The Under-18 Men’s National Team recently concluded its final training camp of the calendar year on Nov. 24 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The U.S. played two international friendly matches against Canada’s U-18 MNT and earned a 3-1 win in the first match and a come-from-behind 2-2 draw in the final game. U-18 MNT head coach Javier Perez used the camp as an opportunity to check out a couple new players, including midfielder Amando Moreno, who scored in each game, as well as San Diego Surf midfielder Brian Iloski, who was one of 16 finalists in Nike’s “The Chance” competition. ussoccer.com had the chance to sit down with Perez at the 2012 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Winter Showcase this week to talk about the U-18 MNT camp and get his impressions from watching the U-15/16 and U-17/18 Academy Select matches.
ussoccer.com: You just finished up the final camp of the year with the U-18 MNT. What did you think of the team’s progress during the camp?
Javier Perez: “The early impressions are very positive. I think we’ve had a very good year where we’ve gotten to know the players. This was our fourth camp of this year. The first camp was a domestic camp, and then we had an international trip to Portugal and another one to the Netherlands. Now, we just had our last domestic camp at The Home Depot Center in L.A. We wanted to invite new players into this camp and see what kind of players can join that core group that we’ve been building for the past year. We were delighted to see that we have good players to join this camp like Amando Moreno and Brian Iloski – those are the type of players that we want to integrate into this group. The impressions were very positive and I’m looking forward to 2013.”
ussoccer.com: The team played two matches against Canada, earning a 3-1 win and a 2-2 draw. What were you able to take away from these games?
JP: “I think when you play two games against a team, the real game is the first one. You make a statement with the first game. We dominated and we won, and then the second game started in a strange way. We scored after a minute-and-a-half and we were playing well with our very defined style of play that we’ve been building in the past camps. The players kind of dropped their concentration a little bit in the second game, and we also wanted to see new players. It was a good scenario to test new players in our system of play. We came from behind and scored off a set piece in the last 10 minutes, which is one part that we’ve been working on very consistently with the team. There were a couple goals in the last 10 minutes, but it’s not really like we were chasing the game.”
ussoccer.com: You mentioned Amando Moreno of the New York Red Bulls U-17/18 Academy team as one of the standout players. Where do you see him fitting into the team?
JP: “I’m very confident about Amando. We have very good players in the No. 7 and No. 11 positions and Amando can be one of these players. We already have Julian Green who plays with Bayern Munich in Germany and we have Paul Arriola (LA Galaxy Academy) and Zach Pfeffer (Philadelphia Union). All of them are doing very well. It’s difficult to bring in another player, but thankfully we have a lot of talent there. Amando is definitely another player who is going to join the team in the future.”
ussoccer.com: Now with one year in the books, what will be the most difficult part of 2013 for the U-18 MNT?
JP: “I think we’ve done the most difficult part, which is finding a core group and building a very defined style of play. We feel very confident and comfortable now with that style of play and I think it has been proven in the last year that we can challenge any nation and we can play any team. The challenge now is to take this core group of players and bring them to various tournaments that we have scheduled for 2013 and perform in these tournaments. It’s always a question mark if we are going to win the tournament or be one of the best teams in the tournament. I have no doubts that we are going to be extremely competitive and difficult to beat.”
ussoccer.com: Can we expect 2013 to be busier than 2012?
JP: “We plan to have more tournaments. 2012 was a year to build up the team where we combined [players born in the year] ’94 and ’95s, because the next group of players taking part in the U-20 MNT are going to be ’95s, and by the second half of the year we have to focus on the ’95 group. It doesn’t mean that the ’94 players are not important, but we have to focus on the ’95s because they will be the next group for the U-20s. I think we are going to have this group in 2013 be much more competitive.”
ussoccer.com: You just watched the Development Academy Select games at the Winter Showcase. What were your impressions of those matches?
JP: “I think that the Academy system is something that U.S. Soccer has put a lot of time and effort into, as well as investing a lot of money. I think now it is starting to be something very valuable to the National Teams. A lot of players are popping up around the country and these Academy Select games are the next step. The U.S. Soccer Development Academy is the best youth league in the country and the best players come into the Select games and now the challenge for these players is to be called to the National Teams. In Thursday’s Select game, what showed was in the first half we had some of the U-18 MNT players blended with the Select players and it raised the bar automatically of the game’s quality. In the second half, they were all Academy players and fringe National Team players and the quality was a little bit lower. It shows that the National Team players made an impact on the field and they are helping the newer players be in a better position to join the National Team.”