BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Yanks Abroad's second installment of it's interview with US U-23 head coach Caleb Porter
Porter has been the head coach of Akron since 2006 and since he has been there he has turned the team into one of the elite programs in NCAA soccer. In 2009 Akron advanced to the national championship game before falling to Virginia in a shootout. In 2010, Porter's team won the national title after defeating Louisville in the final.
Porter's teams have been known for their aggressive and attacking style of play. Under his system, top MLS forwards players such as Darlington Nagbe, Teal Bunbury, and Steve Zakuani have flourished.
While international soccer is far different from NCAA soccer, Porter's plan is to bring the Akron style to the US team as it builds towards Olympic qualifying in late March.
"Ultimately, I want to be a passing team," Porter said in outlining his plan. "There might be some games we don't have the ball as much as other games. But when we have the ball, we're going to pass. We're going to possess the ball. And there's going to be a purpose to how we play. When we don't have the ball, you will see us press a little bit more."
"I want to play an attack-oriented game," Porter continued. "I feel good about the fact that I think we can do that with the attacking pieces that we have. At the same time, we have to be a balanced team. When we don't have the ball, we're going to need to be disciplined. We want to win the ball back. We don't want to sit back and wait to see what's going to happen. We'll want to try, if we can, play dominantly."
Even as Porter begins to explore the player pool, some of the pieces of the team are fairly obvious. The Olympic team's roster is only 18 players for the finals and there are already a good number of top players who have US national team experience.
Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Timothy Chandler, Bill Hamid, Teal Bunbury, and Danny Williams are just some of the names that have already been called up to the US national team under Klinsmann. Other players like Sean Johnson, and Mikkel Diskerud have been capped under Bob Bradley.
Heading into the first U-23 camp, Porter is excited about the team but admits some areas are of more a concern than others.
"If you look at the younger age U23 players some are with the full team," Porter analyzed. "Guys like Juan Agudelo and Jozy Altidore and Teal Bunbury- some of these guys will be played for the full team. You have to feel pretty good about your attacking pieces. I think the area that we need to figure out is in the back and the center midfield."
One major issue with the team as it moves towards qualifying is how Porter and US Soccer will negotiate the release of several of the players who are currently based in Europe. Since qualifying does not fall on a FIFA date, clubs are not required to let their players play in the tournament.
Porter has already begun to work with Klinsmann to develop relationships with the clubs to make sure the best players are able to play in the tournament.
"I'm very confident that we will get the guys that we want," Porter stated. "We might not get them for every camp. We may not get them for every game. But we'll be prepared either way, and we'll have a plan of how we're going to approach this thing based on the input we get from the clubs. We're already developing relationships with the clubs, and we're already preparing them for the plan that we have."
The players who are likely to face the biggest obstacles in getting released by their clubs are Nurnberg right back Timothy Chandler, Hoffenheim central midfielder Danny Williams, and AZ Alkmaar forward Jozy Altidore.
These three players are all starters for their European clubs who will not be eager to part with them for a U-23 tournament in the middle of the season. Despite that, Porter says that discussions are underway.
"Those three players clearly are in our plan," Porter said of the complicated topic. "The issue is just figuring out a way to where we can get these guys for qualifying. So certainly I haven't abandoned that. But again, I'm realistic in knowing that there's a chance that we may not get them for all the games. In fact, we probably won't. But can we still get them for one or two games? These are the discussions that we're starting to have with clubs. It's going to be a bit of a chess match in figuring out the perfect approach where the club is happy, I'm happy; and ultimately we're successful with the group."
There is history for successfully negotiating the release of players for Olympic qualifying. Four years ago, Jonathan Spector was a starter for West Ham who were then in the English Premier League.
At the time, then US national team head coach Bob Bradley agreed not to invite Spector for a US national team friendly in exchange for West Ham allowing Spector to play it the semifinal game only of Olympic qualifying.
Under the qualifying format, four teams emerge from the two groups and then the winners of the semifinal games qualify for the Olympics. The fact that the semifinal game is all-important means that Porter needs to have his best team that day.
Porter says that such a deal similar to the one reached for Spector four years ago could happen ahead of 2012 qualifying but he has to make sure it doesn't adversely affect the team.
"I'm certainly aware of is the chemistry of the group," Porter said of adding players in the middle of the tournament. "I think that's something that I have to be aware of. We could be in a situation where we've played very well with the guys that we've had. We're now with the semifinal. Do we want to be bringing in five guys for one game? That's where I have to be smart with things. So maybe it's we get a couple guys for one game in the group stages. Then we get a couple more for the semifinal. These are some of the things we're starting to think about."
While those discussions are still ongoing, Porter is right now focused for his first camp opening up this week and beginning to put the pieces of the team together.
"It's certainly stimulating," Porter concluded. "I'm enjoying the process of putting this thing together, and I can't wait to have my first camp where I'm putting in my vision of how we're going to play; and also just starting to develop a relationship with these guys and starting to get a look at them, and starting to get a sense of how this team is going to fit together."