Peter Nowak said after the 10 days DC United spent in Bradenton, Florida that he "learned to be tough again," and said he leaves "impressed with what kind of team we have right now."
He also said players such as Matt Nickell, Justin Moose, Devon McTavish and Andy Metcalf have stood out, but he said he was impressed with the whole crop of new players.
He said the returning national team players will create more competition within the squad, and though the team set a record for lowest goals-against-average, along with being the highest scoring team in the MLS regular season, Nowak said the team can improve by "winning games."
For Nowak’s take on the preseason to date, read below:
With the first phase of preseason now complete, how did it go?
“I think we’ve had a pretty tense and pretty tough two weeks behind us. I think the whole group did a pretty good job coming together. I was very impressed with the work from all the rookies. We’re moving forward. The first step has been made, but there is a lot of work to do considering we have guys coming from the National Team and we have to put the pieces together. Overall, I’m very impressed with what kind of team we have right now. I think they guys came along pretty good.”
You said at the beginning of this phase that conditioning was the priority. Did you met those goals? How happy are you with the team’s speed, endurance, etc.?
“From the conditioning drills you witnessed, you know they put a lot of work in that. A few are tired. They hit the wall a little bit. After eight days in this camp it is tough. The touch and the speed (of play) will come. We’re still going to do a lot of work with the ball and tactical work and shooting drills. Everything will come step by step. Like I said, I’m very impressed with the fitness. Everyone is at a good starting point before we go to Spain and Charleston.”
Also part of the condition is the mental aspect. How much improvement in that area did this team improve on here in Bradenton? It looked like there was a let down in the Real Salt Lake game, and some similar problems in today’s game against Kansas City?
“The most important thing is that when you are tired you still have to remember your principals and values – what the game requires from you. After the Salt Lake City game I was happy with the guys, even though they were struggling, after the game they were fighting through it. I could see it Saturday morning when we all we had was pure fitness for over two hours. Nobody complained, they motivated themselves and their teammates. That’s the stuff I was looking for.”
“Sometimes the game isn’t going to go your way and you have to motivate yourself. You have to keep going and motivate your teammates. Those were the qualities I was looking for and I’ve told you that before. There were still moments in the when we just turn off. But, I thought today’s game was a good step forward considering it came at the end of the two weeks.”
Two years ago you were a new coach and the preseason was spent with you and the players trying to get to know each other. Last year there wasn’t much time for the team to build with practice because you were immediately playing games. This year is the first time you have had time to slowly develop in preseason. Are things significantly different for the team’s preparation, and how are they different?
“We just want to use the full two months of preseason. It is important that we stay together and recognize what pieces we need as a team to build our team.”
“The first year I knew most of the players. The part that was important to me was convincing them, and making them believe they were strong as a team. Maybe we didn’t come together in the first camp, but definitely in Guadalajara.”
“Last year there wasn’t much time. We basically played the Championship tournament, and in the pre-season we were forced to get ready.”
“Right now it is nice. We are looking at the new players that joined the team. We are looking for what we need. We are looking to go to Spain with the same strong mentality. For me, the important thing is that I want to have winners on the team. I want to have guys that want to win the starting spot. Not only to win a starting spot, but to hold that starting spot. For me, it is important to make a very competitive starting environment. I am looking for who wants to play on this team, who wants to compete on this team, and who wants to win. I have time to do that right now. The book is wide open for everybody.”
“We don’t need to get hooked on the (training) system. What is important is that we go through Bradenton, Spain, and Charleston and on April 2 you will have your Best XI on the field. That was the mentality we had in 2004.”
What was the reason that you released Joey Worthen?
“I don’t want to go into details on that. We were obligated to look at Joey. We needed to make a decision one way or another at this time. We decided to go this way. Joey is a great kid, and we enjoyed working with him. But, the decision was made. I think if we could have more time with him it could be much better. It wasn’t our decision.”
It is early, but Justin Moose, your first round draft pick, seems to being playing well. What are our impressions of him?
“Justin has shown a lot of qualities. We were very impressed in the first week when he went so hard . . . I think these were the first practices like this for him, and then he was knocked pretty good in the second game against New York. We gave him a couple of days off then. You can see the qualities that are important in the game. He’s smart, he’s fast, and he can play soccer. He reminds me of Benny (Olsen) when he came out of college. Justin has those rare qualities in a player – speed and he’s intense. Even though he’s small, he has a very big heart.”
Who else has impressed you out of the new players?
“Matt Nickell is at a very good point compared to last year. He did a lot of work in the off-season and came to this camp knowing he needs to earn it. He’s fighting for it, and I’m impressed with that.”
“The other rookies . . . I’m very happy with Devon McTavish. I think Devon is a smart player. Rod Dyachenko has good qualities, but he’s pretty young. You can see that he can play good soccer, but we just need to bring out all his qualities, not just one or two. Kenny Bertz is a big presence in our defense. I think his foot work needs to be better, but he’s a competitor and I like those kind of guys. Stephen deRoux is another guy that has made a lot of progress, but he still needs to be consistent. His athleticism is very good, but he needs to keep playing simple. Andy Metcalf, we picked him in the supplemental draft, is a pretty big surprise. He’s a fighter and he has a nose for the goal. I’m impressed with the whole group. Now, as I said, we have to work to the next step.”
You did not have any major injuries in the preseason, but some of the younger players fighting for spots picked up knocks. How important is it for you as a coach to see how they react to this?
“Injuries happen. You have to come back from injuries as soon as you can. If the players want to play on this team, they have to get healthy and be responsible staying healthy. Everything, every little thing, is important.”
“As soon as they come back we’re going to give them another chance to show their qualities to fight for, or win, their position. At the end of the day we reward those kind of guys. If they show commitment to the team, we show commitment to them.”
You said before that Spain is where you will work on tactics. Are you going to go to Spain and try different formations or tactics?
“Don’t get me wrong, where this comes from. We all believe in something. We will create something and it works. The players always are changing positions, changing rotations, except for mainly the principals.”
“For me the most important things are how we are going to rotate, how we are going to cover for each other, and staying organized and compact. Like today, Josh Gros was withdrawn when the ball was back. Then Moose was back when the ball was on the other side. Either way it would be a 4-4-2.”
“It’s ‘Total Football’, but for you guys to understand you can’t say, ‘This is how they are going to play.’ I want to use 120×75 yards, the whole space. My guys are going to be able to play that whole box. That’s why we have about seventy percent possession in every single game. We don’t want to lose the ball, or kick the ball away and run. We want to be creative enough to make the opposition guess what we are going to do in the next couple of moments.”
“We have a lot of creative players. During a rotation on the field, the whole flow of the game can quickly change. For me it is important to have those creative players, see how it develops, and see how it will go offensively. Not only offensively because defensive is also important to me.”
“I’ve been considering many things. But, like I said, we have to be careful which elements we add to any system we put together. The chemistry and personnel are important in making the final decision.”
With the best goals-against-average in team history, and the highest scoring team in the MLS regular season last year, how do you make improvements?
“Winning more games. Like I told you guys, we lost six home games, including the playoffs. We lost five road games, and in those games I thought we shouldn’t have lost four of them. And I don’t accept losing home games. We have great fans. They come to watch the team be successful.”
“How are we going to improve? In 2004 we had problems winning away games, but we got better. It is mental. Look at Real Madrid or Arsenal or Barcelona. They are always going in wanting to win everything possible. They want to win every possible championship or trophy. That’s how we have to go into this season.”
How hard will it be to integrate the National Team players into the squad?
“It going to create some competition. The guys want to show that the call up to the National Team wasn’t just something they don’t deserve. If they want to keep getting called up to the National Team they will fight to improve, fight to win a position. And they have to be a starter (for their club teams).”
“You know I’m not going to take anything for granted and just give a spot to a National Team player. The most important thing is that each player must know what their roles are on the team. With the National Team they need to know how they are going to help their team, either as a sub or as a starter. I expect the same for this team, especially for those players because they are role models for the other players. I expect they will be proud of what they have done. They want to continue to show that they deserve to be part of the National Team.”
What were some of the negatives coming out of the camp?
“I wasn’t happy . . . well, maybe not happy isn’t the right word. Sometimes there are a lot of little things. We had some little injuries. I think some of my players they took the easy way out after being in practice for two hours and they hit the wall.”
“I played this game for so many years, I can see that. We had a discussion about that and I think they see my point. Except that, the first two or three weeks it’s been very competitive.”
“The second camp is always the most difficult camp. With the first camp you’re just coming in from the off-season and you’re excited to get back to practice. The second camp is the most difficult because you have to keep your consistency. The third camp is easy because the season is so close. The second is important to me because I can learn who I can trust, and how they are going to develop, and how we have to work with them.”
“We’re going to take twenty-four players to Spain. We have to make the decision who is going to stay and who is going with us. I think the guys who are going to Spain are the most deserving.”
Even though it is only preseason, underneath everything is wanting to win everything; wanting to uphold DC United tradition. How important are the results in Spain?
“We don’t have to prove anything, we just want show that we belong in this soccer world. It was the same as when we played the internationals in DC – playing Chelsea, Municipal from Guatemala. Of course we’ll have big games in playoffs, in championships, Open Cup Finals. This helps prepare the players for big games, big crowds, different environments.”
“Last year we went to Chile with only a little experience with this – fans screaming at you. Every experience will help our young players and the guys really enjoy being in that kind of environment. Guys like Christian love to play when the stadium is packed and the crowd is going crazy. It is going to help us in the long term.”
This is your third preseason. What have you learned from these ten days?
“I learned to be tough again. That’s what I learned. I think there were times last year when tried to let it go for the sake of the team. I think they wanted me to understand them. But, I think I’m going to go back to be as I was in 2004. I’m going to be the same person I was. That’s the person I am. That’s the passion in my blood about this game. I’m not going to tolerate anything other than winning."