As long-time NWSL manager Laura Harvey takes over as head coach of the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team, ussoccer.com took some time to speak with her about the transition from the NWSL, her international experience, and her expectations for the players and the program. Harvey is the ninth coach, and fourth woman, to be head coach of the U-20 WNT since FIFA instituted a World Cup for this age group in 2002 (the first two tournaments were played as U-19 events).
ussoccer.com: After seven years in the NWSL, what were your main motivations to take this job at this point in your coaching career?
Laura Harvey: “I’ve been coaching club football as a head coach for over 12 years now and I have wanted to get back involved in international football. The opportunity to work with young players towards qualifying for a World Cup and in a World Cup cycle is something that really drew me to this role.”
ussoccer.com: As a Youth National Team head coach, your job is always a balance between helping players reach their full potential and moving on to the next levels and getting results. What is your philosophy on those dual tasks?
LH: “I believe in the method of teaching players the principles of the game and helping them to see the game through a technical and tactical lens. Within this approach, helping the player understand what their current strengths and areas for improvement are gives them some clear guidelines on their individual areas of development. We of course do this while trying to implement a team-based strategy to get positive results.”
ussoccer.com: You have only one camp before you must choose your roster for World Cup qualifying. What are you goals at this camp in January?
LH: “My goals are to work with the current roster and help give them some clear, strategic goals leading into what is going to be a very difficult qualification competition with multiple games in such a short time period. We’ll get a look at the player pool in more detail and allow the players to show their abilities so we can get a better idea of who can make an immediate positive impact.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve obviously been following the college game very closely due to scouting for the NWSL Drafts. What are the strengths of your current player pool for the U-20s and how does your relationship with college coaches benefit you in this new position?
LH: “I have been lucky to be able to watch and get to know a lot of players and coaches while scouting over the years for the NWSL draft. I think the strengths of this current player pool are that many of them have been high performers in their club and college environments this past fall and are coming into camp confident and in a good mindset. Some of the players have already been exposed to world championship competitions through either U-17 or U-20 World Cups and we will need to pull on their experiences to help us manage our way through qualification.”
ussoccer.com: As we’ve seen from the most recent U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups, the level of the women’s international game at the youth level continues to improve as more players abroad are playing in elite or professional environments with women. What do you expect from your players to continue to compete among the most elite teams in the world?
LH: “I believe that the U.S. mentality to push each other on and off the field is a huge asset that we have to utilize, along with being tactically and technically efficient in all aspects of the game. The women’s game globally has improved dramatically over recent years in the tactical set-up of teams across the world and we must continue to make sure that we help develop the players in their understanding of the game and how to be successful.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve had quite a bit of international experience at the youth levels in England. What kind of an experience was it coaching in the Euros and the U-17 World Cup?
LH: “I have said many times publicly that my experience I gained in those tournaments really helped me develop as a coach. I enjoyed watching and helping players develop into both top international players and high-performing professionals. I believe these experiences for players at the youth level can really help push their individual development and help them reach the higher levels of the professional and international game.”
ussoccer.com: This age group represents a crucial time in the development of these players for the international level. What are your thoughts on creating an environment where they can continue to develop to their top potential?
LH: “I believe that allowing the players to show their true potential within every training and game environment is crucial. We want to always provide them with professional, challenging training sessions and detailed meetings to help expand their knowledge and understanding of the game so they can reach their top potential.”