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Part 3: In-depth interview with new U.S. U19 coach Brad Friedel

Written by Will Parchman

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This week we’ve been publishing a three-part, in-depth interview with new U19 coach Brad Friedel (you can find part one here and part two here). Now, finally, we come to the end.

The third part of this chat is probably the most prosaic. The Messi question found its way in (OH NO), in addition to concerns about Hispanic inclusion in U.S. Soccer, playing style, our reliance on English soccer coaches and more.

How do you see your team playing? What do you want to see?

“We should never lose our identity of who we are. I want to see a lot of energy and competitiveness in my players. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the creativity because I do. I think if you see Tottenham teams play, this is where I was educated in my youth soccer. I want my players to be very good in one-v-one situations. When you get to the older levels you are always going to be put in one-v-one situations. Always, and that’s with the ball and without the ball.

“As far as formations, I have the formations I’m going to want to play and I’m going to want to instill my philosophies on that. And also correlate it with Tab’s group, and also with what Jurgen wants so we can develop players for them. When I get into my first camp and you see the formations I set out and how they play, it’ll be fairly easy to see what my philosophies are going to be over two or three camps.”

The U.S. seems to have had issues with ball retention at most levels in recent years. How do you plan to combat that?

“You asked me the question of how England and the U.S. are similar. Where we sort of tend to be similar is the American mentality is to go forward. When your mentality is to go forward, you tend to lose the ball more. Watch England play, watch Scotland play, watch Wales play. It’s more of a turnover sport. I think a lot of the foreign managers go to the Premier League they comment. I think Jurgen Klopp just said it, it was like a game of basketball.

“I think what happens is, the American players want to entertain and go forward. And then when they take their club soccer and go into international soccer, and you play teams that are very much possession oriented, then it’s different. England has had problems with this as well. English teams in the Champions League have had some issues with it also.

“It’s something you have to work on in your training. A lot of it is the ability not to turn your mind off when you have the ball. Some people, you work hard and you get the ball, and you think, ‘We have the ball now.’ You have to work hard again, because it takes a lot of energy to keep the ball and continue to make passing angles. That is coaching. That’s something you have to try to instill in your teams. It’s a lot easier said than done, and I guarantee you no coach in U.S. Soccer has said, ‘Let’s go out and lose the ball today.’”

Are there players you’ve identified as possession players that you’ve called in?

“This first group I’ve called in is going to be a mix. Some of them played in the U17 World Cup. Some of them were there and didn’t get a lot of playing time. And we’ve tried to unearth a few that were just outside to try to widen the pool a little bit. To answer your question, yes, there are some that won’t be in my group that are of age that might be a little bit better on the ball, but I’ve also got a couple with real genuine pace in the squad.

“That’s something you’ll see from my teams. I like pace. Pace is a very difficult thing to coach, and if you’ve got it you’ve got it. You can rectify a lot of bad situations with pace.”

Based on what you’ve seen, do you think the U.S. will ever be considered a soccer nation?

“Yes. All of the signs, the industries from top to bottom are growing at too fast of a rate in the United States. The rest of the world’s eyes are on the United States too much for it to eventually not become that. We have to compete against baseball, basketball, American football and NHL. Whereas you go to other countries and they don’t compete against anybody. The generations of all the kids here, it’s in sort of eight to 10-year turnovers, and the numbers just keep on growing and growing.

“We’ll eventually get there. It’s hard to win the World Cup. There’s not many nations that’ve done it. People ask me all the time, ‘Will we win a World Cup?’ I don’t know. But will Belgium? Holland? They have great players. There’s no divine right that they’re going to win a World Cup. But will we become one of the talked about teams? I’m confident. What year? I don’t know. I hope I’m still in the fold.”

England hasn’t won anything in a long time. Why does America try to take so much from England?

“I would assume culture and language barrier for a lot of it. That would be an assumption. But I also know, now within the United States we’ve done a lot of studying in Belgium, in Holland and in Germany. A lot, recently. And the Pro license being taught by a Dutch group that’s taught Pro license in Europe. So maybe a lot more going on than you think.

“But I would have to say, culturally speaking, it’s easier for an English person to come over and live in the United States. But that’s only a guess. It’s not something I’ve looked into.”

How do you produce the next Messi if you don’t have the best coaches here?

“I agree, I don’t think it’s a bad question at all. We have to get better at developing coaches. Without a doubt… Keep in mind as well, in this country, the masses and the parents, the be-all end-all is to get their kids a college scholarship. That’s what they think. They don’t think of soccer at the grassroots level as an avenue to being professional. Whereas anywhere else in the world the avenue is to becoming professional.

“Is it prestigious to be a U6 coach in that environment here? It always has not been, whereas in the UK or in Argentina or in Brazil or in Holland, if you are good at that then you are invaluable to an Ajax system or a PSV system or a Bayern Munich system. You’re invaluable because you can help make the professional player. But also keep in mind, it’s free of charge to everybody, except here.”

“There’s a lot to change. We’re trying hard. I mentioned the light switch. It’s not something that can be done overnight. MLS teams now have academies free of charge, and it’ll be down to U12. It’s a huge step in the right direction. The clubs in U.S. soccer know that the coaching needs to improve. And we’re trying to tackle it. But it’s also important that you try to educate your own countrymen to do the job. The people teaching the courses might have to be from somewhere else right now, but it’s important to educate your own. Because you can’t lose your identity.”

Does American soccer has a problem identifying Hispanic players and coaches?

“That’s changing. The scouting network is growing by the day, and that is in our discussion daily, every meeting. I mentioned we have roughly 110 scouts, which is very good. And it continues to grow, and we continue to get applicants to do so. I don’t think anyone would disagree. What I can say is that these are not items that are not being spoken about, and they’re not items where action is not being taken.

“We have a very good scout in Mexico now, by the way, and we have tabs on every single Mexican player down to 2004 or 2005 birth year that have the ability to be dual national. I got that sent to me my first day on the job. We are getting places. Those are players that are already in professional systems, at Tijuana, at Atlas, at America. So they’re in good learning environments right now.”

What do you think of the youth clubs that are still charging? What would you recommend they do?

“I’ve said this many times, I think there’s definitely still a place in the United States for the clubs that are charging. I think last I read it’s about a $2.2 billion industry, so I don’t think there’s a need for it to go away. I don’t think there’s a reason you have to put people out of work. I don’t think there’s a reason you should put a damper on the adidas and Nikes and Under Armours and the like, all the travel companies, the hotels. I think that would reverberate negatively in a big way.

“What we have to do a better job of is picking the elite players and separating them from the amateur players. And I don’t think there’s any harm in that. The amateur players will still have just as many college scholarships, and the end product will still be the same. That’s something U.S. Soccer does pretty well right now with the scouting network inside the Development Academy. We try to help and work with the MLS clubs and get as many academies that are free of charge, and to get the elite players out and get them a better learning environment.

“I don’t think the youth system or the club system should go away. I think that would be ludicrous.”

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