick Rimando who remain the leaders in the pool, but this camp gave you a chance to look at the next generation. How did they fare?
JK: “We are very pleased with what we saw in this camp from Luis Robles and from David Bingham. Obviously Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson have always been with us. They came out of the last Olympic team cycle and they are always there, and we believed that we know them pretty well, so we gave a little bit more priority to Luis with the first game against Iceland and he did well, and the second game against Canada with David Bingham and I think he really had a good game. He came off the line. He controlled his box. He tried to play the ball out quickly and tried to find midfielders right away in higher positions. It reflected really the whole four weeks in terms of the spirit of the group because he was feeding off that energy that was created from the entire group. He was confident. He was not nervous. I told him, ‘Just play your game and do it the way you’re used to. If there’s something to modify later on we can talk about, but now don’t overthink that situation.’ And that’s what he did. He seemed calm from the beginning and also alert. Having Luis at our disposal and having David now being a part of the picture as well it widens our goalkeeper pool. Obviously we have the two big shots with Brad Guzan and Tim Howard, and then Nick Rimando who’s always been with us. It’s just a good feeling for us coaches now to see there are two or three other goalkeepers that are ready when we need them as well.”
ussoccer.com: What were the parting messages to the players?
JK: “The information we fed them over the last couple days was really ‘You’ve got to push it for yourself. You’ve got to always make a difference. You have to do extra work; you have to do more than your teammates in your club. That’s why you’re a National Team player.’ Hopefully they do that and take that energy into their club environment and get fitter, get sharper, get more fine-tuned in their own personal way, and then we have them at our disposal at the end of March.”