With the pivotal World Cup Qualifiers against Guatemala on the horizon at the same time the U-23 MNT faces Colombia in the Olympic Qualifying Playoff, ussoccer.com sat down with Jurgen Klinsmann to discuss the status of the player pool and his expectations for the big 10 days ahead.
ussoccer.com: What were your takeaways from the weekend action?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “A lot is going on in all the different leagues. In the Bundesliga we have John Brooks doing really well at Hertha Berlin, Fabian Johnson doing well at Borussia Monchengladbach, and Bobby Wood scored another goal for Union Berlin in the 2. Bundesliga. Moving over to the Premier League, Geoff Cameron is getting his time on the field and also Brad Guzan being back in goal for Aston Villa is a big message for us no doubt about it. We monitor all of them, and we’re pleased with how things are going for the majority of the players and hope that they all come into camp healthy and really sharp for Guatemala.”
ussoccer.com: With three points from their first two games – and already a loss at home – Guatemala is under pressure to get a result in the first game in Guatemala City. How do you expect them to approach this game?
JK: “We expect both games to be challenge, starting obviously in Guatemala City which is a very difficult venue. Their team is already in camp, so they go in a week earlier than we do into preparation for that game, so we expect a very difficult game and a very hot-tempered game. But the goal is clear: the goal is we would like to beat them in Guatemala City and then beat them as well in Columbus in front of our fans. That will give us six points and will virtually qualify us already for the next round. This is the objective and we will do everything possible to get that done.”
ussoccer.com: What has the process been like in determining which age-eligible players will play for the Senior Team vs. the Olympic Team?
JK: “It’s going to be a big, big ten days for us. The senior team wants badly the six points in these two games, but also our Olympic team is playing in the playoffs for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with Colombia. What influence does it have for our rosters? At the end of the day, priority always is the senior team. Priority is World Cup Qualifying, so there are no compromises made like sending the players that are age-eligible for the Olympic team to the Olympic team already. We are convinced our Olympic team will do really well in Colombia and get a decent result there, and then we hope for big support in Dallas for the return game. We are convinced they will get the job done.”
ussoccer.com: Jozy Altidore has been out for the last few weeks for Toronto. How does that impact your thinking up front?
JK: “Jozy is coming back from a hamstring injury - he’s not 100 percent yet, but we’ll build him. He’s already almost getting on the field with Toronto, so we’ll take it from there and bring him with us and see every day in training how much he’s able to contribute. Injuries are always tricky when it gets towards a big competition. We have players that are injured a bit longer than we thought. We feel for them, but we are also waiting for them, players like Terrence Boyd, like Joe Gyau, like Josh Gatt, or even Aron Johannsson out for a couple months. These players are not forgotten. They play a wider role in building our group, our core, for 2018 in Russia. So hopefully they get back on track as quickly as possible. But in the short run, like a hamstring with Jozy, we will manage it, we will make the best out of it, but it has an effect on the roster. There’s no doubt about it.”
ussoccer.com: The defensive midfield role has been occupied in recent years by older players such as Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman. With them coming towards the end of their careers, who do you see leading the next generation?
JK: “It’s a fascinating topic always between two World Cup cycles: which younger players will take over from the older players? If you look at our positions - if it’s a goalkeeper role, if it’s a defensive midfielder with Jermaine Jones or Kyle Beckerman, or even if it’s up front with Clint Dempsey, you always try to push that next younger one into those roles in order to take over sooner or later. Obviously they have to get better than the older ones. This is a fascinating process that we push from a coaching side. The experienced older guys, they hang in there, they defend their roles, and the younger ones they want to push off their spot. This will continue the next two years in the World Cup qualifiers with Guatemala, but it also will continue through Copa America and then toward Russia 2018. There’s a lot of competition going on in our squad, and that’s why we are happy to have a bigger roster available this time because we want to really have that fight going on in training as well as showing their strengths in the games.”
ussoccer.com: Considering the lineups in November's qualifiers and Fabian Johnson's success with ‘Gladbach this season, is it likely that he is a midfielder from here on out?
JK: “I think it’s definitely a good thing that we can talk and discuss specific players in specific roles, and Fabian Johnson is a very good example because in his club he’s playing right now the left midfield role, but they also move him to the right side and even at right back like where he played a tremendous World Cup in Brazil. This is a wonderful thing to have for us coaches because we can adjust other pieces in the team depending what happens. Fabian is good with any of those roles. We would like to just have him continue the good performances that he has with Borussia Monchengladbach right now with the National Team as well. That gives us a better chance to beat Guatemala.”