The U.S. Men’s Under-23 National Team completed its first camp of the year this week, and looking beyond the two results achieved in the friendly matches played, things went as expected for U-23 MNT head coach Andreas Herzog.
"It was my first camp; the players had to get an idea of the new coaching staff, the philosophy and style of play," Herzog said following the second match of the camp against Denmark. "Every single one showed great effort, but that's normal. First of all, it’s the national team and it's a new coach. Everyone wants to make a good impression, so that's nothing that I wasn't expecting."
On March 22, Herzog called-in 18 players to participate in training camp, as the group began preparing for October's tournament that will qualify two CONCACAF teams to the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. He later added two more players on March 24, and later added one more player when Jordan Morris was called into the senior MNT camp, thus rounding out the U-23 roster to 20. The camp, which ran from March 23-26, started in Bosnia. There, the U-23’s played the host nation on March 27, earning a 5-2 victory. They later traveled to Denmark, facing the Danes on March 31 in Copenhagen, falling 1-0 in the wrap-up match of the team’s European camp.
"We had a great result in Bosnia," Herzog said. "We made some mistakes too, but Bosnia didn’t punish us for our mistakes. I think we played against a real good Danish team with a lot of power. You could see right from the beginning they had a different power; the passing, the speed."
Midfielder Luis Gil, who captained the side in both matches, offered his viewpoint on the group from a players' perspective.
"It's our first camp together, so we're still getting used to all the players," said Gil. "It's great to have a group like this out here. Obviously we have some work to do. It's going to take some time, but the future is looking positive. We just have to take it step-by-step and I feel like we'll get there. We have a great coaching staff and great players. We just have to work."
Gil had three assists out of the five goals scored against Bosnia. While also active throughout the match in Copenhagen, the opponent proved too strong to break down.
"We played two completely different teams," he said in regards to the team’s friendlies. "It's difficult playing against a great team from Europe in Europe. I feel like we learned a lot from this, especially in the game against Denmark."
Herzog was not pleased with the team's overall performance in the loss to Denmark, singling out a few things.
"I think we had 60 minutes that we didn't play really well," Herzog said of the match in Copenhagen. "We didn't keep the ball and we were not confident enough. It was just a matter of time when they scored. And when we regained possession of the ball, we did not keep it for a while, so we didn't create anything. It was not a 50-50 game; it was more like 75 to 25 with a much better Danish team.
"And then, the game changed in the opposite direction because we were the better team the final 30 minutes. We created four great chances. If you have a bad game but you still have four clear chances, you have to score. Overall, I have to give the players credit and compliment them. After a bad 60 minutes, we showed good character and fought our way back into the game and we should have tied the game."
One of the players Herzog is clearly counting on to play an important role moving forward on the year is Gil.
"He has to be a difference maker. With his quality I expect more, of course," Herzog said. "He had some good situations, like against Bosnia when he made some great passes which led to goals. He's an experienced guy. He's played a couple of years in MLS, so I expect from him to lead the team. He has to change the rhythm of the game with a lot of dynamic runs and sometimes with his great technique. He has to be confident in the number 10 position. Overall, all of us have to do an even better job in order to get to Rio."
Gil, who was a member of the U-20 MNT World Cup squad in 2013, is eager to show that he can help steer the team to the Olympics.
"This is the first time where I really get to be the leader of a team," he said. "I have to show more on the field and pick them up off the field. I have to be a leader for these guys. I have to push them harder and I feel that we'll be successful."
With the first camp in the books, Herzog won't have to wait long to see the group again. The team will face Mexico U-23’s at StubHub Center in Carson, California on April 22.
For the Herzog, it's another opportunity to continue working with the core players he expects to play come October.
"We already have our next game on April 22 against Mexico in LA, where hopefully we'll get most of the players together again so that we can develop our style," he said. "Hopefully, we get a good group together and we can beat Mexico."