U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann spoke with ussoccer.com about the upcoming match between the USA and No. 3-ranked Colombia in Craven Cottage this Friday, Nov. 14. Klinsmann discussed the importance of this particular match, what he expects from the team and the strides the USA continues to make in the sport of soccer.
ussoccer.com: You bring your USA team to England to play Colombia, giving exposure to your side outside of the US. Is it important that other parts of the world get to see the progress you're making?
JK: "We think it’s an important experience for our players, particularly the youngsters in the group. To play against a team like Colombia who is ranked No. 3 in the world and has such amazing players is a real benchmark for us. We have heard from so many people around the world how impressed they were with our team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. We are proud of what we have accomplished, but for us it is only an incentive to continue to improve."
ussoccer.com: Craven Cottage is a famous old ground, somewhat different to where your side has been playing recently. Are you looking forward to bring your team here?
JK: "We are thrilled to be playing in such a historic stadium with the great tradition of Craven Cottage. Fulham has had more U.S. internationals on the squad than any other club in Europe, so there is a very special connection. We hope that it becomes our home away from home tonight."
ussoccer.com: A few members of the squad are based in England and others in Europe. Is it positive for the USA to have players playing in the biggest competitions in Europe?
JK: "Our message to the players is always to push themselves to reach their highest potential possible. There is certainly value in being in the type of football environment where there is pressure every day from teammates, fans and the media for you to perform. Obviously there is a lot of quality in the biggest competitions in Europe, and that can only help you get better. The key – no matter where you are – is that you have earned playing time."
ussoccer.com: Using DeAndre Yedlin as an example, is it a bit of a double-edged sword losing someone from the MLS to move to Europe? As you want them to progress and play at the highest level, but also help the MLS grow as a competition.
JK: "There’s no question that the growth of MLS is critical to the future success of the National Team. The league has made huge strides and continues to improve on the field every year. For the individual player, they must follow their own path. DeAndre showed a lot of promise at the World Cup and was rewarded with an offer to play at one of the top teams in the Premier League. It’s a wonderful opportunity and we think he has a bright future."
JK: "We’ve had a lot of success in CONCACAF. Winning the Gold Cup was huge because it puts us in position to qualify for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. We also finished first in qualifying, which was really important because we wanted to show all the teams in our region that we deserve to be at the top. Just as important, we have been able to get some results against some big teams around the world – beating Italy in Italy and Mexico in Mexico for the first time, and winning against a very strong team in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Those results certainly help in building the confidence to believe that we can compete with best teams eye to eye"
ussoccer.com: Did winning that tournament help boost your profile throughout the country? Did it bring confidence to the players that they could succeed on the international stage?
JK: "What made the Gold Cup particularly special was that we won it without many of the players who had been regular starters up to that point. We always said that when one guy is out, the next player in line has a chance to step up. Winning the tournament really built a belief in the other players in line that they could compete at this level and that they could challenge for starting spots in the World Cup, which they did."
ussoccer.com: The World Cup was obviously huge for you as a team. Could you believe the support you received – Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard even received a call from President Obama.
JK: "The support that we received from all of our fans – in particular the American Outlaws – was probably the most gratifying part of the tournament. The U.S. had more supporters at the World Cup than every other nation except Brazil, which shows how much we have grown. Our broadcast rights holder - ESPN - had the single largest production in its history, which helped capture the imagination of millions of fans in the United States, including the President! It really just highlighted again that soccer in the U.S. is on the rise, and there’s no stopping it."
ussoccer.com: Since the World Cup you've given a few new faces their chance in the team. Are you now building towards the next tournament with a new generation of players, or do those from Brazil still feature heavily in your plans?
JK: "It’s normal at the start of every World Cup cycle that you re-set the picture and look at the options moving forward. With young players, the only way to find out if they are going to have what it takes is to give them chances to play. That was our approach in the games in September and October. For this camp, we have included more of the experienced players with the idea that we want them to be mentors both on and off the field, and of course to keep earning their spots. You have to remember in the last World Cup we had a lot of youngsters who have a big future – even our “veteran” Jozy Altidore is only 25 years old. There were others like a Mix Diskerud or an Alejandro Bedoya who have a real chance to step up and become leaders on this team."
ussoccer.com: Are you pleased with the amount of young talent you've now got to choose from?
JK: "There are some really exciting guys coming up, and a big part of that is that we have improved the way we develop players and have all of the National Teams connected from the senior team down to the U-14s. Here at Fulham, there is 18-year-old Emerson Hyndman who looks great for his age and is getting a lot of minutes. You have a Rubio Rubin starting at FC Utrecht. We already talked about Yedlin. It’s a major goal of ours to get these players as much meaningful experience as possible, which is why there is such a focus on the youth World Cups and the Olympics in 2016."
ussoccer.com: How much has changed in both the national team and football as a whole in the USA since you took over as manager?
JK: "Overall, everything is just growing. There is so much excitement around the sport. MLS will have 20 teams next year, and most of them will be in stadiums built specifically for them. Television ratings and attendance at games are at all-time highs. The media has taken a much larger interest, as have sponsors. So, all these things add up to a sport on the rise. Our next big project is to try connecting all the dots on the technical side. It’s a huge country with so many different parts in the soccer world. We have to find ways to bring everyone together - everything from coaching to referees to educating our parents. It’s a huge challenge, but an exciting one."
ussoccer.com: Colombia, like the USA, enjoyed a successful World Cup. What do you expect from them?
JK: "Colombia was one of the wonderful surprises of the World Cup. Obviously they had a lot of talent, and the way they performed was exciting to watch. James Rodriguez was a revelation, not only with the number of goals but how he scored. If you go through the roster, you see players who are at some of the top clubs in the world. They play in the Champions League and other big competitions, and they are a very dangerous attacking team."
ussoccer.com: Will you be using the game to blood some youngsters?
JK: "There will be a lot of opportunities for players in this game, as well as against Ireland. The message to all of them, whether it’s the young guys or the veterans, is to go out there and make your case. Be confident. Take risks. Show your quality. If we can get our guys to have that belief, we have shown that we can beat the best teams in the world."
ussoccer.com: The Copa America celebrates its centenary in 2016 with the competition being held in the States. How important is it that the USA will compete in such a prestigious tournament?
JK: "It’s absolutely huge. We have so much respect for the history this tournament, and to host the 100-year anniversary is an honor. To play against the Brazils, the Argentinas, the Uruguays and the others from South America will be a big test for our team and a great showcase for the sport in our country. The fans from these countries are some of the most passionate in the world, so it should make for a very exciting event."
ussoccer.com: Lastly, how important is a victory against Colombia? We’ve seen the US compete with some of the biggest nations, but will a victory confirm to the world the direction you’re heading?
JK: "We want to finish off a great 2014 on a high note. It’s going to be a big benchmark for us to compete against a team with the quality of Colombia, but that’s what we came here to do. We’re not here just to put on a good performance – we came to win."