[MEXICO-USA] The Mexico-USA friendly comes just four days after Mexico won the gold medal at the London Olympics. Along with its Under-17 World Cup and second
straight Gold Cup crown in 2011, Mexico has been the standard-bearer for soccer in Concacaf. “There is a gap," admits U.S. national team coach Jurgen
Klinsmann. "It would be foolish not to recognize that." On the eve of Wednesday's Azteca friendly, Klinsmann spoke about Mexico's success and what he is looking for from the 23 players he
Klinsmann complimented Mexico on its gold medal.
“There is a gap," he said. "It would be foolish not to recognize that. If one team doesn’t qualify for the Olympics and the other team wins the Olympics, there is a gap. On the senior level, they’ve done well over the last two years, too. You’ve got to give them compliments for that. In certain elements, there is a gap, in other elements we can close gaps right away. If we just continue our path and work harder to close that gap, I think a lot is happening in the American system. There are a lot of positives happening in MLS and also our youth development in the MLS and the U.S. Soccer Development Academies. The next couple years will be exciting to follow what soccer in the U.S. can do, but at the moment Mexico is a step ahead of us.”
Klinsmann likes the chance to bring some inexperienced players into a high-pressure friendly match to see what they can do.
"Those are the environments where you want to see them and get an impression of those guys," he said. "I’m not worried about having a couple younger players or even new players like Matt Besler or Steven Beitashour. They’ve proven their qualities over a long time in MLS and they’re doing extremely well. It’s a huge opportunity for those players that are coming to Mexico City now and also for us as a whole team to prove ourselves against a good side.”
Klinsmann wants to see his players move outside their comfort zone, whether it is with the national team or with their clubs. He points to the success Herculez Gomez and Joe Corona have had in Mexico, where they overcame various obstacles to become starters.
"Herculez had enough challenges over the last couple years with different clubs always fighting through and then getting back his starting spot," Klinsmann said. "He’s a non-stop fighter. It kind of makes you what you are today. That’s what he proved in the May-June camp. He was so sharp and hungry, he said now we are giving him the chances and he’s not giving that away any more and that’s why he played in all the games. It’s good to see Joe Corona breaking through in Tijuana out of his comfort zone and making his path through the league, but also doing it differently than a player that had to deal with that disappointment of not qualifying for the Olympics in MLS that we talked about before.”
Klinsmann says Chicago Fire goalie Sean Johnson also got a call-up in recognition of the hard work he put in following the disappointment of not qualifying for the Olympics after conceding a last-second goal in qualifying to El Salvador in March.
“After the disappointment of the Olympics," said Klinsmann, "we told these players that your path will be much tougher than you thought it would be because you’re missing out on one of the biggest opportunities of your lifetime -- an Olympics. For these kids, watching Mexico win the gold medal brought them some tears possibly. What we also told them was when you fall down, you’ve got to get back up and fight your way back. We followed those youngsters and they did it differently. All these players, we constantly observed them and spoke to their coaches. Sean found his way back to balance and put this horrible moment behind him. He focused on work day in and day out, and said I’ve got to do my best possible for the Chicago Fire and that I’ve got to be consistent, that I’m there to help my team win games and that I’m learning something new every day. I think Frank Klopas has done a tremendous job with him and given him lots of support, and that’s why we called him back in.”
Besides Corona and Johnson, U-23s Terrence Boyd and Brek Shea earned recalls -- in Shea's case only weeks after a much-publicized falling out with FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman.
“I had good conversations the last week with Schellas Hyndman of FC Dallas and we both see a lot of upside in Brek Shea," said Klinsmann. "We all knew that after the big disappointment of not qualifying for the Olympics that our youngsters from that program would eventually fall into a hole. They would go through emotional rollercoasters. That’s what happened with Brek -- he went through an emotional rollercoaster and he didn’t have himself under control. Schellas and I, we tried to look through all those elements and we think he needs our support and the feeling that we’re there when things get tough. Things got tough for [Juan] Agudelo, [Teal] Bunbury, [Bill] Hamid, Johnson, for all that whole generation that should’ve been in London these last two weeks. It was a tough pill to swallow for them. We are now at a point where we say we have to integrate those players in our plans and give them playing time and possibilities to be close to the international level and the senior national team overall. You see that in Joe Corona and Terrence Boyd. Terrence was one of the players from the Olympic roster that handled it the best because he went back to Europe and took care of his job. For Joe Corona, maybe that moment was just in Mexico and just to keep up playing instead of living that nightmare that they went through for a couple of months like our MLS kids did. Brek has to learn to focus in and learn to become a full professional 24-7 and learn that the highest priority is what you deliver on the field and learn how to live off the field and he’s in the middle of that process."
More generally, Klinsmann said there are lessons to be learned from Mexico's success.
"I think Mexico deserves a big compliment," he said. "What they’ve done the last three or four years is tremendous. They’ve identified a way they want to play and everybody dedicates themselves to that style of play. It shows you that a lot of elements were taken off the Spanish path during the last six years. We often talk about that more technically, and soccer-specifically, that you’ve got to lead to a system. You have to work to a way where everybody is committed to a cause and for each other. The way Mexico outplayed Brazil yesterday was wonderful to watch. They did many good things there. You’ve got to admire that and acknowledge that.”