BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, December 13, 2011
As the US U-23 team prepares to open camp this week in Sarasota, Caleb Porter is excited to get to work in his first camp as head coach.
In October, Porter was names coach of the US U-23 team that will attempt to qualify for the Olympics in March then participate in the Games in July-August.
The team had its first camp last month in Germany but Porter did not take part as he is still the head coach of the University of Akron and their season was still in full swing. Still, Porter was actively monitoring the team's progress.
In the November camp, the US U-23 team was successful as they defeated Bochum's U23 team 3-1 and drew Bayer Leverkusen's U-23 team 1-1. Porter was pleased with the results and the team's effort.
"I think there was a lot accomplished - even though I wasn't there," Porter told YA. "We really looked at it as an opportunity to look at guys, specifically look at some guys from overseas. I think every camp, we'll whittle it down. We started to whittle it down from feedback. Obviously I've seen both games and talked with Claude Reyna and Richie Williams, and gotten their input."
Last week, Porter finalized his roster for the upcoming Florida camp. There were some key players missing like Red Bulls' forward Juan Agudelo and Borussia Dortmund's Terrence Boyd (who was later added). Likewise there were some noteworthy additions like Nurnberg prospect Jann George and Philadelphia's Freddy Adu who did not take part in the first camp.
For Porter, this camp in Florida was part of an ongoing process. Some players were invited because they needed to be given a first or second look. Others were there because they impressed in the first camp. Some key names that were left off were there because they already impressed in the first camp and no longer needed to prove themselves.
Following the camp in December, there is another camp in January in Los Angeles that will be concurrent with the US senior national team. Being able to juggle the two camps and getting players released or rested is a part of the equation that went into how Porter put together his roster for this camp.
"There have been some instances where there have been players that we chose not to bring in for this camp because maybe we want to make sure we get them for the January camp," Porter explained. "Maybe it's because we feel they need a break. This is another part of the chess match, figuring those things out. This camp in [Florida] isn't exclusively the guys that did well in Germany. Some of the guys didn't get invited because they did well, but we felt so well that maybe we just want to bring them in January. Maybe we can't get them for both camps. There are those decisions that we take into account."
One thing is clear, however, is that the rosters for the first two US U-23 camps have highlighted just how important dual nationals are to US national teams at every age group. Among all the players called into these camps, seven were either born or raised in Germany. Several other players like Gale Agbossoumonde, Freddy Adu, and Mikkel Diskerud were born outside the US. Other players like Dilly Duka and Joe Corona have trained with other country's youth national teams before.
For Porter, he is insistent that he is going to search across the globe to find the best players possible. It's a similar approach used by former US U-20 head coach Thomas Rongen.
"I think that's the way we're going to approach certainly these first couple of camps is to make sure we got the right pool. If someone pops up -someone we hear about that has citizenship that we are hearing good things about them performing well - we're going to give them an opportunity. Just even as I started to put together this pool of players, it was almost overwhelming how many guys are out there that are citizens who are playing professional soccer. I've tried not to leave any stone unturned. If there's a guy out there that we're missing, I want to find him."
Even as Porter has continued to put together his roster, the player pool has continued to expand even as recently as last week when even more Americans were discovered playing overseas.
"I just found out about a couple more last [week] - guys I've never even heard of that have citizenship," Porter revealed. "So there are players popping up all over the world. So we don't want to get carried away with it, but I'm excited about the fact that there are some guys out there that we don't know about who are playing first-team games. We have to explore these players. A lot of this job is going to be player selection. I think we need to look at this as an opportunity to get some new blood in the U.S. soccer wheel."
While the search will continue far and wide for American players playing overseas, Porter insists that American based players will well represented on the roster and that this country is developing players that can compete on the international stage.
"We don't want to overlook the American players," Porter said. "We don't want to assume that the overseas players are better than the American players. I don't think that that's necessarily is going to be the case. But we also don't want to miss any guys that could eventually be better than some of the players that we already know about. I think it's very interesting there are so many German players. I think it says a lot about Germany and the level they're at. At the same time, I think you'll find that it's going to be a pretty good cross-section. I think there will be quite a few MLS players."
One aspect of the US U-23 team that is changing is the gradual reduction of college players in the player pool. In previous Olympic cycles, college players were more prominent in the process even if they were not making the team.
Duke University's Andrew Wenger and Sebastian Ibeagha are in the current U23 roster but even as an NCAA coach, Porter realizes that it will be difficult for college players to compete at the ever improving professional level.
"I think first of all, when you look at the group, it's very exciting to me that we have a strong group of professionals, guys that are in a pro environment," Porter discussed. "I'm not also going to overlook college soccer. But at the same time, I don't see a lot of the college guys getting lumped in this group with the amount of professional players that we have out there. I'm not a guy that gets the hair on the back of my neck standing on end when people bash college soccer because I get it. I understand why people don't think it's good."
"I think it's really easy to say the guys in the pros must be better than the college guys," he added. "I don't know that that's always the case. But at the same time, I'm well aware that college has its limitations, and it's not a pro environment. But what I will say is you look at the top programs in college soccer, they have developed player and helped the process along. So I think have an interesting perspective."
Porter's job as head coach of the US team will not be his first international experience. In recent years he has served at times as assistant coach to the US U-18 national team. Porter has now been part of US soccer before and after Jurgen Klinsmann was hired as national team head coach.
When Klinsmann was hired, he strongly emphasized that he wanted to establish a uniform style up and down the national teams at all of the age levels and this is something Porter agrees with.
"But I think as a country we have to start to have uniform concepts that are imprinted on our players from the U-15s, to the U-23s to the full team," Porter said. "If we can, we need to have one or two systems that we're utilizing so that the roles and responsibilities in our ability to identify players to move up vertically is a lot easier. I look at things the same way as Claudio [Reyna] and Jurgen. I think that's a good thing. There will be some variations certainly because my group might piece together differently from [Jurgen's] group. And then from game to game, it might vary depending on what makes sense. I'm very adaptable."
While at Akron, Porter has specialized in using a good number of different systems. And he insists that he will not be tied to any one specific formation with the US U-23 team. A lot of how the US team will play will be decided once he has the chance to view the players in the two upcoming camps.
"The players should dictate the system, not the system dictate the players," Porter said of his flexibility. "At the same time, as coaches, we all have our philosophies. We all have our systems that we prefer. I have a couple systems that I've used over the years - the 4-4-2. Within that 4-4-2, there are a lot of different hybrid things you can do within the 4-4-2. The second system that I utilize is the 4-3-3. Same thing - there are a lot of different ways you can play the 4-3-3, depending on the game and they players that you have."