G – Geddes (West VA – Wesleyan), Bohonick
D – Stokes, Reyes, Prideaux, Petke, Swann, Ivanov, Sayler
M – Kovolenko, Amani-Dove, Digiamarino, Etcheverry, Nelsen, Namoff, Quintinilla, Sayler, Woodworth, Carroll
F – Quaranta, Stoichkov, Curtis, Eskandarian, Jake Edwards (England)
– Ali Curtis took a kick to the face and went to the hospital for stitches. He should be back in practice immediately.
– David Hayes took a nasty slash along his shins in Monday’s practice. Bad enough that he didn’t return for Tuesday’s.
– There will be a special draft (see below). It will include out of contract players, also known as free agents. The draft will be exactly the same as the regular off-season draft, reverse order of finish in 2003. However, it will not include Digiamarino who was “sold” from the league. DCUnited contends his contract was allowed to expire and he left on a free transfer, and therefore should be included in the regular special draft, not a weighted draft. It is obviously important because Digiamarino’s play has been stellar in the past couple of days of practice. Adding Digiamarino would obviously allow some flexibility to where Convey could play.
After the normal warms ups, the team jumped into a game of ’21 touch keep-away.’ Played on about ½ a field, the team is split into two sides. The object is for each side to string together 21 consecutive passes to score a point.
The second phase was a scrimmage using four of the small goals across the width of the field. The teams broke down:
A couple of very nice things occurred during the run of play. Eskandarian used his quickness to get some space, turned and fired a goal from a tight angle. Reyes, with Swann clinging tightly, managed to round the corner for a second goal. During a nice long distance switch from Stoichkov to Digiamarino, Etcheverry slid into the open lane to receive the second pass, fired a grass-cutter from distance. Moments later, Etcheverry again was able to step around Carroll to score. Blue Team’s defense moved the ball quickly throughout their defensive third to get itself out of trouble.
The final phase of practice was a full field intra-squad scrimmage. Stokes was having a bad day with his passing. Not realizing the speed of his opponents, he would lay off a soft pass, which was as often as not cut-off by the time it reached its intended target. Reyes played up on the right midfield slot. It is obvious he is not familiar with the position. Reminiscent of Lisi or Albright, he would be caught in the middle of the field, not knowing to go forward or fall back on defense. Also, after receiving a long pass at his feet, Quaranta was able to fight off a tackle. Unfortunately, the ensuing shot went wide left. Without a doubt, Eskandarian has the upper hand over Quaranta to this point on the depth chart. Swann showed a good presence of mind, stopping an open net threat when Bohonick was beaten after going out to challenge for a ball. However, his natural physical gifts as often as not made up for this indecision. By end of practice, most players were noticeably worn out.
– With all the moves you made up to now, how do you feel about the team?
“I think we’re happy right now. Obviously it was a long, hard off-season, and we had some very big decisions to make. With the way things are going now, with the way things are looking with the amount of talent we have, the depth that we have, I’m pretty excited.”
– Was the Pope-Williams-Moreno for Petke a trade that you initiated, or did they come to you?
“At the end of the season we talked with all the teams to find out where they were at with their team. It’s an exercise that all teams go through. You get on the phone and have several conversations. It’s just something that built over an eight-week period. As you go along, you see what’s available, and you figure out where you’re at with your cap, certain teams seem to be able to provide what makes sense to you. And you work it. We were able to do that.”
“We got David Stokes out of the deal. We were able to pick up Ernie Stewert as Jaime’s (Moreno) replacement, and we got Mike Petke as Eddie’s (Pope) replacement, and enough money left over to go out and get the Bulgarian defender Ivanov.”
– Speaking of money, does the team have any salary cap left?
“It’s very tight right now . . . very tight. We’re for the most part; I would say 90% done. We’re keeping our eyes open to what else is available. But, there are no major moves left.”
– There’s talk about another special draft for out of contract players. Is that true, and how would it work?
“What it would be is another mechanism for teams to get players. It’s for players who are free agents, players that have played in the league at one point in time and want to come back, and players that you would not have to use a discovery to get. It will be at the end of the month.”
– Is this just for this season, or something that is being instituted for the future years?
“I’m sure it’s going to be a wait and see type of thing. If there are a good number of players available, which we don’t know who will be available in that draft, then I think it will be something they consider for the future.”
– What are the mechanics of the draft?
“It is going to be based on the 2003 Super-Draft natural order.”
– You also have Discovery Options, two per team, with money included. Have those mechanics changed?
“That’s the same. But, with a Discovery, any money used in an acquisition counts against your cap. So, it’s not like you have money just waiting and sitting. It’s money you have to consider.”
– So, you don’t have any flexibility through that option because of the salary cap?
“We’re looking for free-agents. If we are to discover a player, it would have to be a free-agent situation.”
– Coach Hudson has mentioned that he is possibly interested in making another move. Is that something you are actively pursuing?
“There are things out there right now that are possibilities – nothing definite, nothing immanent. But, there are things that are on our board and we are considering.”
– With that in mind, are there any needs for this team at the moment? Is there a weakness on this team?
“I think what we’re looking to do right now is get players who provide a good amount of cover with all the National Team call-ups at all three levels – Bobby and Santino will be gone for the U-20’s. Right now Nick (Rimando), Ben (Olsen), and Bobby are with the (Full) National Team, and there’s two major competitions this summer. And then you have the Olympic Team, which we now have four players (Stokes, Warren, Carroll Eskandarian), plus potentially Bobby and Santino, so you’re looking at six players. So that’s what we’re looking at right now, what players are out there that can provide us cover for certain positions while those players get called up.”
– What are the deadlines you are facing?
“August 1st is the trading deadline. The first cut will be down to 20 roster players (end of this week), and the final cut will be in mid-March.”
– It seems that you’ve filled in all the weaknesses with the exception of defensive midfielder. Is that what you’re looking for in any future moves?
“Yeah, I think because there’s not that pure, natural player there. Ryan (Nelsen) plays there for his National Team. He’s very comfortable there. I like him a lot there. He gives us great flexibility. He wins a lot in the air. But he’s not really the David Batty type you need in there. But, he’s the best one we’ve got – the closest one we’ve got. He’s predominantly a defender. He’s good enough with his feet, and he plays nice balls. I’m looking for Ryan to be that player just now. But that is something I do think we need to look for perhaps.”
– Last year your philosophy was to “Organize defensively, and create offensively.” After bringing in all these new faces, has that philosophy been modified?
“Yeah, I think I want to be more . . . especially with the players up front, we can be more dynamic with our football offensively. With Benny, Bobby, and Dema all buzzing around Marco.”
“And with this . . . whoever gets in up front is going to create all sorts of problems – Eskandarian looks sharper than a razor! Santino looks as if he’s coming to play big time. But, Stoichkov! Where the hell . . . .? He’s striking balls, and passing balls, and making those runs. He’s going to be a tremendous luxury to have.”
“Milton needs to sharpen his game. Milton on the ball needs to . . . . He’s such an athlete, and he’s such a greyhound, but we need to work on his footballing. Because amongst these guys you can see he’s down a notch.”
– But, you have him put out on the right wing out of his natural position. Is that an experiment or something you’re trying to build for the season?
“Sure . . . We just wanted to take a look at the guys in the back (Petke-Ivanov-Prideaux). Certainly Milton is our right back, there’s no question of that. That’s where he’s penciled in at. But we’ve got to have a look at these players who have that variety in their game. That’s all it is.”
“We’re two months away, and I want to take a look at a lot of things. I want to take a look at Bobby Convey as a central player. All of Bobby’s best attributes figure him to be a wide player because of his energy and his relentless drive. I think that’s where Bruce (Arena) is looking at him. But, it’s something I want to take a look at with Bobby as well, and see if he can be that player in front of Ryan. And if Dema can be a wide player – I know he doesn’t like it particularly out there. But, we can look at all these things over the next couple of months. I think we’re going to be flexible that way.”
– Coach Trask said earlier that he’s getting calls from all over the league that teams are already afraid of DCUnited because of what you’ve assembled. Is that the impression you have too?
“Aye . . . Everywhere there’s talk that way. We’re hearing that from all over. It’s not just that as if we’re looking to be putting together a very good, dynamic, experienced, ultra-competitive team, with a lot of winners, and a lot of people who are hungry, a lot of natural appetite to do well, and they show that during the working week. All those players have that sort of character and personality about them of real men – tough guys. They really are. That part of it is absolutely wonderful. It’s as we said at the start, it’s going to be a challenge to get into this starting eleven. And it’s going to be as much of a challenge to keep the other players out.”
– One difference at practices seems to be that this is a much more serious and dedicated group. Is that true? And is it intentional?
“Yeah, it is. It’s a great question, and a good observation as well because pre-season is a lot of that. But, I think all of that natural tendency will come out, and it will only get better. I mean, look at the guys that we are going to get in. It’s going to go up. It’s not going to stay the same or go down. I don’t think the pre-season in it. Everybody has that one-up-manship and stuff.”
“I’m real please with the way its looking right now, but it means nothing right now. We’ve got to see and figure out what the best compliment is. And it may be that one or two . . . and I mean this analytically, we may have to leave a very good, gifted player out because its not the right mix. That’s the other part of this. It’s not just the best 11 players. You cannot look at a team like that. It’s the 11 that compliment each other. And if it means that a particularly good and gifted player having to be out of the team, that’s what I have to do. That’s what I have to take on, and you live and die by that decision. They may be unpopular decisions, but that’s what we’re building into this team. And if it works, that’s great. And if it doesn’t work, then you try another mix. So over these next two months we’re going to be looking and weighing it all up.”
– Although it’s early, do you see any weaknesses on this team, or areas of concern?
“I just think the understanding amongst each other with all these new pieces. And that’s just going to come with time. As for an inherent weakness with the team, we’ve got strength, and experience, and tactical speed in the back, we’ve got engines in the middle, we’ve got competent and demanding footballers all over the middle of the field, we’ve got our brilliant players, we’ve got some real dagger greyhounds up front that are just chomping at the bit. And don’t mean these guys, I mean Ernie as well. It’s looking very satisfying right now. But is it going to jell? Is it going to come together, that understanding. The early impressions is that I couldn’t be more pleased, there’s no disappointments or concerns at this point. I’m extremely happy right now.”