DALLAS – On the eve of the US national team’s warm-up friendly against Ecuador, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann left no doubts about his team's expectations for next month’s Copa America Centenario.
“The goal, then, is really to get to the final four,” Klinsmann said. “We want to get to the final four.”
Klinsmann spent much of his Tuesday afternoon press conference discussing how important the upcoming summer tournament is to his squad – a team that consists of a handful of fresh, new faces compared to last summer’s Gold Cup roster.
For starters, noted Klinsmann, Copa America is a “very unique competition” in regards to its size, scope and historic nature.
“It’s the biggest tournament since the 1994 World Cup in the United States, and I think as a player you want to jump on that one,” Klinsmann said. “You want to make an impression. You want to make it your tournament.”
The USMNT will get their first chance to make that impression Wednesday night at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas against Ecuador (8 pm ET; ESPN2, UniMás, UDN), the first of two friendlies before kicking off the real competition next month. The US meet Bolivia at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas on Saturday (8 pm ET; FS1, UniMás, UDN).
For Klinsmann, Wednesday's chance to watch his revamped squad in live action will be a good indicator of what’s to come in a few weeks, when they open the tournament vs. Colombia on June 3.
“Having two opportunities to play friendlies against Ecuador and Bolivia means a lot to us, because it will give us hopefully a lot of good information of where our players are at, but also the terms of different styles they play down in South America,” Klinsmann. “So hopefully it teaches us a lot before we hit it with Colombia.”
One of the things Klinsmann said he’s hoping his team has learned, particularly dating back to the 2014 World Cup, is how to manage the highs and lows of the game. The Yanks advanced through a difficult group phase – something they’ll again face in this year’s Copa America – much to the delight of their home fans.
But he says managing the feat was somewhat troublesome for his players, which had a carryover effect into last year’s Gold Cup.
“I think all of the players – there are very, very few exceptions probably – all of them had an emotional roller coaster following the World Cup in Brazil,” Klinsmann said. “You get a lot of compliments for what you achieved there, a lot of reactions in your home country. That took a while for a lot of the players to digest and put into perspective going forward again. So that’s normal and understandable and human too. It’s a lot that these young players are getting confronted with coming out of a tournament like that.”
Klinsmann also said he’d like to use the experiences from the last two years to help the US learn how to handle knockout-round games en route to at least the semifinals in this year’s Copa America.
But it won’t come easy, starting with Colombia, who are ranked No. 4 in the current FIFA World Rankings.
“We expect every game to be a final,” Klinsmann said of the upcoming tournament’s intensity. “I think that’s exciting for the players, exciting for us coaches, but hopefully very, very exciting for fans.”