ussoccer.com: What were the starting points in putting this roster together?
Andi Herzog: “We had a camp in January where we brought in with Jurgen Klinsmann and the Men’s National Team 10-11 MLS-based players, with Jerome Kiesewetter included as the only one from Europe. I think this was an important camp for us because the younger group was able to train with players like Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Jermaine Jones. Right now I mixed them up with the European players and hopefully we have a good team to qualify.”
ussoccer.com: Since FIFA does not require the release of players, working with the clubs to get players was critical. Overall, how did that process go?
AH: “Everything was fine. It looks good, and hopefully everyone is healthy after this weekend and we can have the whole group together. That will be great. The clubs, especially in MLS, did a good job supporting us because everyone knows that we have two very important games ahead of us.”
ussoccer.com: What were the benefits of having so many U-23s in the January camp? [11 players called into the camp were on the Olympic Playoff roster]
AH: “First of all, it was important that they started their season early. In January we trained them and we had two games – against Canada and against Iceland. I think it was huge for every single player because they got their opportunity. They were hoping to get a game and some minutes with the Men’s National Team. Unfortunately not everyone was able to get their first cap, but on the other side now they have a chance to qualify for the Olympics, and that’s huge too. We had a real good group together with young players and experienced players, and especially the young players were able to learn a lot in the January camp.”
ussoccer.com: There are six players on the roster from the 2015 Under-20 World Cup team that faced Colombia in the Round of 16. Did that experience factor at all in your decision to bring some younger guys?
AH: “No. We already had some young players in qualifying in October, too. They are very good players and that is why they are part of our group. I didn’t make the decision because they had already played against Colombia, I just wanted to bring the best group possible. Of course it’s now an advantage for us because they already beat Colombia and they can give us some information. I wanted to have Rubio Rubin, too, because he’s a very good striker and scored the game-winning goal in the World Cup against Colombia, but unfortunately he was injured. I called him and his club, and the decision was that because he had such a long injury and he’s just making his way back to the team that it’s better for him to stay in the Netherlands with Utrecht. I’m ok with it because I know he’s not in his best shape after such a long injury.”
(NOTE: Tottenham defender Cameron Carter-Vickers was also originally on the roster but was replaced due to injury on Saturday).
ussoccer.com: With the two-game, total goals format and having to travel first, how will you approach the matches?
AH: “First of all we have to go to Colombia to get a great result for our second game at home, and hopefully with the home support in the second game we will qualify. The perfect result is we win these two games against Colombia and then we go to Rio. We have now two or three days to train our group, and then we will do our best to have a really good game and especially a really good result in Colombia.”
ussoccer.com: There’s a short window of preparation before heading to Barranquilla. What will the first few days in camp look like?
AH: “It’s always different, because when the players play on the weekend you have to rest them a little bit. If a player didn’t play, we have to train them a little bit harder. Maybe we’ll mix it up into two different groups – a group of players not playing on the weekend we’ll have to train a little bit harder, and the rest it’s at least one day of regeneration, because we need everyone in really good shape on the 25th in Barranquilla.”
ussoccer.com: Colombia finished second in qualifying in CONMEBOL and had the opportunity for some preparation games. What challenges do they present?
AH: “It’s not going to be easy. They had a tournament in China that we were watching, and had two games against Honduras. They tied Honduras twice, so it was two tough games for them. We know how Honduras is playing - they beat us in qualification and they have some good players.
“But Colombia have a good team, of course. It’s a different than the group that qualified for this playoff because they used their Under-20s as part of preparation for the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Their U-23s didn’t play in qualification like we did, so they have a couple of new players that we have not seen play together. They had a tournament in China and the two games against Honduras, and especially the players playing in Copa Libertadores from Deportivo Cali and Atletico Nacional, they haven’t been part of this group of under-23s for Colombia, so we have to expect some new faces.”
ussoccer.com: What can this group take from the experience of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament to apply to this series?
AH: “We had a really bad game against Honduras, and it’s all about what we have to do better because now it’s perform or we’re out. We have to have two really good games with a lot of personality on the field that can deal with very tough, physical opponents. We have to be prepared for everything, and that’s where we struggled against Honduras a lot.”
ussoccer.com: How important will it be to have big home support in Dallas?
AH: “Dallas has always been a good venue for the National Teams, and we really hopeful to have a lot of support in the stadium that will push our team and we qualify and have a huge celebration. That would be great.”