U.S Under-18 Men’s National Team head coach Javier Perez and his group recently completed its third camp of the cycle in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. ussoccer.com caught up with Perez about the camp, the two matches against Richie Williams’ U-17 Men’s National Team and the preparation into molding the next U-20 corps for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
On the Florida camp and having many of these players training together for a third time in this cycle:
Javier Perez: “This was our third camp for this cycle. The first camp consisted of 36 players on Carson at the NTC and was a mixed group of ’97 and ’96 players. The second was in France for a tournament as we finished in the second position with the same amount of points as France. We had a very good performance there. So this was our third camp, and our first one with only ’97-born players. It’s important to have our core group for the next U-20 World Cup cycle. It was also good to have the U-20 National Team on hand at the same time and location because Tab Ramos was there. We were able to discuss the group and the players coming in the cycle. Sometimes the groups are different. They have different characteristics, and we have to adjust our game a little bit, as well, to the players we have.
“I think the most important part for this seven-day camp was that we had a good evaluation of the players and are building the consistency within this core group, as we did in the previous cycle. We have 24 players, and out of that group we already have formed a core of 18. We had only three new players come in for the first time to the National Team. The plan is to build the core group. We have had 18 that have been in all three camps, and for the new players it was their opportunity to perform well and play at a high level.”
On whether there could be a U-18 MNT vs. U-20 MNT game setup in the future:
JP: “It’s difficult, and Tab and I had this conversation about possibly having a game between the U-18s and the U-20s. For the U-20s, it was difficult because this was their first camp with 36 players. They had an intrasquad game, and because of that high number, it is difficult to make for one game against the U-18s. Maybe in the future we will have that opportunity if we do more camps together.”
On the two matches against the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team and what the players and staff got out of these opportunities:
JP: “With the U-18 team, you are trying to develop players and at the same time support the transition to the U-20s. You’re also helping with the development of the U-17s. In terms of the games, we played two games very differently. In the first game we tried to get playing time for everybody who came to the National Team, to give them an opportunity to prove that their soccer belongs at a National-Team level. The second game was more about how we cope with the demands of the game, especially now that we are going to this tournament in Spain, where we will be playing teams like Spain and Argentina. It’s important how we handle the tempo of the game, so in that second game against the U-17s, it was a really good circumstance because we gave up a goal early in that game. Many times, young players can panic or have some doubts in the game. But, I saw a lot of maturity. They stayed calm and the goals started to come with three in a row. Their buildup was good, too. Some teams in the past have been more direct. Our team stayed calm and got a good end result.”
On how this third session differed from the two prior camps:
JP: “The way we plan, we always have to find an evolution in the core group and build the group, and not just have some training. When you’re in a tournament and competitions, though, you mostly compete and prepare for camp. The first 36-player camp at the NTC was more about building style of play, to let the players know what our style looks like, watching videos and how to apply those processes into games and training sessions, keeping possession in a smart way, increasing their speed of play. The second camp was the tournament in France, so that was more about the competition, and that’s good. That gives them an edge and builds the group going forward.
“This recent domestic camp, our focus was more about how to transfer the ball, how to move in certain situations, how to move away from pressure, so it was different than the camp we had in California. Along with our sessions, we had an intrasquad game, played a couple games against the U-17s, and with 24 players it gives you the ability to rotate these players to give them experience. We’re not overloading the players, since we have them for only seven days, but you let them know our principles.”
On the players’ versatility and readiness for the National Team setup, working with different player traits and U-18 players who have stood out
recently in camp:
JP: “When you have talented players like a Mukwelle Akale or Sebastian Elney, they offer you different tools, and you adjust to their qualities and capacities. Many players have benefited from the U-17 Residency Program under Richie Williams. You can see that these young players are in good form because they’re in a setup that is professional. They train daily, and then they come to us and are really ready to compete internationally.
“As far as players who have stood out, there have been many: Sebastian Elney, Mukwelle Akale, Tommy Redding, Erik Palmer-Brown have been recently in Residency, and then there are guys such as Collin Fernandez, Cameron Lindley and Ben Swanson who were in the prior cycle for the U-17s. Justen Glad and Quentin Pearson have done a great job, Sebastian Saucedo, Coy Craft. I have to mention one player who came into our camp for the first time, and that is goalkeeper Christian Herrera from Real Salt Lake AZ. He did an excellent job and we were excited to have him. It’s always nice to have a goalkeeper who is 6-foot-6-and-a-half with mobility, versatility and leadership from the back.
“The end result has to come from a collective effort, so the players start to understand and see our style of play.”
On the benefits of the Development Academy Winter Showcase in December:
JP: “I think the Showcase has a lot of value for our age group. You’re able to see the players in their own environment, and it can be different than when they are with us. For their own teams, they are probably the top player or two on their team, and when they come in with us, they are just one more player. It is interesting to see how they deal with that challenge. Some adjust and show the same determination and demeanor, and sometimes other players struggle. There is pressure in a National Team camp, and that’s something they have to live with. The reality is that because we have so few camps, we always ask for the players we call in to take every chance they have, to show that they are special players and prove why they are in the national team camp. Sometimes players have just one occasion in a game, and that’s the moment when they have to embrace that opportunity. National Team opportunities are very limited and very few, and they have to take advantage.”
“The Showcase itself adds a lot of value for us. As a result of the Academy Select game, we added Jackson Yueill to the group, Kendall Stork and Christian Herrera. They all joined our National Team camp for the first time, so it’s obviously an important event for us to bring the best talent together in a National Team setting. There were 22 out of the 24 players in our camp that came from the Academy system, so the Academy adds a lot of value to the players’ development for the National Team level.”