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ASN Exclusive

ASN Exclusive: Hudson outlines U-20 vision and progress after first camp

New U.S. U-20 head coach Anthony Hudson does not have a lot of time to prepare ahead of U-20 World Cup qualifying this summer. As a result, scouting and performance in camps will have an increased importance. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke with Hudson after the team's first camp about how he sees the squad at this early stage. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 03, 2020
9:00 AM

LAST MONTH, U.S. Soccer announced that Anthony Hudson would be the new head coach of the U.S. U-20 team for the 2021 cycle. The American-born, English-raised Hudson was set to take over a team that had been very successful the past three cycles under former head coach Tab Ramos.

But this cycle is different. Not only was Hudson hired just days before his first camp in early January, but he also has very little time ahead of U-20 World Cup qualifying – which will take place this June in Honduras.

In his first camp, Hudson learned about many players who could comprise of the team’s core while also facing Mexico twice. In those games the U.S. team won 2-0 and drew 2-2. Next up will be a camp in Portugal in March during the international window where the U.S. team will face France and hosts Portugal.

ASN spoke with Hudson about his plans for the team, the reaction to his first camp, and why he took this job after a difficult time with the Colorado Rapids.

BRIAN SCIARETTA FOR ASN: How was your first camp? Did it meet expectations? Were you satisfied with the level of play? What were your first impressions?

ANTHONY HUDSON: Obviously, it all happened very quickly. If I'm being perfectly honest, my first couple of days, I personally felt a little bit uncomfortable, because I like to be very prepared. It was just the occasion, with a new staff, getting to know the players. So was a little bit of a different situation. But the staff that I walked into were super supportive. It was great to have the first team down there because early in the camp, I was going over to their hotel and spent time in their staff meetings asking questions and just trying to get on the same page, understand things a little bit in terms of style of play and principles. And the players were really, really receptive. There were players who really stepped up and it was their first time in the U-20s.

The first game we had against the first team was okay. It was okay in terms of what I was expecting. Fitness-wise, in terms of timing, it was tough. Some of the players haven't played for a while and obviously playing against the first team, it was a really tough test for them. The response from that was really good. And we played the first game against Mexico. I think some of the things that we were trying to teach, the guys really took on board and it was great. Overall it was a really productive camp. The way in which they tried to take on the principles and how we wanted to play - it was really good. I enjoyed it.

ASN: After your tenure with the Rapids, was returning to the international level or youth level something that you wanted to do? Was there anything you learned from your up and down time with the Rapids that made you more prepared as a coach for this assignment?

HUDSON: I think in terms of the Rapids - a as a coach, as a person, I take full ownership and responsibility of my time there. And I look back and there were certain mistakes I made that I take ownership of and I've learned a huge amount from them. And there's also things because it was a very difficult time - it was a turnaround situation where we were changing the whole team and the style of play, and the culture. There were some things in there that I was I was proud of and I can walk away with my head held high. On reflection, after the tough losses, losing your job, I've come away and I've learned a lot. I am better for it.

Then I was just incredibly determined to make sure the next job I go into was a good situation and one that I was looking forward to be a part of, something where I could build something. I want to leave a legacy. I want to help develop. Firstly, I want to be a part of U.S. Soccer and I want to help develop the game here. I feel really strongly about that. Even though it didn't go well, I absolutely loved my time in MLS. I loved working with the players. Obviously, I have experience in international football. I've had good experience and I feel I understand how to navigate through those situations.

ASN: Qualifying is so different this cycle with it coming in just six months. Do you believe you have to know a big portion of the qualifying team now? Are there still a lot of players you want to look at before qualifying? What is the talent identification process in the months ahead with very few opportunities to look at players?

HUDSON: I think as we speak right now, I feel I have a good grasp overall of the players at this level. This next camp in March is going to be key. We have two really good games and it's important that we get as many of our best players as possible to that camp and in terms of what is after that, with the qualifiers, that may just affect my selection. There are maybe one or two players who did really well in this last camp that I might not need to see because of the short time we have, I might need to see someone else. There are some guys I know that are in that bracket and they're going to be with us in the qualifiers. So it gives me an opportunity to see other players.

I think when I look at the chart, I feel confident that we have a really good squad of players playing over here and also overseas. And I think that the key between now and then is, first of all, keep building a relationship with their clubs so we can make sure we have everyone available to us when the time comes. That's already started - the phone calls, the planning, all those sorts of things.

ASN: But overall, would you say that there's still a lot of players who weren't in this camp that you want to look at? There were some here that are playing first team minutes that weren't in camp, there were some with the full national team. There seems to be a bunch of other players who you must be feeling prettying good about their chances of potentially being impact players for your team.

HUDSON: Yes - 100%. There are a lot of players over there - in England, Germany. There's a lot of players in March I want to bring in and have a look at. Quite a lot of those guys that I've been watching, they're really impressive players. As I am watching these guys, I am thinking that these guys are going to be with the first team very soon.  I've almost also been asking questions about players a little bit deeper as well, just in case that happens because there are some guys doing very well. I think there will be a large part of the squad that are actually playing overseas for the March window.

ASN: Now, looking at this past camp, was there anyone that particularly stood out? We saw Cole Bassett got both goals in the first friendly against Mexico. When I spoke with some players in interviews, they seemed to suggest Cam Harper and Leon Flach played well. Was there anyone who you felt helped their case? Also, one of the most intriguing names was Matko Miljevic who has played for Argentina's U-20 team and seen minutes for a team that was leading Argentina's Primera during the league's winter break. How did he fit in during his first U-20 call-up?

HUDSON: I'll start with Matko. With Matko, I loved everything in camp. He's a really good character. As soon as he walked in, straight away, you could see he's playing first team football. The way he carries himself. He's already a man - he's very mature. And basic. He really involved himself in the group. He's always happy. He was really good for the team. And he did well. He's one that's definitely in the in the frame. He might be one of the players [for March] over in Europe where we just need to see other players. But he did really well and I liked him a lot.

Other than the players you mentioned, both Cameron and Leon did really, really well, I think there was a handful. In your first camp you are trying to build the right environment, you're trying to create an environment and build a culture, so you look to certain players to help build that. And I thought, David Ochoa, Leo Sepulveda - who I thought was fantastic - not only did they play really well but I also saw signs of them really being mature and bringing leadership qualities. I think those guys impressed not only on the pitch, but off the pitch. Ian Hoffman, I thought was also fantastic. Obviously, I know Cole Bassett very well. Cole did very well.

ASN: An interesting dynamic with this team is you have you had three age-eligible guys not in camp with you because they were with the full national team - Uly Llanez, Julian Araujo, and Bryang Kayo.  Then you also have players who could play for the Olympic team both in March for qualifying and possibly this summer if they advance to Tokyo. Do you have an input on the decisions as to which players go where? Do you have any idea yet which players will be available for you or which players are age-eligible for your team but are going to focus with other teams?

HUDSON: I think that now that camp is finished, I think the decision on those players wasn't going to be made until the end because they had that amount of time to prove themselves. I think now that the camp is finished and there's a lot of reflection and reviewing going on. The priority is for the U-23s to qualify - 100 percent. And obviously the first team - I mean, that that's the key. But certainly, we're all in regular conversation. And Brian McBride has been really, really useful in connecting us all when talking about players.

I just think when I see the game on Saturday, someone like Uly [Llanez], I plan for him not being with us. Only because as a coach, you start thinking. If he's with us, great. I was really pleased for Uly. I thought he did really well. We want him to progress. I think time will tell. I think over the next week or so, once all the reviews are done and we've talked amongst ourselves about what's best for the players in the qualifiers and the teams then going to finalize my list.

ASN: On your radar, you mentioned needing to look at a few players in Europe. Indiana Vassilev has been playing first team minutes for Aston Villa in the Premier League and Owen Otasowie has come close with Wolves while playing in cup games, and Charlie Kelman just scored again over the weekend for Southend United. In Brazil, Johnny Cardoso played with the U.S. U-23 team in November and just made Internacional's Libertadores roster. Are those among the names you are referring to?

HUDSON: Yes. All of the names you mentioned are on the radar. We've also got a handful over in Germany and a couple of players in England. Obviously, Taylor Booth at Bayern Munich. Taylor is someone that's a really interesting player. There are four or five players over in Germany.

Right now, in my job, this gap in between this window will probably be different than all the rest because with it being my first one, I've just finally moved to Chicago and what I've been doing is starting the relationships with the clubs. I'm just connecting with the GMs and the coaches, getting up early and calling the clubs overseas. I am watching all the videos. There is a lot of talent. It's exciting.

ASN: Along the lines of what you said about Uly Llanez.  What about Gio Reyna? With him playing for Borussia Dortmund, is he a player you are anticipating not being with your team this cycle? Or maybe you just revisit him for the World Cup if you qualify?

HUDSON: I think Gio is a fantastic, fantastic player. If he was with us, we would love to have him. I think someone like Gio, playing at that level, is a conversation for all of us. First team, the U-23s, us - we are all involved in that conversation. We need to figure out what's best for him and the national team. And certainly if he found his way into the 20s, we would absolutely be here with open arms.

ASN: What is your take on the players in your pool coming up through domestic channels? We've seen some clubs such as FC Dallas have a huge footprint on youth national teams in recent years and Thomas Roberts started against Mexico. Some clubs are producing more youth national team players than others. How did you find this contingent of your player pool at the last camp?

HUDSON: I've talked a lot about the European place players only because I haven't worked with them yet. So I'm very eager to see them. But the players that are playing here - there are some fantastic players here. There are some clubs that I think are doing great jobs. I mean, like Dallas. It's just incredible what they've done with their youth academy and bringing players through. In MLS, I obviously started years and years ago here and then to leave and come back and see the growth in the game and the USL level - it's incredible, really. Just the levels of professionalism in that league.

I've really liked the fact now in USL that isn't that they're not just going for journeymen and older players, they're bringing in young kids. And this is an avenue for younger kids to play. There's a lot of younger players out here now that I'm really excited about.

Over the last couple of days, I've been speaking to a few MLS coaches here and a couple of GMs... just from being local and just being in the same country helps. I had a phone call today with a GM and there was a player in our last camp that I want to say his name but I'm not going to mention it because I am going to tell the story about him. He did so well in the camp. I didn't really know anything about him. No one really hyped him up. But he just quietly had an unbelievable camp. I communicated that back to the club and that was just a couple of things that he needed in his development. And we've got an opportunity now to work together and really help the player, which I think is a lot more powerful for the players. I think if he's got the support of the national team and his club and we're both saying the same things, you've got targets with the U-20s, and he's targeting the first team -  I think these things can be really positive. I'm excited to work with the players

ASN: It used to be there wasn't much time between qualifying and the World Cup. If you qualifying for the World Cup in Indonesia, you will have almost a year between qualifying and the World Cup. It's almost like a separate cycle because since players at this age can see their form change quickly, you could have heavy turnover if all goes according to plan in qualifying. There could be players who emerge that you don't even have any idea about right now.

HUDSON: Yeah, I agree. I think it's a really good opportunity because what we look at, without getting ahead of ourselves, we've looked at planning games against certain types of opposition. So South American, Southeast Asian, just because of where the World Cup is. So there's different things which we've looked at in terms of our preparation. We want to replicate the challenges we might face in Southeast Asia in terms of the logistics, the fields and conditions.

And then like you said, there's going to be opportunity there for players to break into their first teams, get a good run of form - all of those things. It could be a very different team. But the one thing that I want is to have just a core group of players within all that just to build consistency. I'm sure that there's going to be movement in there for players who are hitting form and doing well for their clubs and breaking into teams. I perceive that to be the case.

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