U.S. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann recently sat down with ussoccer.com to discuss a broad range of topics ahead of the USA's upcoming European friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland. The U.S. boss touched on the kick-off of the 2015 MLS season, tracking players in Europe and Mexico, plus, guiding youth players toward the Senior National Team.
ussoccer.com: What have been the scouting priorities for the staff since the team’s last gathering?
JK: “Really our priority in terms of scouting has been to look all over the place and see as many games as possible. In Europe, we are looking at the players playing in Germany, in Holland with Rubio Rubin and Aron Johannsson, going down to Mexico and seeing the players there who are involved in a very busy schedule right now having started very early in the year, and obviously we are thrilled getting the ball rolling in MLS.”
ussoccer.com: The Bundesliga-based players are earning consistent playing time, particularly John Brooks and Timmy Chandler. What have you seen from those players?
JK: “It’s great to see John Brooks playing week in and week out and consistently being a starter. He’s getting very good reviews over there. Matthias Hamann, Andi Herzog and Berti Vogts are all looking after our players in Germany and have seen a lot of good stuff. Timmy Chandler after the World Cup was struggling a bit to get his starting spot, and now he is always in the starting lineup. He’s playing consistently on a good level, so that is very promising. It’s a pity seeing a few players injured in the German environment, if it’s Terrence Boyd, Joe Gyau, and Bobby Wood. They are having a tough time getting through their injuries now. Overall, the news out of Germany is very good.”
ussoccer.com: Aron Johannsson is a player we haven’t seen since the World Cup. He’s back from injury and getting minutes. How have you followed his progress?
JK: “We had Aron Johannsson watched by Andi Herzog. We are glad to see Aron back in the mix and getting his games, even if it’s not always as a starter yet. He had a rough time after the World Cup with injuries. It took him a long time to get back in the picture, but once he gets back on the field he’s always smelling the goal and scoring. That’s what a goalscorer is all about – he has to prove his point by putting the ball in the net. That’s what Aron is doing. We are looking forward to having him back in our group.”
ussoccer.com: What have been your impressions of the start of the MLS season?
JK: “As a start, it was a huge opening weekend for MLS. It was awesome to see full stadiums all over the place. It’s been very exciting to go from game to game and seeing our players in action, whether it was Jozy Altidore scoring two goals or Clint Dempsey scoring two goals in Seattle, Nick Rimando playing well, and then new teams in the league. Seeing Brek Shea at left back in Orlando City, where we tried him out in the January camp is pretty exciting. Having players like Kaka and David Villa in the United States is awesome. It’s been an exciting start to MLS and for all soccer fans in the country, and we are looking forward to the upcoming games.”
ussoccer.com: Jozy Altidore scored twice in his debut. How important is it for Jozy’s confidence to hit the ground running?
JK: “Seeing Jozy Altidore getting on the scoring side of it right away was very important. He had a tough time the last 18 months in the Premier League, and for him it’s an awesome feeling to start right away with two goals. We all know what Jozy can do when he’s healthy and fit. Hopefully he’s off to a fantastic season. It’s also great seeing Clint get going from the start, and Mix Diskerud with New York City Football Club scoring the first goal for that new franchise is exciting. It’s a lot of promising stuff.”
ussoccer.com: Brek Shea is getting a reboot to his career in Orlando. They are also using him as a left back. Is it a position where you see him having continued potential?
JK: “Brek Shea has the potential to become a very, very strong left back. He’s obviously a guy that always wants to go forward. He can score goals. He can create goals. If he learns the defending side of the game – being very physical, very focused, being connected to his center back and holding a line, getting all the tactical elements for what it takes to be a good defender - it adds that card into his portfolio and the coach from Orlando can choose where to play him, we can choose where to play him, it’s just great to see. We started that process in the January camp and Orlando took it over. We stay in touch with each other. It can only get better.”
MNT defender Brek Shea scored the USA's opening goal of 2015 in a January friendly against Chile in Rancagua.
ussoccer.com: What type of roster will you bring to Denmark and Switzerland?
JK: “We are going to bring in a very strong roster into Denmark and Switzerland. It’s a bit tricky obviously because MLS has just started and it’s early in the season, so those players don’t have a rhythm yet. Meanwhile, the European-based players are in a full rhythm and the Mexican-based players are in a full rhythm, so we will bring what we believe will be the strongest roster into these two friendlies. It will be an interesting mix. We are there to learn, to play against very good opponents, but also to get results.”
ussoccer.com: During the upcoming window, the Senior Team will play two matches; the U-23s will play two matches against Bosnia and Denmark, and the U-20s are in London for a pair of games. These are important opportunities for the Youth National Teams, and at the same time, you are preparing for the Gold Cup. How do you go about balancing the rosters?
JK: “It’s getting really exciting because 2015 really kicks off now. MLS is in full swing starting their schedule, and with the FIFA fixture dates coming up, we get the opportunity to play the Senior Team, and at the same time, to build the U-23s and the U-20s have to prepare for the World Cup this summer.
“It’s exciting for us coaches to see who could play where. Is there a younger one maybe coming with me to Denmark and Switzerland, or is he going with Andi Herzog to be with the U-23s in Bosnia and Denmark, or do we keep an 18-year-old player with Tab because he is going to go to the World Cup this summer. We will juggle these things and we will balance it out. At the end of the day, the priority is always the Senior Team in order to be the strongest team possible, but at the same time it’s great for us coaches to see everybody competing for his spot and his future opportunities.
“For the youngsters to look towards the U-20 World Cup is huge. For the U-23s, we have to get them going in order to prepare for the qualifiers later this year towards the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Andi Herzog has his hands full with that group. For me and the Senior Team perspective, I’m looking at all these youngsters and thinking who can come through these periods and develop the fastest possible in order to make himself a strong competitor for the senior group. So this is a great time now, and we can’t wait to get these games going at the end of the month.”
ussoccer.com: The U-17s just qualified for the 2015 FIFA World Cup, and did so after fighting through some adversity. As you have talked about, at that age level, it’s not just about winning but also about experience. How important are experiences like that for player development?JK: Having the U-17s being in Honduras trying to qualify for the World Cup and go through that stuff is priceless. It’s so important for them to deal with different conditions, to deal with emotions, to deal with difficult moments in a game where they have to solve it, to deal with fatigue and climate. It is only making them better. Having them go through these challenges is very important, because that’s what they have to learn for their future. It’s only going to get more difficult the older they grow. It’s the same for our U20s going into the World Cup this summer. You face very difficult opponents and you reach your limits. These experiences for the younger age groups are critical, which is why having these games on the FIFA fixture dates and getting them involved is so important. They need these opportunities to grow and to make it to the highest level possible in their career.”