An accomplished player and coach at the game’s highest levels, former U.S. international and MLS head coach Jason Kreis will now take the reins of the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team. Kreis sat down with ussoccer.com to discuss his excitement about joining U.S. Soccer, his experience coaching throughout the USA and more.
ussoccer.com: What motivated you to take on this role at this point of your coaching career?
Jason Kreis: “It’s a tremendous opportunity. It’s an opportunity to be a part of a new system under the leadership of Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart leading the National Team the way that they are. I’m a big fan of both of them. It’s an opportunity to work with the country’s brightest young stars. We have some fantastic young players. And it’s an opportunity to represent your country. In my opinion, that’s the highest honor of all.”
ussoccer.com: Several Olympic-eligible players saw time with the Men’s National Team last year, and strong prospects continue to come through the ranks of the Youth National Teams system. How exciting is it to work with this player pool that’s packed with so much potential?
JK: “There’s no doubt about it, this group of players was a major factor in my thinking about this position. The group is going to be very talented. I think it should be arguably the best U-23 group that this country’s ever seen. That’s a huge credit to all the work that everyone in the soccer community has done in this country over the last 10-20 years.
“We’re at a different stage in our lives in the game here where you can see that the player pool mostly consists of professional players, and the top of the player pool almost exclusively consists of professional players. No longer are we in the days where we’re going to be relying on a large number of college players to represent us in Olympic qualification.
“It’s a lot of top talent all over the field. It’s not like you can look at this group and say, ‘They’ve got some great attacking pieces but defensively they struggle.’ I think on every line there’s real quality. It’s an amazing opportunity when you think about the fact that all these players have been developed in professional environments and are currently in professional environments. That’s just different than I think it ever has been in the past.”
ussoccer.com: You’re going to hit the ground running with this group, heading immediately to a training camp in San Pedro del Pinatar, Spain. What are your goals for this first camp?
JK: “It’s pretty clear what the goals are. The first is to build a culture and an environment for high-level play. That’s in lockstep with Gregg and with the Men’s National Team. We want to teach a style of play and to identify the player pool a little bit more. Working with the players is always different than viewing them from the outside, so a large chunk of this will just be identifying what we have there. The last piece is competing - not just competing in the games, but also competing in the training sessions. We’re looking for the players to show a certain mentality that we value and that we’re going to keep around with the group moving forward.”
ussoccer.com: You’ll have some more time to settle into the position following this training camp. What will be the next steps in your role as U-23 MNT head coach?
“The very next steps will be all-encompassing. It will be important to spend some time in Chicago with the entire group and really hash over what the player pool looks like. It’ll be working with Gregg to have a complete understanding of the system of play and the methodology that he wants to implement, because we want to be in line with that. And then we’ll look at the broader schedule between now and whenever the Olympic qualifying is determined to be and outline a plan for how we best prepare ourselves to be at the peak of our performance come qualification.
ussoccer.com: What have your initial conversations with Earnie and Gregg been like?
JK: “Those two individuals were a big reason why I wanted to consider this opportunity, as well as Gregg’s coaching staff. I spent a little bit of time around his coaching staff, and I spent quite a bit of time around Gregg. We have a long history that’s crossed paths many times and I think we’re going to have a really good communicative effort between the two groups.
“I see it as a real collaboration. That’s what I like to be a part of - I like to be a part of teams that work together and communicate and figure out the best solutions.”
ussoccer.com: What’s the importance of this team as a bridge to the senior MNT?
JK: “It’s absolutely important that we try to establish a seamless pathway from the YNTs to the senior MNT and the Under-23 piece is critical in that. There are two main objectives overall when you look at my job. First and foremost, the main objective has to be to qualify for the Olympics. But going right hand-in-hand with that, it’s important that I’m a part of the development of some of the very best players so that they can move seamlessly into the full National Team.”
ussoccer.com: How have your experiences in Concacaf competitions as a player and a coach prepared you for the rigors of a Concacaf qualifying tournament?
JK: “It helps any time that you’re involved with a Concacaf tournament. I was involved in it a little bit through my National Team career, albeit short and brief. There were a few games in Central American countries that I was a part of. Then to be a part of that as a coach through the Concacaf Champions League, you just gain a whole lot of experience and understanding of those matches and what the surroundings of those matches look like. You understand those things, and I think it’s important that you convey that well to the team. I’ve had some pretty decent success in the past at the club level with Concacaf and I think it should be the same internationally.”
ussoccer.com: You’ll aim to guide the U-23 MNT to its first Olympics since 2008. Does missing the last two Olympic tournaments provide any extra motivation to qualify this time around?
JK: “I don’t think so. I don’t think we should need any extra motivation. I think the past is the past and we need to look forward and be focused on ourselves. One of the most fantastic things about this type of opportunity is that at the end of the day, you really shouldn’t have to motivate anybody. Everybody that’s a part of this is going to be motivated by the simple fact that they’re representing their country and they have an opportunity to play in an Olympics.”
ussoccer.com: You recently joined the technical department of MLS expansion club Inter Miami CF and you’ll continue in that role while serving as U-23 MNT head coach. How will you balance those responsibilities?
JK: “Diligently. You need to be organized and U.S. Soccer has already laid out a calendar for me, and I’ve put that in front of Miami and they’re on board with it. I think that says a lot about the club that Miami is forming. They are appreciative of these types of opportunities and supportive of me and my endeavors. I’ll have to work a lot, there’s no doubt, but I’ve never been afraid of that.”
ussoccer.com: What will your staff look like moving forward?
JK: “That’s still a question mark that I’m going to leave until after this camp. This camp has already been staffed. Earnie and U.S. Soccer Chief Sport Development Officer Nico Romeijn did a great job of making sure all those spaces were covered and really just needed to insert a head coach.
“I am going to bring an assistant coach on this trip. We’ve asked for the permission to have Miles Joseph come with us from Portland, and Portland has graciously allowed us that request. But as we move forward, we need to really put some thought into how we can staff this team the best way. One of our main objectives is to create an environment of elite performance. In order to do that, we need elite staff members.”