French Q&A: U-20 Women's NTC Provides Quality World Cup Warm Up

Ahead of the 2016 U-20 Women’s NTC Invitational at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Los Angeles that features the USA, Korea Republic, England and Brazil, U.S. U-20 WNT head coach Michelle French discusses the upcoming matches and the importance of final preparations prior to the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea November. How important are these NTC tournaments for your team in terms of development and evolution throughout cycles?
MICHELLE FRENCH: “They are extremely important. The fact that we get to host three fantastic countries in the lead up to the World Cup gives these players international experience without actually having to travel abroad. To add on to that, they’re playing in front of their family and friends and an American crowd. They don’t get that very often. The opportunity to get to play in these games, learn different styles of play, see different styles of play, it’s massive for them.” How do you feel that these particular matches will replicate the kind of challenges that you’ll face against the likes of France, New Zealand, and Ghana?
MF: “The biggest thing is that we’re having to adjust and adapt and see these different styles of play. Because we’re having the opportunity to do that, it’s not going to be foreign to us when we play these other teams. You’ve got a European team, an Asian team, and an athletic team in Brazil, so it matches up with our group and worked out well for us.” Can you take us through the final stages of preparation heading into a World Cup?
MF: “We’re actually extremely fortunate that with our last two camps before we head out to Australia for our pre-tournament training camp that we’re going to have five international matches. We’ve got the NTC tournament and then two against Venezuela in October in Florida, so as best we can with the bodies we have available, we’re going to try to fine-tune a lot of things that we’ve been working on during this entire cycle.” What have been the main points of focus over the last few training camps?
MF: “There’s been a ton of focus on our attacking shape, positioning players in spots where we feel we have the greatest opportunity to be successful moving the ball and keeping possession. Also, we’re really compacting our lines defensively and really focusing on the communication piece with this group. If we can do those things we can be successful.” What are your main goals and objectives for the NTC Invitational tournament, other than winning? What are the biggest things you want to get out of these matches?
MF: “We want to get out of here without any more injuries. That’s the biggest thing for us right now. We’ve had a lot of meetings and conversations about how we’re going to manage the healthy players that we have. We’ve had to bring in five new players that have never played with our group before, so our biggest focus is making sure that we are getting our healthy players the experience and the minutes they need to start to build their game minutes as best we can. At the same time, with only one day between each of these games, we have to be extremely thoughtful of how we’re taking care of the players we have.” The majority of the squad was at the NTC tournament last year. What have the newer players who’ve come in done to force their way into the squad, especially at such an important time?
MF: “They now have another full college season under their belt prior to the last NTC Invitational, and they’ve also got another six months of trainings where they’ve been in our environment. Physically, their bodies have matured. Mentally, they are more locked in than they were a year ago. Their overall understanding of the game, not only from our environment but from their college environment as well, has helped them and prepared them to come into this environment and do well.” Mallory Pugh, Rose Chandler, and Kaleigh Riehl were a part of the 2014 U-20 World Cup squad. What does it mean to have players who have already been through this and how do you see them already helping out the players who haven’t gone through this cycle yet?
MF: “The one thing that those three players can share is what it’s like to be there and what you can expect. I know that they all had nerves last year and with the exception of Mal (Pugh), the other two didn’t play. They’ve played that role of being at a World Cup and understanding that it’s not their job to be the one that’s going to go score goals, but they’ve got to do things off the field that’s going to help each of their teammates get better. I think they’ve done an extremely good job sharing their stories and helping these players become prepared.”