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.

source: Getty Images
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.

Americans Abroad: Chandler earns start after lengthy absence; McKennie leaves injured

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On a relatively quiet weekend for Americans abroad, Timothy Chandler started for Eintracht Frankfurt for the first time since mid-September.

In England, Christian Pulisic made another start for Chelsea, while Lynden Gooch returned to action with Sunderland after a few months of inactivity.

But while some came back from inactivity, Weston McKennie was stretched off the field on Sunday after landing on his shoulder in Schalke’s 1-0 win over Frankfurt.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — Pulisic started and played 65 minutes in Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to Bournemouth on Saturday. The attacker failed to record a single shot.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback watched the Magpies’ 1-0 loss to Burnley from the bench on Saturday.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson continues to rack up the minutes at Wigan. The young left back started and played the full 90 minutes as Wigan picked up a point against struggling Huddersfield Town on Saturday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old didn’t dress in Reading’s 0-0 draw with Stoke City.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain started and played the full 90 minutes in Hull City’s 2-2 draw with Charlton Athletic on Friday.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender started at centerback and played 67 minutes in QPR’s 5-3 loss to Barnsley.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — Like Miazga, Carter-Vickers, too, was absent during Saturday’s bout.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes started and played 88 minutes in Derby’s 1-0 loss to Millwall.

EFL League One

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland – Gooch came off the bench and played 18 minutes in Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Blackpool – the first minutes for the Californian since mid-October.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  13 minutes into the game on Sunday, McKennie was stretched off the field after he suffered an apparent shoulder injury.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf Despite making four saves, Steffen allowed three goals in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 3-0 loss to RB Leipzig on Saturday. Morales did not dress.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  Sargent is out with an injury for the remainder of the calendar year.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams didn’t dress for RB Leipzig.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson didn’t dress for Borussia Monchengladbach.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The veteran defender started and played 90 minutes for the first time since mid-September.

2. Bundesliga

Julian Green, Greuther Furth – The 24-year-old midfielder is out with an injury.

Bobby Wood, Hamburg – Wood dressed but didn’t play in Hamburg’s 1-1 draw on Sunday.

Eredivisie

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest didn’t dress for Ajax on Sunday.

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — The 21-year-old striker started and played 45 minutes in VVV Venlo’s 2-1 loss to PEC Zwolle.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback didn’t dress for FC Emmen on Sunday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah didn’t dress for Lille on Friday.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Siebatcheu didn’t dress for Rennes on Sunday.

Honorable mentions:

Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund U-19 —  Reyna’s praiseworthy campaign in Germany continues, scoring a goal in Borussia Dortmund’s 6-1 win over Alemannia Aachen on Sunday.

Georgetown wins NCAA title by beating Virginia on penalty kick

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CARY, N.C. — Georgetown goalkeeper Tomas Romero stopped Virginia’s Axel Gunnarsson in the seventh round of penalty kicks to give the Hoyas their first NCAA men’s soccer championship Sunday night.

The teams fought through two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods after finishing regulation tied at 3, leaving penalty kicks to decide the game. Both teams made their first six penalty kicks, and Aidan Rocha made the seventh for Georgetown, forcing Gunnarsson to attempt to match it.

Romero moved to his right to thwart the shot and give the Hoyas (20-1-3) the victory.

Derek Dodson, Paul Rothrock and Daniel Wu scored in regulation for the Hoyas.

Virginia (21-2-1) countered with goals by Joe Bell, Daniel Steedman and Daryl Dike.

Georgetown appeared on the verge of winning regulation when Dodson broke a 2-2 tie with 9:37 left in the second half. But Dike forced overtime when he booted a rebound of his own miss into the top of the net with 4:58 remaining in regulation.

Virginia was bidding for its eighth national championship and third since 2009. Georgetown was playing in its second NCAA final.It lost 1-0 to Indiana in the 2012 championship game.

Mexicans Abroad: Jimenez registers assist in Wolves loss, praised by Liverpool’s Klopp

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In an underwhelming slow weekend for Mexicans abroad, only Raul Jimenez (and Omar Govea) managed to make the headlines, but not necessarily for his assist to Adama Traore in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ 2-1 loss to Tottenham on Sunday.

The 28-year-old forward, who has been on a serious scoring run this season with Wolves, was praised by Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, who was asked about Mexican soccer ahead of the Reds’ match against Monterrey in the semifinal of the FIFA World Cup of Clubs.

“There are several players from Mexico,” he says “but Raul Jimenez is an impressive Mexican soccer ambassador, really good. I’m sure they (Mexico) have a strong league, but it’s not easy to see it here, so I don’t know much.”

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Despite Tottenham snapping Wolves’ 12-game unbeaten streak in league play, Jimenez continued his fine run of generating goals. In the 67th minute, the forward assisted Traore for the home side’s first and only goal of the night.

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito came on for Luuk De Jong in the 59th minute in Sevilla’s 2-1 loss to Villarreal on Sunday. The forward completed all of his passes (four) and had a shot blocked.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera played the final 27 minutes of Atletico’s 2-0 win over Osasuna on Saturday.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Due to a suspension, Guardado was not called up to feature in Betis’ 18.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old took the field in the 52nd minute in Betis’ 2-2 draw against Espanyol.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played every minute in Celta’s 2-2 with Mallorca. The defender recorded three clearances, one blocked shot and three interceptions. Celta remain as possible relegation candidates.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  Lozano’s time at Napoli under Gennaro Gattuso didn’t have the firework start many were hoping for. Instead, the frenetic winger started on the bench and played only 11 minutes in Napoli’s last-minute 2-1 loss to Parma on Saturday.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Gutierrez started and played all 90 minutes in PSV’s 3-1 loss to Feyenoord on Sunday. The midfielder completed 89 percent of his passes, recorded one key pass and one shot on target.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax —  It’s been an up-and-down experience for Alvarez at Ajax thus far. Completing 93 percent of his passes and winning 80 percent of his ground duels, his performance on Sunday was a high for the midfielder, despite his team’s 1-0 loss to AZ.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito and Porto host Tondela on Monday.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea shined on Sunday in Belgium, bagging a brace in Zulte’s 5-1 thumping of Sint Truidense VV.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Pedro Arce, Panionios – Arce played 70 minutes in Panionios’ 2-1 loss to Volos on Sunday.

Gerardo Ramirez Alonso, Roda JC – Ramirez Alonso dressed but didn’t take the field in Roda’s draw on Friday.

Serie A roundup: Ronaldo sets record with brace, Juventus top Serie A (video)

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Juventus’ routine win, which puts them level with leaders Inter Milan, highlights Sunday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Juventus 3-1 Udinese

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace as Juventus picked up its first win after dropping points in two consecutive Serie A outings.

With two goals – which easily could have been four if he had not struck the bar – the Portuguese made history in front of the home crowd, becoming the first player to record double digit goals in 15 consecutive seasons within Europe’s top-five leagues.

The storied attacker opened the floodgates in the ninth minute, when a softly deflected ball landed in front of the same right foot that belted the ball past Udinese’s man between the sticks.

It wouldn’t take long for Ronaldo to record his second of the night.

In the 37th minute, one of the 34-year-old’s best techniques made scoring a possibility: positioning. Keeping track of the defender marking him and Udinese’s backline, Ronaldo made a run forward, meeting a perfectly-placed ball from Gonzalo Higuain and striking it home. 

Before the first half came to an end, Leonardo Bonucci headed home the home side’s third of the night, putting the game out of reach. In consolation time, however, Udinese spoiled Gianluigi Buffon’s clean sheet as Ignacio Pussetto tap in inside the box found its way into the goal.

It’s a quick turnaround for Juventus as they travels to Sampdoria midweek, while Udinese host Cagliari over the weekend.

Elsewhere

Verona 3-3 Torino

AC Milan 0-0 Sassuolo

Bologna 2-1 Atalanta

Roma 3-1 SPAL

Fiorentina 1-1 Inter Milan