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U.S. SOCCER MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 21, 2011
NEIL BUETHE: Thanks to everyone on the call. Thanks for joining us to discuss the appointment of U.S. Soccer's Under-23 and Under-20 men's national team coaches. On the call with me today are U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn, and U.S. under-23 men's national team head coach, Caleb Porter.
One quick note before we get started, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati asked me to send his regrets for not being able to join us on the call today as was previously planned. As most of you know there are some important meetings the past few days in Zurich with the TV for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups being reviewed by FIFA.
And speaking of that news, coming out of FIFA today, I'm sure some of you may have some questions for Dan or Sunil on that. In the near future we'll determine a time where we'll make one or both of them available, but for the purposes of today call we want to keep it specifically to the topic of our new head coach appointments for the Under-23 and Under-20 men's national team.
So to start, I'll open up to Dan Flynn and Caleb for some opening comments and then we'll take questions.
DAN FLYNN: Thank you, Neal. First of all, thank you to everybody for being on the call. We are excited with the announcement of Caleb as our new Under-23 men's coach and Tab as our men's Under-20 coach. We are very pleased with the process and the quality of the candidates that were involved in the process.
And I think that being said, I turn it over to Caleb who obviously rose to the top, and we'll hear from Caleb.
CALEB PORTER: Thanks, I'd like to start by thanking Sunil Gulati, Dan Flynn, Jürgen Klinsmann and Claudio Reyna for giving me this incredible opportunity. I'm extremely honored and it's a privilege to lead the United States under-23s and I'm anxious to dive right into the process of Olympic qualifying in March.
Q. I have a question about the metrics and goals for this Olympic cycle, and I guess the Under-20s, also, because they are going to be involved in the process. What are you guys setting as goals, explicit goals for the Olympic team for qualifying and getting to the Olympics?
CALEB PORTER: I think the No. 1 priority is to qualify. And right now, we have four and a half months, which is not a long time but we have four and a half months to get the group ready qualify for the Olympics.
We understand that we are a little bit against the gun there, but I dove right into this process. We had conversations yesterday on player selection for this next camp in November. I feel like I know the group already very well, but we also have a lot of players that we need to track and we need to see, and so that's probably the No. 1 priority is to focus on the November camp, take a look at as many players as we can, and again, start this process of preparing the group to qualify for the Olympics, and I think that's the No. 1 priority at this point.
Q. Can you give us a little maybe just some foundation, where you guys are going to practice, are you looking at a lot of college guys, are you looking at pro guys? What are you looking at maybe off of your team at Akron, when are you going to be both feet in so to speak? I know that you've still got some stuff with the NCAA Tournaments and that kind of thing going. Just kind of give us a little roadmap, if you will, of the next couple of months.
CALEB PORTER: Well, obviously I'm right now leading the University of Akron and we are in the midst of our season. Like I mentioned, I've already begun this process. We are preparing for the camp in November. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend the camp in November because of my responsibility with the University of Akron falls right during the NCAA Tournament. But Claudio and Tab will be a part of that camp and I'm very confident in their ability to evaluate the talent.
And you know, as far as following the season, I will be 100% invested in this job. And again, preparing for March qualification; to have a number of camps, in January, February, leading up to qualifying.
But I have already wrapped my head around this job. Very excited to get to work. Even though I'll be at Akron preparing, hopefully, our team to prepare another national championship, I'll also be doing dual duty starting now.
Q. January, winter training, I'm guessing Akron won't be a site unless you're doing some stuff indoors -- yes? No? In terms of training and preparation?
CALEB PORTER: Well, we'll do some domestic camps. Obviously November is an international camp in Germany. No, there won't be an Akron -- we'll do our camps I'm assuming at the training center in L.A., Home Depot Center, but we have not mapped that out completely. We have mapped out kind of a tentative schedule, January, February, leading up to qualifying. But in terms of the logistics of those training camps, you know, we have not made those decisions at this point.
Q. How much of the Olympic calendar overlaps with the NCAA calendar in terms of perhaps coaching at Akron and preparing for the Olympics, or even being at the Olympics?
CALEB PORTER: Well, the great thing about this is that there's very little conflict. You know, when the season is done, I'm all in with this job, the U-23s. It falls in that time of the year where we are not doing a lot in Akron; it's our off-season. When I'm not in camp with the U-23s, I'll certainly be at Akron and I'll be with my team and I'll be doing what I always do: Preparing them to be ready for next fall.
But you know, my No. 1 priority in that time of the year, especially January, February, March, will be to get this group qualified for the Olympics, and really that's the only thing on my mind. But that's the only thing that will be on my mind when the season is done.
Q. How will your team work with Jürgen, I believe Claudio Reyna has mentioned the desire to have all of the national teams playing in a similar style, a similar system, and handling the players in a similar way. Is that an accurate portrayal of what's going to happen, and if so, how does that affect how you're going to approach the team?
CALEB PORTER: No question. You know, I think that's Jürgen's vision, Claudio's vision, Sunil and Dan's vision for the entire U.S. Soccer struck, infrastructure.
Certainly we'll all be responsible for our teams. Jürgen with his team and myself with the 23s and Tab with the 20s and so on and so forth. But we will be a team. And I think there will be a lot of communication, and you know, I will be an extension of Jürgen in a lot of ways.
Philosophically, we are all on the same page. That's one of the great things. I've had several conversations already with Jürgen in person, on the phone, through e-mail. You know, he's a guy that's going to be open to communicating with all of the national teams. He wants his vision to trickle down, and I think that's very important to have it that way.
And you know, again, my goal, my priority is to win. You have to win. I want this group to qualify and then I want to have a good performance in the Olympics.
But at the same time, even though results are important, it's also equally as important that we move U.S. Soccer forward by developing players and coming up with a uniform philosophy of the organization.
Q. Can you just briefly describe what that philosophy is or the system or style of play would mean when you coach a team?
CALEB PORTER: Well, there's a lot of nuts and bolts that goes into that. Certainly that's Jürgen's vision, but in my conversations with your Jürgen, we are in line philosophically and in the way that we want to do things.
You know, and the nice thing, too, we are not naïve. We don't feel like we are just going to throw the ball out tomorrow and play like Spain. But, we do want to play a proactive approach. We want to, if we can, possess the ball. And I think there has to be an emphasis on the attack.
But we also don't want to lose the things that make the U.S. special; our fight and spirit and defending and all of the things that have been a trademark in this country.
So in terms of the nuances, those things are hard to discuss on a conference call, and those are things that Jürgen should probably speak on. But generally those are a lot of the things that philosophically that we are all in line with.
Q. Dan, you mentioned the process in your opening remarks. Can you elaborate a little on that and tell us what the process was? Did guys interview for both jobs and then you kind of both -- both Under-23 and Under-20 jobs, and then you got an idea for where guys might fit in best, or did Caleb, for instance, interview specifically for the Under-23 job? And Caleb, can you just talk about the differences between coaching a national team that's not together all the time, full of pros, and how different that is from coaching at Akron?
DAN FLYNN: Let me start. The process involved Jürgen, Claudio, Sunil and myself in terms of the four folks that were going to do the interview process. It was very collaborative. Candidates included domestic and international candidates. And then in terms of the candidates, it was a mix of some contacting us, and some candidates we actually had on our radar screen; so Caleb being one, a good example, where obviously been involved for 2 1/2 years with the Under-18s. We obviously know his style of play, his proven track record of developing players in the college game. So that all became a factor.
What we tried to do was gather candidates and talk about this age range, if you will, the 20s and 23s, and once we went through the process in a collaborative fashion, we came to the decision where we are today, that we thought Tab at the 20 and Caleb at the 23 was the best fit for where we were at with the whole feeder system, with Jürgen's vision with the 23s and the 20s all, if you will, in sync. That was our process.
Caleb, you want to take the second half of that?
CALEB PORTER: In the difference in terms of being a college coach and international coach, there certainly are differences.
I've had the opportunity, as Dan said, to be involved as assistant coach with the Under-18 national team for about 2 1/2 years, and I've been a part of domestic camp. So I've been a part of preparing groups in a short amount of time, seven- to ten-day camps, leading international tournaments. I've been overseas, Argentina, Chile, Portugal several times. I was with the U-18 team at the Milk Cup this summer.
So I have experience outside of college, going through this unique process in preparing a team, selecting players, putting a group together, the pieces together, quickly, implementing a style of play and a structure in terms of system, and then game planning in order to get results in an international tournament. And so I think that experience over the last 2 1/2 years has been critical.
At the same time, in terms of soccer-wise, I've been coaching my Akron team not like a college team, but like a pro team, in our style of play and the way that we approach teams, from all of the things that go into, really, I think preparing a team to play a certain way and to still win games. I've been doing that with my team in Akron.
The difference is internationally, again, you have a short of amount of time to do it. But I have experience doing, that being a part of the U-18 team and the national team, and I've been a part that have and experienced that firsthand.
Q. Just a question about bringing your style from Akron to the U-23 national team; is there any difficulty doing that in such a short period now that you only have a couple of camps to go?
CALEB PORTER: Well, again, I have my philosophy on the game, how I would like my team to defend, how I would like my team to pack. Jürgen does, as well. But I understand that you can't just throw a style out there and immediately expect it to take shape, you know, and so it will be a process.
And no, I do not see it being -- I do see it being a challenge. But I think it can happen. At the same time, I'm not, again, naïve to think we will be able to just throw a ball out and play, again, like Spain.
So certainly the way we approach each game might be different. Obviously get in the Olympics hopefully, playing higher-level teams, you have to look at your team and you have to look at the best approach to that game.
But I think it must be a vision of how U.S. Soccer must be played. There will be a vision of how the U-23 team will play. Now, within that style of play and philosophy, there will be adjustments depending on the game, depending on the opponent. At the end of the day, there will be a clear identity, but also there will be a plan that will help us win each game.
Q. First question for Dan and one quick one for Caleb. Dan, could you talk about the timeline of this decision, particularly in light that México has had their U-23 program going for I think over a year, and they have played in two major tournaments and numerous exhibitions and they are in the Pan Am Games right now, and you just hired a coach who said he can't go to your first camp and you're four months out from qualifying. Why such a late decision on this?
DAN FLYNN: I don't think we necessarily think it's late. We started the process quite frankly a while ago, and obviously with the change in the men's national team, that probably allowed us just -- forced us to slow the process down a little bit, make sure that we wanted to start from the top down and have our Under-20s and Under-23s and men's national team connected.
While it may seem a short window, we are pretty comfortable that Caleb understands his pool of players. I know he follows the league quite heavily, and the former Under-20 coach, Thomas Rongen did a lot of identifying players around Europe. So it isn't like we weren't building for this. I think a lot of work has been done that allows us to go very quickly, and I think as Caleb described, with both feet, jump in.
So we are comfortable where we are, and now the focus is on the stretch run really between now and qualifying, and then hopefully we qualify, and the next stretch is between qualifying and the Olympics.
Q. And Caleb, you obviously know the collegiate player pool as well as anybody, but you also know the limitations of NCAA soccer in terms of practice time and games. Over the years coaches have increasingly at this level picked from professional ranks instead of college ranks, how will you balance that with your philosophy and approach towards that issue?
CALEB PORTER: The U-23s, we should be comprised of professionals in my opinion. There may be a couple college guys that we'll look at, but we are at the point in this country where the U-20s and U-23s should be primarily professional players. U-20s, certainly, again, there will be a few more college guys.
But looking at the initial pool, we have got an extensive list of players playing in MLS, playing overseas and with that group, we should have an extremely good chance to achieve successful results with looking at the pool here.
And for me, you know, just kind of piggybacking with what Dan said, a lot of this process is going to be finding the right players. It's going to be personnel selection. These guys on this list are pros, and they are playing at a very high level. So they know the game. They know how to play. And it's a matter of picking the right mix of players, the best players in each pool, the best players to fit the system that we want to play, play the style that we want to play and win games.
November, even though I'm not going to be there, it's really about getting a look at some of these, especially international, guys that we have heard about, that we have seen on tape, that we think could help us; get a look at these guys so that we know where we are at going into the January and February camps.
And then from there, it's continuing to hone in on the group. And now the building starts of really getting them used to the style and the way that we are going to do things and the way that we are going to play, and getting used to the chemistry together.
Q. You spoke about the pool just now, but there are guys that pretty much have experience with the national team, with Jürgen before, like Juan Agudelo and Jozy Altidore. Are those guys that you're considering for your pool, for the Olympic qualifying, or do you just leave them to continue what they are doing with Jürgen? And for Dan, I don't know if you can, but if you could, could you let us know who else was interviewed for the two jobs?
CALEB PORTER: Well, again, it's going to be Jürgen's choice on that, and I know that he will want some of those guys to be involved with me. And you know, again, we have already established, started establishing a great relationship. He is very supportive of me and the job I need to do. He wants to help me.
And you know, I don't expect guys that are with him, like Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo and Brek Shea and some of these other guys that are performing well with him, I don't expect to get them at every camp, and probably won't get until December. But that will be his decision.
I just know that I need to prepare, you know, the rest of the pool in case I don't get some of those guys, in case some of those players are not available. And so my task right now is to look at the guys that I don't know about, first and foremost, to get a look at some new guys and to see what they can do with the group, and to see if their guys can help us moving forward.
DAN FLYNN: On the other question, Caleb is our guy, that's our focus, and we are just not going to really discuss or mention the other candidates.
Q. I know FIFA looks at the Olympics -- whatever you want to call it, sometimes as a stepchild, just wonder your perspective of what the Olympics means to you and how important it is to you --
CALEB PORTER: Well, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I certainly don't look at it as a stepchild job. I know that U.S. Soccer doesn't; Dan doesn't; Sunil doesn't.
Any time a player has an opportunity to wear the badge and represent his country, it should mean a great deal. I know that the players that will wear the badge for the U-23s in qualifying, and hopefully the Olympics, they will represent their country very well and it will mean a great deal to them.
So I'm taking this job, you know, with the utmost respect, certainly it's an honor. I'm privileged, and I'm going to do everything in my power to achieve successful results for the U.S. Soccer and for our country.
Q. In terms of the timetable and identifying players for March, does the idea of March qualification, does the idea to name rosters before or after the camp, do you have an idea of that and how closely will you be working with Jürgen and rest of the technical staff in terms of players to bring in and players that you will ultimately select?
CALEB PORTER: I'll be working very closely with them.
Again, yesterday we had a couple-hour conference call to talk about the players going to select going into this November camp, and we went through every position. We went through the players in each position, from players overseas we need to be aware of. Jürgen was on the call; Tab was on the call; Claudio was on the call; Jim Moorhouse, all of us were there together discussing these players, and everyone was giving their opinion.
I expect to have many more of those same conversations. And at the same time, it's going to be my job to select the group. It's going to be my job to get this group prepared to pick the players and to prepare to qualify for the Olympics.
But I'll certainly be communicating with Jürgen. I'll be using Tab and Claudio, their minds, picking their brains. They have seen some of these players and I have not. I have seen some of the players and they have not. So it's going to be -- I'm going to use everybody's opinion in making decisions, and be obviously the November camp, Tab and Claudio are going to be with the ones running it.
Going into that camp we are going to have a lot of discussions on where things are at with the group. I'm going to be talking with them regularly over there about getting tapes of the game and certainly we are going to be discussing things afterward.
In terms of naming a roster, right now, again, we are focusing on the November camp and seeing as many guys as possible. So you know, we'll take it from there.
Q. What kind of cooperation have you been promised by MLS as far as getting all of the players that you want? And two, what happened to the U-20 team to bring all of the best players such as Juan Agudelo to Guatemala. What have we learned from that?
DAN FLYNN: Let me touch on the MLS question. As a general statement, we have a fantastic working relationship with Major League Soccer. I can assure everyone on the call that Don Garber and his entire staff and all throughout the teams and their coaching staffs are very committed to us to build our Olympic team and our national teams.
So we look forward to that continued cooperation, and Caleb should expect and already knows that he will be -- that we'll have full cooperation from Major League Soccer.
Q. Back when the U-20s were trying to qualify for the World Cup, players such as Juan Agudelo were left off the roster so he could play on the national team in two exhibitions; what lessons have we learned from that?
NEIL BUETHE: I think that Caleb at the point doesn't need to get into that. That obviously was a conversation with Thomas Rongen, head coach at the time and Sunil Gulati and Dan Flynn. I think for Caleb to answer that, it's a little bit difficult for him to do that. So as Dan said, MLS is very cooperative with us, and it will be a good relationship moving forward.
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