Can you tell us a little bit about the roster itself? How did you choose which players to call in?
U.S. U-18 MNT Head Coach Javier Perez: “The way we organize the National Team is, we have domestic camps and then we have the competitions. For the domestic camps we have a much bigger roster so we can invite, for instance, 30-plus players. We can see what the level of the players is. So when we go to an international tournament like this case in Portugal, where we are going to be competing against European national teams, we know what the level is of the players that we are bringing. For this trip we have 20 players and we have, pretty much, a couple of players for each position and some of them can play in different positions. That’s the way we organized the roster.”
How is training during this trip different from the last camp in March?
JP: “This is completely different. While in camp in March, it was a domestic camp. It’s a camp in the training and the main objective was to develop the style of play. On this trip, the main objective will be the competition. While one is focused on the training, this one is focused on the competition and obviously the competition is the main factor. Not so much to develop, but in this case to apply the style of play that we have been trying to work with the players during the past domestic camp.”
Can you tell us a little bit about the tournament itself, where you will face Poland, Slovakia and Portugal?
JP: “This tournament is quite interesting because we are going there with a U-18 National Team but the way national teams are organized in Europe is a little bit different. In Europe they have Euro U-19, so the teams there are U-19s. So we are going to be, I think, the only U-18 team and playing with a group that’s one year younger. It’s going to be a very challenging tournament for us, not only for the age group but also because every team in Europe is extremely competitive. I am very confident in our players because some of them are playing already at the professional level in MLS or in Europe. Some others are at the Academy level and some of them have previous experience in the U-17 World Cup. That’s a very good experience for them. Obviously, when they go to other international competitions like this tournament, this experience in the past U-17 World Cup is very valuable for them.”
What do you hope to accomplish with this group of players, as far as their development, by taking them to play against older players?
JP: “This is something they are going to face in the future. As I said, some of them are already in a professional environment so they are already training with older players so it’s not going to be something new for most them. The objective for our team, for the U-18 team, is to prepare these players and provide the chance to be ready for the potential call of the U-20s. We have to remember that this U-18 team is a transition between the U-17s and the U-20 team. The U-17 team and the U-20 team go to the World Cup. The U-18 team doesn’t go to the World Cup and the objective for our team is to be a platform to develop these players for the U-20 National Team.”
How do you keep players motivated as they transition from one National Team to another?
JP: “Being called to the National Team is always the biggest thing for a professional or, in this case, young soccer players. Defending the crest of your nation, playing for the National Team, that is the biggest achievement for a soccer player. That must be self-motivating for the players. Every time they come to the camp, they feel extremely happy so I’m sure when they are called by the National Team, they feel the price of the tremendous effort they have to make to be at the level they are right now.
“The second thing is, I want to be in constant communication with my players and keep them motivated as well, so for me it’s important to provide them with feedback. We have a tremendous scouting team in the Federation, in U.S. Soccer, so we are following every one of the players very closely and we try to be in communication with them as much as possible, so that’s the way we try to motivate them, not only to come to the National Team but also to keep improving and being engaged with the National Team continuously.”
How do you integrate new players into the style of play when they come in to the U-18 MNT?
JP: “This question is interesting because I’m also new in the position and the way we like to organize the group is having a core group of players so when we are in a domestic camp, we try to call as many players as possible that we think can contribute at some stage to the National Team. We have a pool of 30 or 40 players that we can afterwards count on 18 or 20 players for our National Team, so we have a broad group. When we are in a domestic camp, we try to provide them as much information as possible in relation to the style of play, in relation to the specific roles by position and the specific way we play, the passing priorities, the tactical concepts, so when they come to a tournament like this one, these are concepts that they have already built up in the past domestic camps. For this trip, for this tournament, we are going to just keep progressing, working on what we did in the domestic camp and for that domestic camp all the players, except for one, had already been there. The way we tried to bring the new players in to the group, is we try to provide all the information when the group is at home so that when they are in a tournament, they already have that information.”