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Coaches Corner: Bill Hempen With U-20 U.S. Soccer Team

Mar 23, 2009

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CU soccer head coach Bill Hempen spent a week in Spain working with the U.S. Women's Soccer U-20 National Team as they took on the Norway, France and Germany in the 10 Nations Tournament.  He took time out this week to share his experience with the team and reflect on the time he spent with some of our nation's younger women's soccer stars.


Hello Buff Soccer fans,

My report From Spain had to wait while we finished up our last week of training going into Spring Break.  The experience is still fresh in my mind.

I left for LaManga on March 13 and arrived the next day at roughly 1:30 pm.  I use the term "roughly" as both an estimate of time and how I felt on our arrival.  Denver to Chicago, Chicago to Madrid, Madrid to Alicante, and a 90 minute bus to LaManga.  No rest for the weary, so we headed out to train.

Saturday, March 14: Our first session was an introduction of players and coaches and an opportunity to get an idea of how we wanted this particular group to play.  We spent about 30 minutes trying to shake the trip out of our system and then about 40 more minutes doing a little shooting with the end being strictly a tactical discussion.  By the time we got back to the hotel it was 4:30 pm and dinner was next.  We had the team stay up to get on Spain time as quickly as possible.  Dinner was at 6:00pm and everyone was to stay awake until 9:00 pm.  Success!

Sunday, March 15: We woke to a beautiful day and a great breakfast followed by morning training.  We started with another tactical session with shadow play and the beginning of set play organization.  We had a very good 70 minute session with our first game a little over 24 hours away.  I realized at this point that the field was not far from the hotel so I ended up walking "home" after training and games.  There was a little, and I emphasize little, town between the fields and the hotel that I was able to do some shopping for my kids.  My son Lucas was the recipient of a Barcelona Jersey while Emma is now wearing a Real Madrid sweatshirt.  There was also a grocery store that allowed me to indulge in a tin or two of Pringles during the rest of the week.

The afternoon was more of the same as we decided on the first group to start against Norway.  Everyone had a job to do and we felt confident that we had the proper pieces in place for our first match.

Now, remember this is the first competition for this particular group of players.  We made a conscious decision to be our best, yet get an opportunity to evaluate as many players as we could.  We certainly wanted to win but we also wanted to find out which players could make a difference on the International Stage.  As with our team at CU, at some point you have to name a starting group and make the reserves understand to be ready because their time could come at any minute. 

It was a nice relaxing evening that included staff meetings to make sure we were ready and organized.

Monday, March 16: The following morning we had breakfast and a walk on the golf course that was right outside our window; a nice brisk morning, but good to get out and moving.  Later, a pre-game meal and off to our first game.

Like all first games whether the first game for the Buffs or my son's recreational team there were nerves and excitement all rolled into one.  Nerves were quickly put to rest when we went up 1-0 seven minutes into the game.  Two-nil a few minutes later and 3-0 about 17 minutes in.  What a way to start.  Now the test really began.  We took an injury to one of our defenders so my point about being ready was quickly put to the test.  Bri Young entered the game.  Bri is from Colorado and attends one of our Big 12 rival schools so I had an idea about where she plays and how she plays.  She had to play a position I had not seen here play, ever, but she held her own under the circumstances.  We gave up a penalty late but held on to a 3-1 lead at the half.  Try as we did we did not find the same form that started the game for us but we actually held on for a 3-2 win, which was probably a more realistic score-line than what the first 17 minutes may have produced.

Team stretch, a walk home for me, team meal and off to bed.

Tuesday, March 17: Tuesday was a light day with more discussion about the game behind us and the game that lay ahead, France.  I had the opportunity to go to the evening meal as part of our delegation.  This was the 10 Nations Tournament so we were all in a very small room with everyone speaking a different language yet all being able to communicate on some level.  It was an honor for me to be invited to this event and many of our foreign friends were excited to know I was from Colorado.  I told them to check out to see the magic that is Boulder.

Wednesday, March 18: Wednesday was our date with France who I thought in the last U-20 World Cup was very skillful and tactically sound and would present a more difficult challenge for our team.  They did not disappoint.  We did have a veteran of the last U-20 World Cup, Sydney LaRouxe, in the lineup and that was a great help in the mental side of the game.  Sydney plays at UCLA and was the Golden Boot winner of the event in Chile for scoring the most goals.  Although she did not score this time she was a constant threat to the French.  We could not score and gave up a second half goal that seemed to get us down but only for a moment.  A side bar here is that you really understand where you are in the world of women's soccer when a team takes a lead on the U.S.  It is a celebration that just makes you want to dig in more and that is exactly what our team did.  We never quit and Casey Short from Florida State made an excellent individual run to split the French defense and slotted home the equalizer.  The game was tied at 1-1 as time expired.  I went down the bench to show the team that the hair on my arms had stood on end because they deserved that goal and to get one back against a team like France was fantastic.

Team stretch, a walk home for me and the team meal.  We played early so we had another team snack later that evening before bed.  Jill Ellis, the head Coach for the U.S. and head coach at UCLA, began her individual meetings with the players that evening while Dave Chesler from the Boise Capital Soccer Club and head coach of the U.S. U-18 National team and I discussed our views of the previous two matches. More importantly the discussion centered on where we were going to watch the Champions League game that Wednesday night, Liverpool vs. Real Madrid.  We found a place.

One of the neat things about being in Europe and around soccer people is the passion for the game that is everywhere.  There were several spots on my walk home that advertised they would be showing the game that night.  Real Madrid is one of the most world renowned and well respected clubs in the world so there was a sense of pride in this event.  This was an elimination game so there were nerves throughout that proved to be well founded as Real lost.  Thursday was just like a day in the U.S. when your team falls... somber.

Thursday, March 19: Speaking of Thursday, it was back to business as we trained once in the morning so the kids could have the afternoon to themselves.  Well, not totally.  Throughout the week the team had daily study period as some of them were missing class time, while a few were on Spring Break.  They were great about it and it was a good buffer between games.  Also there was further discussion of where we would watch the Manchester United vs. A.C. Milan game that night.  Man U is the preferred team of Jill Ellis so it was a priority to take care of the head coach.  The big win over the A.C. Milan and the "Special One" put a smile on Jill's face.

Friday, March 20: Friday came and so did the German's.  Playing in the face of a national tragedy, we received Germany's best effort.  They played for pride in their country and we were unable to crack their very solid defense.  Final score 0-2 to Germany. 

It was a great opportunity for our team and the players involved to see where they are on a national level.  We did not win them all but I think Jill now knows what to look for in the next group she will have to evaluate in April.

Friday afternoon turned into Friday night and we had to leave our hotel at 3:00am Saturday morning.  Few of us slept in the anticipation of going home.  One bus, three planes and a 30 minute ride back home to Louisville, Colorado equaled 17 hours of travel and it is good to be home.

I would like to thank Mike Bohn, Ceal Barry, and my wife Stephanie for giving me the go ahead and encouragement to be a part of this event.  The opportunity to wear the colors of your country is truly an honor and it is not taken lightly. 

I also understand my responsibility to the University of Colorado.  I was in contact with Paul Hogan and Tracy Chao as they took over the program in my absence.  They coached the Buffs to a 1-0 victory over Northern Colorado on a cold Wednesday night.  I thank all of you that braved the cold to watch and encourage the Buffs in their first spring game and I hope to see all of you when we play on April 11th at Prentup Field.

I look forward to sharing some of the things I learned with the team as we build toward another promising fall of 2009.

Go Buffs, Go USA


Below are some pictures of the area we stayed in and played.  The staff picture is of Jill, Dave and I before the Germany game.  That is the Mediterranean Sea in the background. I know, tough duty.