The US coach talks to FIFA.com about success in the Netherlands, prospects for the rest of the tournament and the progress of 'soccer' in the USA.
The 1-0 win over Egypt has made you winners of the group. What's your verdict?
The most positive aspect of the game was that we were able to rest seven players and still win. As a result, some of our key players will be fresher going into the game with Italy, and the exertion that the players have been spared could prove important later in the tournament. In addition, we didn't run the risk of picking up yellow cards. It also means that we can again conduct full-scale training sessions, which will be very beneficial for us.
Next up is Italy. What's your assessment of your next opponents?
I have already said repeatedly that we have fewer problems against strong opponents like Brazil, Argentina, Italy or Germany than against the smaller teams, because against strong teams we concentrate better and pull out our best performances. Italian football in general has an excellent reputation, when you think of clubs like AC Milan, Inter and Juventus, or players such as Shevchenko, Kaká and Totti. There are fantastic players there, the championship has a great deal of flair and commands plenty of respect. Even on a bad day Italian teams can give you a lot of problems. It means absolutely nothing that they have lost two games here. You only have to think back to the 1982 World Cup, when they had three draws in the first group stage before Paolo Rossi started scoring goals. It doesn't matter whether you're playing against a team who finished first in the group or third, every team has a chance now.
So far in this tournament your team has never fallen behind. Will taking the lead be decisive against Italy, too?
So far we've not had to meet the challenge of having to come from a goal down, but my team has already demonstrated that it can cope with falling behind. In March we were losing against Argentina in South Korea, but we still won, and the same thing happened against Canada before the World Championship. So we are used to this kind of situation, although it certainly makes the game easier when you take the lead. And that would also be true against a defensively strong team like the Italians.
How is the team dealing with the realisation that you are no longer outsiders?
We are trying not to think about it. In any case we still think of ourselves as the underdogs. We see ourselves as a team that has to work hard in order to succeed, and we know we have to play as a team to win through.
How is it possible for someone as talented as Marvell Wynne to remain undiscovered until they are 18 years old?
It's practically the same with Benny Feilhaber. As it happens, in the USA players are mostly discovered in university teams, if at all. Benny went to UCLA at the same time as my son, who became aware of him. At this point he was in the team, and he came home one day and told me that one of his teammates was better than anybody else. I took a look at him and selected him straight away. It was similar with Marvell Wynne. I live in southern California and I could watch them both play, whereas if I lived in Florida, we might be talking now about two players from there. The size of the USA is an advantage, but it can often be a problem too.
Why are there not more young US players in Europe?
In Europe there's still not much respect for US football. If I called up friends in Europe to alert them to some 15-year-old US player, they would respond that he simply couldn't be that good. They tend to think that a youngster from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovakia or Latvia must be better than one from the USA. European scouts are mostly looking in Africa or Eastern Europe, but if they came more often to the USA they would find players like Marvell. I have watched players here in Europe who made me think: "What are these guys doing here? I could name 30 US players who are better."
Back in 1999 you were in charge of the US team at the FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria. How would you compare the team then and now?
You may laugh at this, but I would say we are a better team in attack, even if we've only scored two goals so far. In the first game we created lots of chances, although we failed to take them. Technically we have made progress, we have more self-confidence, and our willingness to go forward is greater. The strength of the 1999 team was in defence, although we did let in more goals.
How would you rate the quality of the tournament in the Netherlands?
That a team like Switzerland can finish bottom of their group is a good indication of how strong the tournament is. The Swiss have a good team, although maybe they had too much confidence, they thought they were already in the next round. You can see how tight it is among the top sides, and the gap is smaller than ever for teams like Syria or the USA.
Looking into the future of US football, what needs to be improved?
The first thing is that our professional league must grow. We currently have 12 teams, but we should eventually get to 20. We should also change our league calendar so that it fits in with the rest of the world. Our clubs should be more involved in international competition - for example, it would be worth being involved in the Copa Libertadores. Then we could find out whether players were of international calibre without having to put them in the national team. If Chicago played Boca Juniors, for example, you could get an idea of whether a player could hold his own in an international against Argentina. I'm not talking about friendly matches but proper competitive games, in addition to the CONCACAF Champions Cup.