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August 16, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Chris Henderson, Sigi Schmid and Eddie Johnson weigh in on a historic win for U.S. Soccer and related topics

Reporters got a chance Thursday to catch up with a few Sounders with U.S. Soccer connections following the men’s national team’s historic win in Mexico. Those interviewed were Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson (a former U.S. men’s national team standout), head coach Sigi Schmid (a former U.S. Soccer coach at various levels) and forward Eddie Johnson (an active member of the USMNT from 2004-10).

* * *

CHRIS HENDERSON

(What was your reaction to what you saw last night?) “It was amazing. Sigi and I watched it together and both of us had gone through that experience of being in Azteca. It wasn’t full this time, but that atmosphere is amazing. To go there, the Mexican teams are so confident. Their record against us, well until last game they were undefeated. Great feeling. Great confidence for U.S. Soccer to now be able to go into a qualifier and know that we’ve at least won in this stadium. It was a great feeling as a former national-team player to cheer for our team and have us pull out the victory.”

(Is it ever a friendly between these two teams?) “I think the intensity in a qualifier is bigger and you know you’re playing for something. But I just think there’s so much history between it, and some of the players, Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and other players who have been through other games against Mexico down there, they know what’s behind it. I think it’s the same for the Mexican players, as well.”

(What do you make of there being a “gap” between the federations and does last night affect that?) “I hope last night made the gap tighter. You look at their youth national teams, their Olympic team, they’re ahead of ours. We didn’t qualify for the Olympics. So I think there are some gaps, but the gaps aren’t that big and it’s similar to the gaps in the ’80s. There was a big gap between the U.S. and Mexico and then the ’90s came and the U.S. kind of took over the rivalry for a while. So I think it’s going to ebb and flow between the two, and I think it’s similar with the Mexican league and MLS kind of doing the same thing. They’ve talked about the gap between the two and we’re trying to close that gap. I think each team is trying to move forward as fast as they can and dominate the region.”

(On a slightly different topic, what did you make of CONCACAF sweeping the gold medals at the Olympics?) “It’s exciting. It’s probably an eye-opener for FIFA and I think that anytime our region can be successful in an international tournament, it’s good for our region for future spots in the World Cup and the Olympics and other tournaments.”

SIGI SCHMID

(What did you make of the game last night?) “It was good. Obviously it’s a historic result for the U.S. I’ve been down there a couple of times involved with national teams. Probably the most memorable one, because it was a Gold Cup final, was in 1993 but we got thrashed 4-0, so that wasn’t a lot of fun. It’s a lot nicer to be on the other end of it. I think it’s also a good advert for MLS, because there were a lot more MLS players involved … so there was a good mixture on the field and obviously the result was very good. It’s important because it sends a message as you move forward in qualifying if you run into Mexico in real qualifying games. It’s a message that’s important.”

(What is it about playing in Mexico that’s so difficult?) “It’s a number of things. Obviously the altitude is an issue there. How soon before the game do you go down there? The smog used to be a bigger issue there, as well. This game obviously took place in the evening. Usually when Mexico will play World Cup qualifiers, they’ll play them at noon Mexico time, so at the height of the heat. The heat, the smog, the altitude, those are the physical barriers that you have to deal with. Also, they’re ultimately just confident there with their fans. They weren’t sold out last night, but they’ll sell out for World Cup qualifier. And when you’re in that stadium, there’s like a buzzing from the moment when you step on the field. It’s different from any stadium that I’ve been in. It’s like there are bees all over the place. You just hear this, ‘Bzzz,’ and it’s just constant throughout the whole game. So those are the physical obstacles and then they’re just confident at home, as well.”

(What do you make about a “gap” between the federations?) “I think the success of Mexico with their youth teams has obviously exceeded what we’ve done over the last two-, three years. So you can always learn things. Things have to be done specific to the needs and the requirements of your environment in your country. But there are things you look at, you learn and say, ‘Is this something that would appropriate for us to do?’ I think some of the things that they’ve done, whether it’s the youth teams playing before the first teams in games, which they’ve done in Germany, as well, from an age restriction standpoint. The age limits for your reserve team — you’ve got to have a certain amount of guys under a certain age are on your first-team roster. All of those are things that I think have helped them push on their players. They’ve also had a situation in Mexico now where more of their players are playing overseas, so that means more players fill in. They’ve brought more international players into their league in the last 10-15 years. The tempo of their games has increased tremendously in the last 15 years, so there are a lot of things together. It’s not just one thing happening and then that changed it all. But obviously the success at the youth level right now for them is very good.”

(Any pride in a CONCACAF sweep at the Olympics?) “Yeah, obviously CONCACAF (team have been) representing themselves well. I thought Mexico did well. I thought Honduras played well, getting themselves into a situation with 10 players and still doing well against Brazil. I think those were things that showed that as a whole our confederation is a lot more competitive than people think. On the women’s side of the it and the women’s game, the U.S. has been a dominant player in the women’s game since Day 1 and obviously will continue to be just because the best women’s soccer is generally played in the United States. Even though we don’t have a pro league anymore, per se, there’s still a lot of good women’s soccer when you compare it to the other leagues around the world. So from that standpoint, it always allows us to maintain an edge.”

EDDIE JOHNSON

(What did you make of the game last night?) “I thought it was a great result. Anytime you make history, it’s a great achievement for country, for our national team. It says (a lot) about the growth of soccer in America and (part of that) is having a professional and stable league in MLS. It’s gotten better throughout the years and American players are playing consistently over in Europe. But I thought it was a good performance. The team was well organized, put in a good shift for 90 minutes, defended really well and when they got their chance they took it. Hats off to those guys and I think that game is only going to give us as a country and a national team more confidence in going down and playing a great team like Mexico … in the future.”

(Did you have any thoughts on not being selected by coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the team?) “He was one of the best forwards in the world at his time and he knows the game. He’s played with some of the best players, he was one of the best strikers in his time and he’s coached some of the best players in the world, so he picked a strong enough team that got down there and a got a result. So with the selection that he made, all of those guys are having good seasons, and if you want to be considered one of the best in your country, you’ve got to match the work that those guys are doing. For me, it’s just about keeping my head down and working hard, and for me just trying to get better as a soccer player every day. I know if I’m doing those things and have the right attitude and the right mentality, for the future for me, my soccer will speak for itself.”

(Do you think you’re getting closer to a call-up?) “I think I’m a better soccer player (now) than … when I first started playing with the men’s national team. I have a better understanding for the game. Technically, I’m better. And in front of the goal, you can never settle. So that’s one of the things where I practice every day out of the week. For me, one of the biggest things is being more composed in front of the goal. That’s something that can’t be taught. That’s something you’re born with. You can practice all you want, but the most composed strikers in the world and the best strikers in the world are the most consistent. So for me, it’s more about me being consistent in front of the goal. I know if I’m doing that week in and week out here and our team’s doing well and winning games, it doesn’t go unnoticed.”

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