Finding ways to entertain the U.S. team
Well, the Netherlands has been good to us so far, the U.S. under-20 national team. First place in our group, seven points and three shutouts.
I would like to see us score more goals, but I am happy that we are creating chances. My team keeps telling me they are saving the goals for the knockout phase. Well, now is the time.
The game against Egypt is one of those where you take a chance. Do you stay with starting lineup? Do you rest some starters and play some of the reserves? We decided to go to our bench for two reasons. One was to rest some players and protect the guys who had one yellow card. The other reason was to see who from the bench would play well and was in good form. We won the game and achieved both goals. That is what they call a win-win in the business world.
Our total time in Holland is now approaching three weeks. I have learned that when you have a team on the road, this is the time that they start to get irritated with each other. When they have to do personal laundry for the first time, the boys start to get a little uptight. Our mood has been pretty good. However, we have tried to break up the routine.
Sunday we went to dinner at a country hotel and sat outdoors. Most of us thought the meal was great, a few did not feel the same. When you have an under-20 team, some eating habits are very interesting. Green is a color that does not make it to the plate for everyone. If they have not seen it before, or are not able to buy it at a drive-through, then it is not edible to some.
Monday we took the team to a movie. It was our second time. Our liaison, Richard Matters, set up a private screening for the team at a friend's theater. The first time it was "The Interpreter", this time it was "Sin City". The first movie was much preferred. But it did break up the day.
Training is important and watching video as a team as well as meetings are all important. The psychological side is also key to keeping them fresh for the game.
The coaches were also busy. We got all three games on tape that Italy has played. John Harkes saw them play twice live. We edited a tape for the team to see. We also watched all three games as coaches. When the team naps, we work. The toughest part of the job for new coaches who were former players is all the stuff away from training. The on-the-field stuff is the fun part.
We also have new hotel colleagues -- Japan, Morocco and Italy have all moved in. All the teams come down all wearing the same thing each day. They look strangely upon us as we wear different things, although all of it is gear that was issued and bears the US Soccer trademark as well as our sponsor, Nike. As a young coach, I used to make the team wear the same thing. Then I had them all wear one article of clothing the same. Now, I let them wear what they want as long as they are respectful, on time and behave. Maybe I have grown soft. I prefer to think of it in the following manner: I only want to worry about the important things.
Do not get me wrong -- small things are important to the success of the team. Timeliness, effort, respect, eating properly, hydrating, resting -- those are all small things that matter. I am very demanding on these items.
We are looking forward to our game with Italy. They are an aggressive defensive team. They play with a big target forward and have three others who are very active around him. The outside fullbacks push forward a lot and take risks. Their goalkeeper kicks the crap out of the ball but tends to give up some rebounds and the like. They also like to shoot a lot especially from far out -- we need to stay alert.
We want to attack the space behind the outside backs and get our players wide to run at those backs who are only average in their one-on-one defending. We need to move the ball quickly to avoid their defensive pressure in midfield and run at their back four.
Tuesday will be another day at the office. We will be ready and we want to continue our journey. It is time to see Utrecht -- a win will get us to that city.
Enjoy the game.
Sigi Schmid is currently coaching the U.S. U-20 national team in the World Youth Championship. He is one of the winningest coaches in MLS history, having led the Los Angeles Galaxy to four honors in his five-plus years at the helm, including the 2002 MLS Cup championship. Send comments to Sigi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.