BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, February 22, 2013
With the US U-20 national team in the middle of its World Cup qualifying campaign, forward Jerome Kiesewetter believes that he and his teammates are already making strides in the wake of their narrow win over Haiti on Monday night.
Kiesewetter, 19, was a late addition to the roster because US U-20 head coach Tab Ramos had to press his club, Bundesliga outfit VFB Stuttgart, to release him. As a result, Kiesewetter joined the team several days after it had initially assembled ahead of qualifying.
In the team's opening qualifying game, the U.S. team defeated Haiti 2-1 but was seriously tested and outplayed by the Haitians for long stretches in the second half. Kiesewetter entered that game as a substitute in the 79th minute.
With Costa Rica defeating Haiti 1-0 on Wednesday night, the Americans are assured of qualifying for the quarterfinals and need just a draw against Costa Rica on Friday to win Group A.
Despite the uneven performance against Haiti, Kiesewetter has seen improvement in the days following the game and believes the team will have a stronger outing on Friday.
"Well, we won the game," Kiesewetter told YA from Mexico. "We had a couple of more chances to score and didn't. But we won the game, and that's all that matters. We've gotten used to the altitude, the weather and all that. We've been practicing well and putting everything together."
Among the players on the US U-20 roster, Kiesewetter is one of the few who has a professional contract with a European team. After developing at Hertha Berlin for nearly his entire youth career, Kiesewetter signed an impressive four-year contract with VFB Stuttgart last May.
Since signing with Stuttgart, however, it's been an uneven ride. For the first time in his life, he moves away from his family and had to battle homesickness. Also, in his first half season at Stuttgart he had to deal with a painful injury where he chipped his shinbone.
"It was hard adjusting to my new club," Kiesewetter said. "It was completely different for me to live by myself, far away from my family. But now I'm used to it and it's all good now. Then I had a cut in my shin bone - missed about two months. Now, I'm feeling pretty good."
Stuttgart is currently a good situation for Kiesewetter because the club has one of the best U-23 teams (often referred to as a second team) in Germany. Stuttgart II currently plays in Germany's third tier, known as the 3.Liga, and sits in ninth place as the highest ranked second team in the country.
Since going through his period of adjustment at his new club and recovering from injury, Kiesewetter has begun to earn minutes with Stuttgart II, including in the two most recent games since arriving in Mexico last week.
"Am I satisfied? Not really," Kiesewetter said of his progress this year. "I want to do my best and keep getting better. I'm not at the point where I should be satisfied. The 3.Liga is a jump and a little bit better. But we're starting to get results. We train with the first team."
For now, Kiesewetter is focused on the U-20 team and making sure it qualifies for this summer's World Cup in Turkey. Like many players on the senior national team, the Berlin-born Kiesewetter is the son of a German mother and an American military father who was stationed in Germany when he was born.
Kiesewetter is still close to his father, who is from Austin, Tex., and used to visit him regularly before soccer commitments became too time-consuming. In order to get further in touch with his American roots, Kiesewetter noted that he is planning a trip to the Lone Star State some time in the near future.
"When I was younger, I would go and visit my family and I want to visit my dad again this year," he said. "The last time I was there about two years ago. But my dad is very, very excited that I am playing for the United States. He's a soccer fan. He watches all my games now."
With the US U-20 team having clinched advancement out of group play, their quarterfinal game next week will be perhaps the biggest game of Kiesewetter's young career. Under CONCACAF's format, the quarterfinal matchups are single-elimination contests where the winners each earn one of the region's berths in the World Cup, while the semifinals and finals are essentially meaningless.
Should the U.S. qualify for the World Cup, Kiesewetter is optimistic for the team's chances in Germany even despite the injuries to key players Will Packwood and Marc Pelosi. Kiesewetter first began playing for the US U-20 team during the last cycle in 2010 when he and his best friend, Hertha Berlin central defender John Anthony Brooks, were invited by former head coach Thomas Rongen for a camp in Peru.
That team learned firsthand how tricky U-20 World Cup qualifying can be, winning its qualifying group but losing its quarterfinal game to hosts Guatemala to be eliminated. Kiesewetter was not on that final qualifying roster, but, having known many of the players on that team, he is now determined not to let history repeat itself.
"It would be a dream to play with this team in the U-20 World Cup," Kiesewetter concluded. "We have a lot of potential. We're improving all the time and I think we've got a really good team. It is an honor for me to be here to represent the United States, and I want to do whatever I can to help the team qualify."