HARRISON, NJ -- Claudio Reyna can’t be in a better place.
The legendary former captain of the United States men’s national team has been hired by Jurgen Klinsmann to create a new structure towards youth development in the country. His objective is to teach the next generation of young soccer players to play the style that will be expected moving forward.
Reyna spoke with Goal.com to discuss his role with the United States Soccer Federation and his plans for youth development in America.
Goal: Define your role as Youth Director of the United States Men’s National Team?
Reyna: I work closely with Jurgen and his staff and we talk a lot about the team and the players. There is a lot of work that goes on outside of each training camp but of course my main focus is really with the youngsters.
How has the experience been with the youth team so far?
We train the kids modeling off of the rules and working system that the senior team is using. Every aspect down to how they dress and train, we want our senior team, Olympic team and U20 team to have the same mentality. In two or three years, there probably will be a lot of players coming from those teams into the senior team, so teaching what Klinsmann expects in critical to their transition.
So essentially, it’s all about emulating what the senior team does?
That’s basically it. We have some flexibility of course because there is the age factor that we have to take into account among other things, but there is an overall message that we want everyone to be a part of.
What are the lessons thought to the players in the youth system?
The first lesson is for the coaches, that the practices should be intense.
We should monitor how players take care of their bodies. There should be more professionalism with the kids because they can’t be called up to the senior team without knowing how they should conduct themselves off the field, and for Jurgen that is very important.
Another aspect is that the practices should be similar between all the teams. We will be working in a camp practice doing almost the same exercises as they do at the top level. The tactic system, which is a flexible 4-3-3, is something that the youth teams also use. We avoid trying to be too rigid because we need to have the necessary flexibility, taking into account factors such as age, among others.
We hope that in the end when a young player comes in at 15, 16, 17 years old, he’s already prepared to play within the formation and he knows his position. There is a comfort level that is developed from the start.
Is this something that has been done within U.S. Soccer before?
No, this has never been done before.
What are the benefits of this structure?
Players will have all the information that they need to succeed at the top level and they will feel more confident. They know that it is the same system Klinsmann uses and that all of the coaches from the bottom up are on the same page. I think previously we lost a lot of talented players because there wasn’t a unified structure.
Once the tactical system is fully implemented, how can we expect the U.S. to play?
We want to start building from the defense; we want the players to learn how to play with the ball from the back, because that is going to help us create players in the youth system that learn how to play with the ball. That is what we are working on during our training camps. We want fast players on the wings and we will look for that in the youth system.
It is obvious that Klinsmann has been impressed with the Latino style of play and his choices in players and coaches like Tab Ramos and Martin Vasquez illustrate that, what elements do you like in that style?
Modeling your system off of a style of play is important because we can create a system that we like.
There are elements that we like from the Hispanic style of play, such as having the ball on the grass most of the time with players that know how to keep possession of the ball.
Everyone thinks we’re taking players from Latino backgrounds who don’t care about the country they represent but that isn’t true. The most important thing to us is their sense of identity and national pride, these are the players who are going to represent us in World Cup qualifiers, tournaments and in Brazil in 2014.
We are not looking for more Hispanic players than players from other backgrounds, but we are giving out a message that we like a style. Everyone, not matter what ethnicity, can be a part of that if they fit in well with our style.
Reyna's conversation with Goal.com Latino's John Rojas was translated to English from Spanish.