ussoccer.com hears from U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann as the USA wraps up World Cup Qualifying with an eye toward the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil next summer.
The team is in first place in the group with two games remaining in the Hexagonal and has also already qualified for the World Cup. What was the
thought process in putting together this roster?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “For the rosters against Jamaica and Panama, the thought process was the same as all the previous qualifiers. We want to win these games. We want to finish off the year on a high note, but we also want to make the game against Jamaica a special one. It’s our last home game of 2013, and we have had tremendous support from all the fans throughout the country wherever we have played. We want to recognize that and give the fans a real good game and three points. These games already count toward the World Cup in 2014 in terms of the internal competition and the mentality we are trying to build.”
You said that these games aren’t the end of World Cup Qualifying, but the start of preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. What does that mean?
JK: “Once you achieve the goal of qualifying, you understand that the next higher level is already waiting for us. The World Cup is a couple of levels higher up than World Cup Qualifying, even if it’s not an easy thing to go through. The benchmark in the World Cup is far higher, so whatever we do now already prepares us for that. Everything we do now sets the tone for summer of 2014, and therefore it’s important the players understand this is serious business. We want to see an improvement of the entire squad, and we want to see competition in every spot. You only have to say one word: Brazil. Then you automatically get fired up.”
: As is often the case, the team will be without some key players through injuries. How do those absences impact the squad?
JK: “We always got challenged over the last two years with injuries and yellow cards, and we always made the best out of it, and the group that came in did a fantastic job. Now in this case not having Michael Bradley or Clint Dempsey is a tough one to swallow, but at the same time it gives other players an opportunity to step in. It’s good to know that Jermaine Jones is ready to step in, and Brad Evans is back in as right back after his calf injury. I think we are fully loaded in the other positions, so the roster looks really good.”
Clint Dempsey had a busy summer with the move to Seattle, a busy schedule of games for club and country and now the injury. Where do you see Clint’s
progress at this point?
JK: “For Clint, it is really important to pick up the rhythm, to get back into shape and play games. He needs to train very intensely and get as many sessions as possible. He had injury problems, the transfer was done late and he didn’t have a proper preseason, and he’s running behind. So he has to do some catching up and he will eventually get it done.”
Along with absences come opportunities, and there are now some open spots in the midfield. How do you plan on utilizing them?
JK: “It opens up maybe some playing time for a Mix Diskerud or an Aron Johannsson. Maybe up top we can play Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson together. We will have a lot of discussions with the coaching staff on how to put the puzzle together. Overall, it gives other players a chance that have a point to prove. The players that stepped on the field against Mexico after what happened with the yellow cards in Costa Rica and Michael Bradley’s injury did a fantastic job. Kyle Beckerman played an amazing game against Mexico. They all deserve playing time, and the beauty of it is that if one player isn’t there, the next one has a chance.”
One position that has been extremely solid for the U.S. team has been goalkeeper. You’ve said that Tim Howard is the No. 1. He and Brad Guzan have had
great starts to the Premier League, and Nick Rimando has also proven himself with this team. This must be a great spot to be in for a coach.
JK: “This is exactly what we have been talking about for the last two years. You want to have your established player that is No. 1 in his position being challenged. You want to have him on his toes and know that the next guy is waiting. Tim has played outstanding for us the last two years in many, many games, and also now at Everton. The competition maybe also helped him, because Brad Guzan is knocking on the door and doing extremely well at Aston Villa. He’s the No. 1 there, having kicked out another national team goalkeeper. Then you have Nick Rimando, who has had an outstanding year with Real Salt Lake and did a great job in the Gold Cup. This is what we are working on. It keeps you hungry and motivated and focused. With the goalkeepers, we have one of the best situations in the world.”
The U.S. closed out the Semifinal Round of qualifying last year with a game in Kansas City, and now has the same opportunity to finish the 2013 home
schedule at Sporting Park. What kind of atmosphere are you expecting?
JK: “We hope for a fired up crowd like it was last year. We know Kansas City is a very passionate place, and the way they supported us last year was amazing. In every stadium we played this year, for the players it was a tremendous experience. We also feel responsible for giving the fans a very good game because they deserve it. The fan support has been second to none, and it’s just growing. I talked to some American Outlaws after the game in Columbus, and they told me fans keep multiplying in every city we play. It shows how the game is coming along better and better, and the fans have a big say in that. Their passion, energy and drive are felt on the field, and it helps us to achieve certain things.”
Two players who will certainly be excited for this game are Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, both Sporting Kansas City starters and regulars for the
National Team. What can you say about their development?
JK: “Both Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are really great examples of how you can break through to the highest level through hard work, through total commitment, and through quality. When Graham first came into the January camp in 2012, he was nervous. He worked himself in slowly and broke through, and the same with Matt Besler. You could see Matt’s talent, but I told him that talent wasn’t enough and you need a lot of other things. His commitment, his attitude, and his giving nature are just great for every team. That’s why both of them are doing so well with Kansas City, because they are givers. Their story also inspires other players. They see that these two guys broke through fast into the National Team and they are usually starters in the team. For them, it will be a very special game in front of their home crowd.”
Jozy Altidore made a huge move this summer to Sunderland, a team that has struggled and is already in the midst of a coaching change. While he hasn’t
been on the scoreboard yet, how would you rate his progress there?
JK: “I’m personally very, very happy with how Jozy is coming along in the Premier League so far. Yes he hasn’t scored the goals yet that he expects from himself, but I watch his games and he’s high energy and he’s a handful. He challenges back lines, and he’s often by himself and the support is not what it should be. He’s already been through a coaching change, which is not easy to digest. I see that jump to the Premier League being very positive. He challenges himself in a difficult environment and it’s coming along. He just needs to be patient, and his goals will come.”
Sacha Kljestan is one of two players in the pool appearing in the UEFA Champions League and is a regular at Anderlecht. At the same time, he hasn’t
always been a part of the National Team during the stretch. What is the challenge for Sacha?
JK: “Sacha Kljestan is a highly talented and very focused player. There is a reason why he is playing in Champions League for Anderlecht. He proves week in and week out his qualities. He’s a little bit unlucky in our environment because he has Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in central midfield roles ahead of him. Because of the fact that we rotated other players through to give them playing time, sometimes he was there and sometimes not. From his perspective, that is disappointing and a little bit bitter to swallow, but he also understands the competition there. When you look at the consistency he has built over the last few years, that speaks highly about him. He deserves to be back in this group. I wish I could give him more playing time, and I know he hasn’t played as much as he wanted to.”
Terrence Boyd is a young striker, along with Aron Johannsson, who is scoring goals for his club. How do you see Terrence’s position and other young
players like him?
JK: “Terrence is a player similar to a couple other ones that had to deal with a lot of problems after the U-23 team didn’t qualify for the Olympics. He never gave up one second. He’s a hungry player and eager to learn and improve. He’s scoring goals for Rapid Vienna, which is also in some ways a difficult environment. Along with guys like Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona and Sean Johnson, he’s part of the next generation. It’s important they are with us, even if they don’t get playing time. Terrence is developing over time, maturing, and learning both on and off the field. If he keeps the hunger and his ambitious desire, he’s a player absolutely for the future.”
These last two qualifiers will determine the other teams from CONCACAF that go to the World Cup. Even though the U.S. team is through, is there still a
responsibility to take these games seriously?
JK: “I think there is a huge responsibility toward yourself where you always demand the best. You want to win every game, get the points, win the group and be No. 1 in CONCACAF. You also want to show everyone that you are a good sport. We know that our game in Panama will have an influence on who will be the No. 4 team and play against New Zealand in the playoff. Is it Panama or Mexico? I don’t want to deal with that discussion. I want to go down to Panama to get three points, so we take a very strong group. Also, we don’t have a lot of games left before the World Cup. Every game gives us a lot of answers to questions about players, our attitude, and our state of mind. We want to get the job done in Kansas City against Jamaica, and then we go 1,000 percent into the game against Panama.”