Head Coach Peter Nowak
– You’ve now been with the team for a month. What is your assessment at this point?
“We’ve only trained for three days in that month. I have talked with the guys, and now we’re getting into practice. I’m very positive. They’re trying to do a good job – they’re working hard. They’ve come in from the off-season pretty fit. So now we’re moving the team forward. We’ve still got the guys from the Olympic Team to come back. We’re set for Bradenton. I’m very happy with the work that we’ve done in the last three days. They are very . . . They really want to work, and for me that’s very positive.”
– Earlier this week you mentioned that you made changes in the team rules. Why?
“These are the team rules that we are going to have. They aren’t just for the team, but for the whole organization. This is how this profession works. I think they understand it, this is the way it’s going to work.”
– What type of changes did you make?
“I can’t tell you.”
– What positive things have you seen in the past month that you were not expecting?
“They understand where their careers are going. They understand that without success, and without becoming hungry again, this is going to be another year wasted. So, I think they understand the position they are in right now. I’ve said it before that there are a lot of guys with potential, but they have to understand that they can’t lead with just this potential all the time. They have to use their talents. They have to show their talents to all the people, not just to prove it to themselves. They are soccer players. This is the profession that they want. They have to prove it to me, and to all the organization, and to the fans that they deserve to be on the field, and deserve to be in this organization. As I said in the press conference, if somebody isn’t going to follow the rules and the direction this team is going, then we’re not going to wait another minute. We’re going to try to say good-bye to those kinds of players. I’m very strict with them, but I’m very honest with them. As I told them that’s the way this is going to go.”
– Are there any negatives about the team that have surprised you?
“No. As I said, the fitness is pretty good after coming back from the off-season. The guys coming back from injury – Milton Reyes, Nick Rimando, Santino Quaranta – they are doing very good. Thiago Martins and Benny Olsen are still hurt, but they are getting better. All the players did a good job with fitness. The drafted players, Kevin Ara and Josh Gros, they did very well and came in fit. As I said, it’s all very positive and no negatives. But, the season is long and we’ll see what happens.”
– Along with the draft picks you have other young players on the team. What is your approach with the young players?
“It’s not only the young guys. I have twenty-four players I have to take care of. Not only the players, but the front office, and others – Fransico (Tobar – Team Equipment Manager) and Brian Goodstein (Team Athletic Trainer) – all those people that are around the team, I’ve told them that we have to give them their respect because they are also doing everything they can to help the team. I told my guys they have to appreciate their work. I told them, ‘They are doing for you. They are going to make your life easier and they are there every single minute for you. This is the type of organization that we want, something like a family. That is what a successful team, a championship team, is all about.”
– Do you have a ‘game plan’ for what you want to accomplish during Spring Training in Bradenton?
“This will be the only time where we have Freddy (Adu). So we’ll get them rolling, and try to get a look at Freddy and where he fits into this team. As I said before, it’s not what we’re going to do in the future with Freddy – it’s not one-hundred percent. We’re going to have a lot of questions, but we’re going to get a lot of answers by the end of pre-season. It won’t be easy, for sure, but we want to make this team better. I think when we go to Guadalajara that is when we will work on our system and all that stuff.”
– How are you finding the adjustment from a player to an administrator last year to a head coach this season?
“I’ve lived so many years with soccer. It’s in my head, it’s in my heart, it’s in my blood . . . these things just come naturally. Last year it was what I was missing . . . being around the players . . . being around the game. So, now I’m back. I’m back in the fire. I’m happy with my position. I’m on the other side now. The players, I think they understand my position. I’m a players’ coach.”
What do you think of the changes in the team during the off-season to this point?
“It’s another new year. Big characters have left, which is going to be a change, but obviously a change for the good because we haven’t done well, and we haven’t done well for a number of years. As they say, there should be no excuses now. We’ve got to go out and perform and not be happy with mediocrity.”
What are your impressions on Coach Nowak?
“He’s been fantastic so far. I think what this team has lacked in the past few years is accountability. What Peter brings is a very honest and professional outfit. Now things can’t be done half-assed. They can’t be done short of what it’s going to take to win here. Peter knows that and expects it from the players. There won’t be any allowances for certain players now. Everybody is in it for each other.”
How are the new team rules changes affecting the team?
“I just think in the past it’s been different rules for different players. You can’t run a business, you can’t rule anything well when that happens. Now we’ve got one rule for everybody. It’s all the same and it’s for the team. It brings more of a team attitude in it. There are no allowances and no give and take for anybody. We’re all on the same page. We’ve all got to climb up the same street.”
Although Etcheverry leaving is a big change, outside of that there haven’t been major moves in the off-season. Does the current side have the potential to be a Championship team?
“Of course! I’ve said this for a long time that I think DC United has always had the talent, and that’s why it’s so frustrating. Since I’ve been here, we’ve always had good teams. Everybody on a team is going to say that they have good teams. They should that’s the parity of the league.”
“It’s the teams that stay organized, the most team oriented, that don’t have any individual problems, are the ones who are going to be successful. San Jose and LA have proved that. That’s how it is now. This league is too good to have certain allowances for certain people. This is a legitimate league. Would they do this in Europe? No they wouldn’t. This is what I tried to stress last year. Would Alex Ferguson do what he did with us? Of course he wouldn’t. But we seemed to have made allowances just because we’re MLS, which is rubbish. We’re a legitimate league now. We should be doing it how the best teams in world do it. This is why Peter is so fantastic because he’s played for the best teams and he knows what it’s like. Now he’s come in and that’s how it’s going to be. It’s great. It’s accountability, which I love. If I play badly, I expect to be dropped. If anybody plays badly they should expect to be dropped. It’s as simple as that.”
Speaking of Europe, many rumors surround you moving there eventually. What is your status?
“I don’t know where people say that I want to leave and all that. For me, I’m under contract. It’s been a long three years because I don’t think this team has been run professionally. I think it can be done a hell of a lot better. Peter has come in and already the change in attitude has been amazing. That’s no disrespect to any of the coaches or the players that we’ve had before. Everybody gets on a team that doesn’t do well, and we’ll all probably be on teams in the future that don’t do well. I don’t mind losing. But, it’s the way we lost . . . the way we went around on the day to day things that kind of frustrated me. But, Peter has been fantastic. I actually want to come to training everyday and work harder. Everybody now wants to work harder, get fitter, get stronger, and you can just see it in all the players.”
Has Coach Nowak talked with you about your role on and off the field?
“No, we haven’t gone into anything like that. Obviously we’ve got a long pre-season to work all that out. As I said to Peter, I don’t care where I play. Whatever helps the team.”
“The ideas and the attitudes that Peter’s trying to instill in the team has to come from the older players as well, it has to be reinforced by the older players. He’s asked for that, which is fantastic because I’ve been trying to do that for a long time. But we’ve got so many great personalities on the team such as Dema, Earnie, and Benny. These guys have been around and we’ve got a good group of corps players.”
What your International schedule like this year?
“I think we’ve got a tournament in Australia around July for ten days. If they do have friendly games, I don’t think I’ll go back until the end of the season.”
Comment on the changes during the off-season?
“I think it’s unfortunate for Ray. He had a lot of work to do and we didn’t really perform for him, and that’s disappointing. I really liked Ray a lot. Marco . . . We’re going to miss Marco. Marco was DC United. I’m really going to miss Marco. But, I think he’s ready to move on, and DC United is ready to move on as well on that side of things. Marco is everything to this club and everybody knows that. But, it’s time to move on and start the new season and figure out how we’re going to play.”
What are your initial impressions of Coach Nowak?
“It’s amazing the impact that he’s had already on the club – the clubhouse and on the field. We’ve been dying for some structure and he’s the man to come in and do that. That’s a big part of why he’s here. He’s motivated, he’s very . . . he’s strict in a good way. He’s got us regimented a little bit – clean up after yourself – the little things that I believe in. I think that’s going to help these young guys to be professionals.”
Can you give specifics on what the team rule changes are and how they are affecting the team?
“That stuff is contagious. When you set rules you start thinking of them. The idea is that ultimately they make you more disciplined on the field, and a lot of times it does. When I was in England it was a similar type of deal. When you’re here, it’s time to play soccer, and it’s your going to do your job. You’re going to do the little things that are going to make us more of a unit and more disciplined. Hopefully that will carry over onto the field.”
What does this team need to do to improve over last year?
“We’ve got all types of things. We made the playoffs, but it wasn’t a good year. We didn’t end the year well. We were in disarray. I think they things we need to work on are being more of a unit and playing together, and having some type of system, and knowing who we are. I think Peter’s here to instill that in us.”
How your injury? What’s your schedule?
“The injury is OK. My schedule is that I’m going to try to play in Florida. I’m going to start my pre-season a week later than these guys. It’s a bone bruise, but I feel OK. It’s good that we know what it is. It should be OK by Monday.”
How does it feel to be one of the ‘old guys’ on the team?
“I just look at Earnie Stewart (Stewart was in the room watching the interview).”
What do you think your chances are and what do you need to do to get back on the National Team?
“I can’t give you a percentage. It’s just something that you always look for. If I start playing well again, I’m confident that Bruce (Arena) will give me a shot. That’s all I can ask for. It’s been unfortunate the last couple of times with me getting injuries. I’m sure my durability is a question in his mind. But, I’m still going. I had a big injury and I’ve got to realize that there are some things that come after that.”
How does it feel to be the ‘old guy’ now?
“I don’t know, it’s just a number. As long as you’re running up front it doesn’t matter.”
What are your impressions on the changes during the off-season?
“This is soccer. Marco had some great accomplishments during his career with DC United. Sometimes it’s time to pass on. Marco made a decision to retire, and you have to respect that. It’s really that simple. Ray didn’t have a good season at all last year. We had a pretty good stretch for a couple games, but they decided it was time to make changes. Those are decision that I don’t make. That’s soccer.”
What about Coach Nowak’s influence on the team so far? What are the differences between now and last year?
“I don’t like to speak about differences because every coach brings their things to the table, and some things work out, and some things don’t work out. I don’t compare them at all. This is a new chapter. He’s a very disciplined person, not only on the field but in the locker room. That’s what he’s working on right now. We spoke about that a couple of times last season. He’s come here believing that with that discipline off the field, you’re going to be disciplined on the field. Like Benny said a little while ago (see above), you can work towards being a solid unit with everything with that discipline.”
Last year you played in nearly every possible position on the field. Many fans thought that you did not have any stability, which affected your overall play. Have you and Coach Nowak talked about your role for this season?
“Not really specifics, but he did say that he’s not going to put me all over the field. I don’t mind doing that. Ray and John (Trask) were very honest about it last year and said that if anything went up they would probably have to move me left and right in the field. I agreed to that. I agreed to that and then you don’t bitch and moan. I should have said something at the beginning of the season if I didn’t want to do it. But, on the other side, it’s very hard to find your rhythm when you’re playing in different positions all the time. Let me put it this way, it didn’t help. That and adjusting to everything over here wasn’t easy. Peter wants to do it different this year. I’m looking forward to that.”
With the changes over the off-season, and the new team rule changes, do you get the impression that this team is going in the right direction?
“It’s very simple. These are things that I’ve always been used to. There are rules and you abide by the rules otherwise you don’t play or you don’t practice. That can be a scary thought and everybody puts their nose in the right direction because they have to. That’s sometimes very harsh, but you do feel that everybody is looking in the same direction. I think it’s tremendous.”
What is your outlook for the National Team?
“I don’t know. That’s in the future. I’ll be the first one to jump on the plane if Bruce ever calls on me again. I’ve just got to make sure I’m fit and in form. He asked me when the season was over if I wanted to come into camp in January. It’s been eight or nine years since I’ve had a vacation, so I really needed my rest for once. So, I didn’t go into that camp, but he was talking about maybe somewhere down the line he might need me. But, that’s all depending on form and fitness and everything.”
How do you rate your form and fitness at the moment?
“I’m in form for the pre-season – I just won eight soccer tennis games in a row. Form is something that is here, and then it’s gone the next day. That’s not what is important right now. As for fitness, I’m feeling a lot better than I’ve felt in the last year.”