EXCLUSIVE: US Olympic coach Andi Herzog on Rio 2016, MLS, over-age players and more

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MANCHESTER – Sitting down in a hotel in the suburbs of Manchester, assistant coach of the U.S. men’s national team Andi Herzog is relaxed and full of smiles.

He is currently in the middle of a week-long training camp with the U.S. U-23 team as they prepare for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying in October against Cuba, Canada and Panama.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Preston ]

The U.S. failed to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics but head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has made qualifying for Rio 2016 a main goal for U.S. Soccer and Herzog, 46, is the man tasked with delivering it.

After narrowly losing 1-0 to a hugely talented England U-21 side at Deepdale in Preston on Thursday – nine of England’s starting XI were in action for their Premier League teams last weekend – ProSoccerTalk sat down with Herzog on Friday to discuss this camp, the progression of his young squad and how things look heading into the all-important Olympic qualifiers next month.

Plus, he talks about his role for the U.S. from his Vienna, Austria base and wades in on the Major League Soccer vs. Europe debate when it comes to developing young U.S. talent.

A hugely talented player in his day who is the all-time leader in appearances for the Austrian national team and his clubs included Rapid Vienna, Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen, Herzog has a pivotal role alongside Klinsmann in delivering success for the U.S. in every tournament.

Only one thing is on his mind right now though: qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil next summer.

Here’s the full transcript from our chat. I, JPW, am asking the questions, Andi is answering them.

JPW: How have things been since the promising third-placed finish at the Toulon tournament this summer? Lots of new faces around, are you guys in good shape ahead of Olympic qualifying?

AH: We have some young players, some kids in from the U-20 that played in the World Cup in New Zealand. We are missing three of four key players but I think we will have a very good roster for the Olympic qualification in the beginning of October.

Were you happy with the display against a very good England side who had lots of Premier League experience?

When I saw the lineup and the names, I was expecting it. Even if they are young players, when you see the teams they are playing for, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, they are already starting some games in the Premier League so I was expecting a real tough game for us. But I think we did a good job defensively and after conceding a stupid goal because we were not alert at this time, I then made a tactical change and brought on a number 10 with two strikers so I thought we could create more opportunities to tie the game but I thought the last 20-30 minutes England had more chances and we didn’t create a real chance to tie the game.

I asked Gareth Southgate afterwards about his assessment of the U.S, he said it was “a really good test, we were never comfortable” and as a nation you have made “enormous improvements” through all the age groups since Klinsmann came in. What does praise like that mean?

It is respect. We obviously give respect to the English, they have more tradition than we have in soccer but I think for us the key is to qualify for the Olympics and for the men’s national team is to beat Mexico and qualify for the Confederations Cup. October will be a decisive month for us and we have to be ready for these games and like I say we missed three or four players here but we have a deeper roster now and we can see some new faces up until September 17 when I have to make the final roster. It will not be easy because of different situations we don’t have that much depth, especially on the wings. We have to find a system that fits best for our players.

That vision of the Olympics next summer, are you even thinking about that right now? All about qualifying?

The Olympics is something special and we always think about it and talk about it. But first of all the focus is on qualifying. That is normal. It would be huge to be there for the first time, for all of the staff and players it would be great for us to be part of the Olympics.

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Herzog is the man tasked with taking the U.S. to Rio after failing to make London 2012.

Is there more pressure on you guys to succeed given the failed qualification in 2012?

That’s fine. You have to deal with pressure. That is normal if you want to have success. You have to go through pressure, you have to go through bad times and enjoy the good times. But especially in the good times you have to keep working even harder because normally if you have success it is normal that every human being thinks ‘okay, that’s fine, now we can drop the intensity.’ We must keep working really hard but I think we have a good group. I am very optimistic to qualify for the Olympics.”

This U-20 class, the guys who did well at the World Cup, how have they settled into the squad? Are they ready?

They are good. I was not able to start everyone but we have a second game now against Qatar and I will get the chance to see every single player and let them have the chance to show they can be able to be part of the qualification. It doesn’t make sense if only one player plays five minutes but you want to win the games. It is always the mixture between finding the balance between winning games and getting the group together and finding a lot of optimism or finding new players and giving them the chance. That’s the thing we have to deal with.

What have you learned from the players in this camp so far?

Obviously with Matt Miazga I was really impressed. Eric Miller did well for me from Montreal. We have a few guys here who are with us for the first time and they did really well. The goalkeepers are good. Cody Cropper had a good game. The other two kids are good with Ethan Horvath and Zack Steffen, they look really, really good. For me it is good to see new players and I can expect a lot from them. Hopefully against Qatar we can have a few more chances to score that would be important for the offensive players. That’s what we have to work more during the next two to three days, the attacking patterns. Against England we knew it would be tough so we were more focused on the backline doing a good job and I think they did well. Obviously if you lose a game it is not really good, but overall we can say it was a good performance defensively. Offensively we will have to do better.

So, can you explain a little about your day-to-day work over here in Europe?

With Matthias Hamann we do a lot of scouting in Europe and I’m still the assistant coach of the men’s national team so it is a lot of work. Right now it is important to focus. It is not possible to have 50 percent on this, 30 there, 20 there… so now I am just focused on my Olympic team. We have to qualify. For me that is the most important thing. Of course, I support Jurgen wherever I can if he calls me and says ‘can you please watch this guy?’ it’s my job. But right now I am really focused on the Olympic team.

Trapp and Hyndman seem to set the tempo for the side, will they play a big part going forward?

We have a lot of central midfielders. That’s like in MLS, most of our players in this group, if they start [in MLS] then they are holding midfielders. I mean Matt Miazga is a regular starter for the New York Red Bulls as a center back but most players, if they start, are holding midfield players or midfielders. We have a lot of midfielders and that makes it even more competitive for every single player.

What about forwards, Hernandez and Rodriguez caused a lot of problems against England. Happy with your forward options?

We have Jordan Morris. He is our fastest player. We missed him as he’s with Stanford University. So we have four or five very talented strikers up front with different skills. Jordan is our fastest player and then we have another powerful striker from New York City, Khiry Shelton. He has been injured for the last couple of weeks which is not good. We have other strikers like Alonso who is from the Mexican system and style and he is more technical and smart who reads difference situations. We have to find the right options for every single game.

The identity of the team, is it tough to put together with so many different players from all over the world, different backgrounds in MLS, the collegiate game and teams in Mexico and Europe? 

No. It is like in every national team. If you coach a national team in Europe you get some players from the German Bundesliga, Premier League… so as a national team coach you have different situations. In the U.S. you have the European players, in my team we have the likes of Morris from college and academy kids and MLS players. For me the most important thing is that we have one philosophy and our players have to be convinced with our philosophy and if one is not going our way I have to look for another player. That is how it is. Otherwise we don’t have success.

source:
Are Kaka and other DPs in MLS blocking the pathway for young American attackers?

The debate over MLS vs. Europe: Is there a big difference between players at academy levels in both places? Why does someone like Carter-Vickers who has come through at Tottenham seem more ready to be a pro at a younger age?

It is always about the individual character. We have the same discussion in Austria because most of the players now, in the last couple of years they left at the age of 15 or 16. I am the most capped player in Austrian history but if I would have left my family at the age of 15 I would have never been a player because I needed my family around me. Every player is an individual. Maybe the one thing that is different in Europe is that when a player is 17 or 18 and is really talented, the teams tend to push him to play already at the highest level. In MLS it would be good if more young players get more opportunities to play. Especially for the future of the men’s national team.

It is good if you bring in a lot of superstars like Kaka and all these guys, but most of time they play in key positions and how do you want to give a young forward in MLS a chance to improve and get starting time if the best players are in those positions? On one side it’s good to bring the superstars into the league and on the other side, at least for the national team, it is a little bit risky, because if they play in the key positions and the young talented players aren’t able to play in positions like striker or the No. 10 role, then in a couple of years we will not have enough players in those positions. The pool of players for the U.S. will have no experience playing in this positions. It is a little bit of a dangerous situation which a couple of nations in Europe have had problems with already.

Over-age players: is there a shortlist yet? Any timeline for that? 

No, not yet. First we have to qualify and then I have to see which player could help me most and if I have a position where I need leaders. Maybe an attacking leader, defensive leader or a goalkeeper. I didn’t make any thoughts about this right now. First we have to qualify, then we have enough time. It doesn’t make sense if I say now for next August he is my over-age player for the Olympics and then one year later he is injured and it’s not working.

That is a normal question. First we have to qualify and of course we have a great chance to qualify. I am optimistic but first we have to do our job.

Balance of the squad for Qualifying with the Mexico game, how difficult will that be?

I mean John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin… of course they would have helped us a lot. It looks like Jurgen keeps them because he has a decisive game too. That is normal. We have a really good relationship and we talk nearly every day. We will find the best way to have both teams getting success.

Do you expect to be able to call on Julian Green and Jordan Morris? 

We have a 35-man roster. We have already had to make that roster and it’s not only players in this group here in England. We have a few other guys who have a chance. At the end we will hopefully find the best players.

Has anybody surprised you in this camp?

Eric Miller, it was his first time with us. He already looked really good in every single training session. He was confident. I mean, we were facing a really good side as his opponents play in the Premier League every week. He either had to mark Nathan Redmond of Jordon Ibe and I think he did a really good job. Matt Miazga was really good. Shane O’Neill did a good job. So the backline did a good job, I was happy with them and that is important. Goalkeepers looked really good. The game against England was more for the defensive players to shine and do a good job and hopefully the next game our attacking players will shine.

source: Getty Images
Morris is highly-rated by Herzog.

How good can this group be? Do you expect a number of players to come through to USMNT in a few years? Just like Guzan, Bradley and Altidore came through from the 2008 Olympic team?

One thing for me, and it’s the same for every country if you have an Olympic team and you talk about players between the age of 20 and 22. If we have 20 or 25 players and we are not able to bring through five to seven players out of this age group into the men’s national team then we did a bad job. That’s how it is. It has to be the last generation, the generation before and then out of every cycle you have to bring through at least five to seven players. Otherwise, something is wrong because you will not get enough young players and good competition into the national team. Fresh blood and all this stuff, that is what I am looking for and hopefully we will do it.

Ibrahimovic scores twice, 10-man Galaxy ties Sounders 2-2

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in each half and the LA Galaxy tied the Seattle Sounders 2-2 on Saturday night despite playing nearly the entire match down a man.

The Galaxy’s Daniel Steres was sent off in the sixth minute for the denial of obvious goal opportunity.

Ibrahimovic tied it at 1 for the Galaxy (13-11-2) with a header in the 45th minute. In the 65th minute, he was taken down by Kim Kee-hee while going for a header in the area and converted the penalty, making it 2-1 with his 20th goal of the season.

LA defender Jorgen Skjelvik scored an own goal in the 82nd minute when he inadvertently deflected goalkeeper David Bingham’s attempted clearance into the Galaxy net.

Raul Ruidiaz opened the scoring in the 42nd minute for the Sounders (11-8-7). Harry Shipp hustled to round up a loose ball and fed it to an open Ruidiaz, who slotted it home.

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Three unanswered goals from FC Dallas to earn a draw, a late Jozy Altidore goal and Chicago cruises past Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s early slate of games had it all. Here’s what we learned from the busy action.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Montreal, Dallas split points in six-goal thriller

The Montreal Impact, up 3-0 in the 56th minute, probably thought they had the game in the bag. Dallas said, ‘not so fast.’

With three unanswered goals – one of those in stoppage time – Dallas did the unthinkable, stunning the Impact and flying back home with a point that tastes like three.

Dallas, like practically everyone else in the West this season, is dreaming of cracking into the final seven. Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen. What was palpable on Saturday, however, is that Dallas played with a lot of determination on the road and with all the odds against them.


Chicago gets by Philadelphia with ease

The Philadelphia Union are good but not good enough to beat the Chicago Fire, apparently.

It could have been the league’s well-known parity, or the fact that the Union were on the road, but the Fire were able to squeeze out the three points, winning 2-0 with 10 men. Nicolas Gaitan earned a straight red right before halftime.

The Union, a proven side time and time again this season, alternatively, have questions to answer and a set of defects that were unearth Saturday (including finishing) to polish up on. But as they shown several times this season after suffering loses, they’ll bounce back under Jim Curtin.

The Fire (33 points) sit one point behind Montreal, Toronto and Orlando, while Philadelphia (45 points) remain clear leaders in the Eastern Conference.


 

NYCFC too much for Cincinnati 

NYCFC had quite the showing.

With Valentin Castellanos and Heber recording a brace each, Allan Cruz’s goal stood no chance. City, who are now third in the Eastern Conference with 41 points (one behind Atlanta), are clearly in midseason form, while FC Cincinnati is yet to win under Ron Jans.

With a defense that has allowed 61 goals – like the one above – Jans’ rest of the season is looking bleaker than brighter. But then again, it’s with a team he purely adopted. It worth noting that New York’s attack has produced eight goals in the last three games, so maybe that was the determining factor.

 

 


 

Altidore earns last-minute draw for Toronto

Like in many other instances, it was Altidore to the rescue for Toronto FC.

Its goal No. 10 for the 29-year-old goal, making it his fourth season with double digit goals. Jonathan Osorio, too, pitched in a goal in the 42nd minute. 26 games in, this is exactly when Greg Vanney needs his big-time players to step up.

The Columbus Crew, in contrast, can’t catch a break. Once again the superior team, a lack of finishing and defensive concentration make it three-straight draws for the Caleb Porter’s men. With seven games to go and seven points out of playoff contention, even a late run might not be enough for a postseason regular.

Sporting KC earn valuable win against Quakes (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  While the San Jose Earthquakes continue to drop in the playoff race, Sporting Kansas City are slowly creeping their way into contention after their 2-1 victory against San Jose. The Quakes, who have lost their last two games, are now sixth in the Western Conference and depending on the Portland Timbers’ result, can fall right above the red line. Surely, it’s not what Matias Almeyda desires, despite being the master of overcoming adversity. Peter Vermes’ side, on the other hand, is now six points out of the playoffs, a reachable distance with eight games left. The Quakes had the game in their hands in the first half, though, controlling the pace of the game. The home side’s finishing in the final 45 that got the job done, however. Moving forward, turnaround for both teams will have to be instantaneous as the Quakes travel to LAFC and Kansas City hosts Minnesota United, respectively.

Three moments that mattered

25′ — Wondolowski sets MLS record —

Whatever you do, don’t leave Wondolowski unmarked unless you want to get scored on.

48′ — Feilhaber rips it into the back of the net  —

Benny Feilhaber still has it, obviously.

73′ — Smith seals a massive victory for Sporting  —

Not who one expected to earn Kansas City three points, but soccer is all about surprises.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Chris Wondolowski sets another MLS record in historic career

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Just months removed from becoming MLS’ all-time leading goalscorer, Chris Wondolowski is putting pen to the record book once again.

The 36-year-old is the league’s first player to ever score 10 goals (or more) in 10 consecutive seasons. His tenth of the season came against Sporting Kansas City, who, for one reason or another, left him unmarked in the box on a corner kick – an imprudent defensive strategy.

Wondolowski’s regular-season tally is now at 154 goals, 31 goals clear of Kei Kamara‘s 123, who is the second highest active goalscorer in the league.

The San Jose Earthquakes captain’s record run began in 2010. He was 27.