Interview by Mike Woitalla
Wilmer Cabrera, who guided the USA to the second round at the 2009 and 2011 U-17 World Cups and headed the Bradenton Residency Program for more than four years, explains why he's left U.S. Soccer and looks back on his tenure.
SOCCER AMERICA: Why are you no longer the U-17 national team coach?
WILMER CABRERA: I rejected the offer from the Federation.
WILMER CABRERA: Because the length of contract wasn’t long enough. Not even similar to what I had in my two cycles. It was half of the time that I was offered the last times.
SA: So just a year instead of two years?
WILMER CABRERA: Correct.
SA: Do you know why they offered you a shorter term this time?
WILMER CABRERA: No. I don’t have any idea. I had been working very well with the Federation but I couldn’t accept that offer. It wasn’t good enough for me or my family.
SA: The non-renewal came shortly after the team did so well at the Nike Friendlies -- beating Brazil (3-1) and Turkey (2-1) and tying France (2-2) in December -- so it came as a bit of a surprise ...
WILMER CABRERA: I was thinking we were going in the right direction -- but the offer was different perhaps because they have different plans. I have to respect that. But I have to think about what’s good for me and my family, and for me as a coach.
SA: Do you know yet what your next move might be?
WILMER CABRERA: I’m in conversation with an MLS club to try and join the staff and we’ll see.
SA: How much contact did you have with Jurgen Klinsmann?
WILMER CABRERA: I just met him once, and it was a very nice conversation. It was the first time I met him and the only time I spoke with him. [Last summer] I presented my technical report to the Federation and he was there -- and it was a very nice conversation. I imagine he’s very busy with his team because he has a lot of work.
SA: When you look back on your four and a half years as U-17 coach, what you think went well?
WILMER CABRERA: A lot of players jumped from the Bradenton Residency right away into professional clubs and they’ve been adapting very well.
If we provided the players with a good base for them finish at Bradenton and come to a professional club and adapt well, that means they were well prepared. Adapting not only to Major League Soccer, which is the most important thing our players should think about, but also to international clubs.
(EDITORS’ NOTE: Among the players who played for Cabrera at the U-17 World Cups were Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United) and Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union), in 2009, and, in 2011, Jack McBean (Los Angeles Galaxy) and Marc Pelosi, who signed with Liverpool in November.)
SA: What about the team’s performance under your watch?
WILMER CABRERA: The results in Central America were very positive. We played in two Concacaf Championships (U-17 World Cup qualifying) and we won all the games, and that’s important. In the eight games that were played, we won them all, and that proved the team at the Concacaf level was well prepared. We are progressing, but we’re not there yet.
I think with a better plan, where all national teams are communicating and working with the same idea we’ll get better results for the players and soccer in the United States, but I never received a plan. I never received feedback for what I was doing, right or wrong.
SA: What do you think the future of the Bradenton Residency is?
WILMER CABRERA: At some point, if the Development Academy and MLS clubs provide everyday training at a good level and good mentality -- I would say it won’t be necessary to have Bradenton. But right now that’s not happening, for different reasons.
We have to compete with the top players from the rest of the world, and they practice and compete everyday -- and if we’re not prepared to do that, we can go backward. So I think it’s very important we recognize when it's the right time to stop Bradenton, and that would be when they have the same opportunity in a good environment that’s not far from their parents.
SA: What are the main challenges of running a 40-player residency for kids from around the country? How difficult is it to provide a good environment for kids who leave home at a young age?
WILMER CABRERA: It’s very difficult because they’re coming from different backgrounds, different culture, different education -- and they need to have the kind of discipline where they have to be a role model.
Most of them are coming from places where they’re superstars. They’re big in their clubs -- and nobody says anything because they’re the best players. But when they come to Bradenton, no one is a superstar.
The work on the field is not as difficult as the work off the field -- school and responsibilities. We weren’t only coaches. We were parents, psychologists, advisors.
It was quite challenging -- but very rewarding when we traveled around the world and the Americans we encountered told us how proud they were of the way the players were representing the USA. ...
I’ve been receiving e-mails from all the players saying thank you. Even from the ones we had to send home because of discipline -- they weren’t doing the right things -- they're sending me thank yous, saying, “I know I didn’t take advantage but I learned a lesson.”
I think we helped the kids a lot.