After the first week of practice, how happy are you with your players?
“I think our starting point was pretty good considering the guys we have, and the guys who had surgeries during the off-season. It looks pretty promising.”
“The rookies are still fresh blood, so it’s pretty good for us.
“The guys came in in pretty good shape.”
“And considering Freddy (Adu) and the other National Team member it looks pretty promising for our Bradenton camp.”
How do you think Aleko has done so far? Are you cautious with him so far?
“Why would I be cautious with him? I think Alecko knows what his body needs and what he needs in practice. If he’s telling me that he’s going to go full speed I expect him to go full speed. That’s the trust we’ve created. And it’s the right environment.”
“He needs to forget about that. He needs to play a game with a smile on his face, scoring goals, and make sure he’s going to be one of the guys. The past is the past.”
“Of course, we need to be careful with a couple of things. But, I think he’s smart enough by himself.”
Last week Kevin Payne said he talked to you in the off-season about using the bench more. Last season you had the best Reserve Team in the league, and the team specifically talked about how impressed it was with players like Kuykendahl and Nickel. In general, do you have a plan? What might it entail?
“Sure, I have to consider everything. My point of view has always been do I play with my Best XI, is this the Best XI for this weekend? Those guys will be given a little bit of confidence even if they are a little bit tired, maybe a little bit confused. But, you’re still going to get something from them.”
“My point was always ‘This is my Best XI’. If I change the line up then it will be, ‘Why are you doing this coach? You don’t trust Jaime Moreno? You don’t trust Christian Gomez? Why are you doing this?’”
“It’s a very thin line going with either the Best XI or rotating the line up like maybe we were supposed to do last year. I don’t know? I always felt that, ‘This is my Best XI’. Maybe I didn’t give guys like Clyde Simms or, at the end of the season, the Bobby (Boswell) situation, he hit the wall and everyone saw that. Why would I keep him in the line up if we’ve lost a very important piece on the field?”
“It’s not using the bench more, but we’ve got to be careful with what we are saying. It’s a very thin line and very delicate matter saying who is going to play or not.”
“We have another article about the guys, I think it was about Kelly Gray, when he (Dave Sarachan) said that Kelly Gray was going to be rested for a league game, but then you have reserve games. You cannot rest players for the week. Kelly Gray played 90 minutes in the reserve game. Kelly then said, ‘Between me and the coach there must be some kind of misunderstanding!’”
“I don’t want to create the kind of environment where they aren’t going to trust me with my decisions over the weekend. So, as I said, there are always going to be questions, ‘How are we going to use our line up? How can we rotate our players?’ The most important thing is that the guys earn it in practice. I’m not going rest a player so I can play another guy because it isn’t fair to the players. They work very hard in the practice to get there. If they don’t work hard in practice, and they’re not going to earn a spot, then I can think about that.”
Do you have a Best XI established? Or, is it something as basic as a player working harder to earn that spot?
“As I said, everything is important to me. How you behave. How you act. I’m not going to jump from tree to tree changing the line ups. It’s a matter of time of how you’re going to act and how you’re going to progress.”
“Jamil (Walker) was the best example last year. Even if I gave him 10 minutes, or just 2 minutes he just kept going and going, and then he wanted more. I want that mentality from every player. Whoever it is going to be whether it is a National Team player or not, I expect, if he wants to be a part of this team, and he wants to see more minutes, he needs to not only come to the point of being in the line up, but also beyond it. Everything is about being consistent in everything you’re doing.”
Are you planning on changing the captaincy this year?
“I only changed the Captain of the Rookies. It’s going to be Bobby Boswell this year. He’s going to take care of the rookies and the rest is going to stay as it is.”
With Freddy Adu last year, was it that you were going to start your Best XI and he had to step up his game?
“You know guys, don’t get me wrong, we care about every player. We know what to expect. For myself, I think in the first season the expectations were very high. I don’t remember, but I think he started 7 or 8 games. I don’t remember the exact number, it was something like that. Last year he started 16 games. So, we’re going in the right direction. I think if he gives the team 25 starts, with 15 or 20 very good games, like he did last year with a lot of them. . . . Unfortunately last year, when he got hurt, and spent 4 weeks coming back to his old form. So, it was a difficult time for him. He was very consistent during that time.”
“The players around were very happy to have him in the line up. The most important thing is that this is his third year. He is one of us. He needs to remember that we are for him, and he is for this team. As I said, one guy isn’t going to win the championship. If you have guys that are going to help you with things, and push you to the limit, not only with me because he’s sooner or later going to be tired of me pushing him all the time – ‘Why are you doing all this? You’re pushing too hard!’ – they are going to push him to the limit, and that is more important than me saying what he needs to do. The results are going to come sooner or later.”
“His future is bright. Whatever comes from the National Team will come. Everything is going to fall into place when he thinks and acts like, ‘I’m a member of this team’. After 2004 there was a lot about Freddy, but we won as a team. That’s the most important thing. When you do your part you will have your share of fame and recognition.”
“I’m very happy and proud how he’s developed over the last two years. There are things we have to work on, but that’s the same with any other player.”
In the last 2 years has Freddy defined a specific role on the team tactically? Winger? Attacking midfield behind the forwards? Forward? Do you have any ideas what his natural role is?
“I have ideas, sure. I’m not going to share that with you guys because it’s too early in the season.”
“You guys always speculate, ‘It’s going to be this, it’s going to be that – a winger, or that. You need to change the line up.’ I always consider what is best at the moment because you and me and this team want to have the best results. We want to be happy how we play, the way we play, and what kind of result we produce. You have to understand I consider everything. I’m thinking about what is the best tactically, physically, and mentally for this team. Every single day, trust me! You can even ask my players!”
“I can come in with ideas, but I don’t think there is enough time during the season to change the whole system. You can change a little piece and that could be the deciding point if you are going to win a game, or if it is going to work. As I said, it is pretty delicate.”
“We have the pre-season, about 2 months, to work on some stuff. Maybe we will develop something new, maybe not. I will see how it works. We will consider everything.”
“Nobody can guarantee any system will work. I don’t think anybody is going to give you an answer, ‘It is better to play this way, or this way. Or, Freddy is better as a winger; or Freddy needs to be a play-maker; or, Christian behind him; or Christian in front.’ Nobody can give you the answer right now. We have 2 months of hard work right now. I’m sure we’re going to come up with the right answer.”
Will the World Cup disrupt the team this year?
“No, we’ve had the routine over the last 8 years – in 1998 and 2002. Most of our National Team players come from European teams, we’re going to miss maybe 6 or 7 guys. It’s not going to be a really big issue.”
“In 1998 there were a lot of domestic players. There weren’t many players playing abroad in other countries. But now it is just different. It’s not going to really affect our league.”
“I don’t agree with some comments like, ‘Every game is meaningless . . .. We have to stop . . . .’ It’s our job to produce and play the best way we can. There are still a lot of things to do. I have a couple of ideas, but I’m not going to share them with you right now. I think that we’re going to have to sit together after the pre-season, but right now isn’t the time for that.”
How was the National Team experience?
“It was great! I had a great time, and learned a lot. That’s the most important thing, I learned a lot. I just learned, pretty much all over again, and started to have fun again. Work hard, but have fun when you play. When I do that, I play a hell of a lot better.”
Was that the problem with the end of last season?
“It was just inconsistent. That’s what it was. Some games I was having fun, and some games it just wasn’t there. I just want to maintain it. I’m going to have something written down on my wrist, ‘Enjoy Yourself Every time.’ I’ve just got to remind myself that every time.”
What things were you able to learn in the National Team camp?
“When I first got there what I was definitely lacking was the defensive positioning. It took me about a week to understand where to be out there defensively. After I got that everything went downhill from there. And I was playing much better. I felt good. And I felt confident when I was playing. Now I’m able to position myself in the right spot, when my team wins the ball, and we’re off counter-attacking. If somebody doesn’t win the ball, I put myself in a position to win the ball.”
What do you think you need to do to get back to the National Team camp?
“I just need to work hard and be a regular starter for DC. The month of April is very important for me because I said in a couple of other interviews that Bruce (Arena) is going to be monitoring my every move. I’m just going to work hard and keep improving. I’m going to bring that to DC United – to play well for DC United. If I do that, Bruce is watching and he might give me that last shot to go in and try to prove something. Hopefully that’s the case.”
Where do you hope to fit in with DC United tactically?
“I don’t know. Somewhere in the midfield, or even up top, it doesn’t matter to me. Right now I’m just doing whatever I’ve got to do to be better. When I was with the National Team Bruce put me out on the left for a lot of the training. So I learned that position pretty well. Hopefully, wherever DC decides to put me, just as long as I’m out there on the field, I’m willing to work to be out on the field.”
What was said in the off-season to make you feel better about your situation?
“It’s not so much things were said that made me feel better. It just came down to the issue of miscommunications between myself and Peter. We had that meeting at the end of the season, and we got a lot out of that meeting. Everybody was there – my agent, my family, Kevin Payne, David Kasper, and Ivan Gazidis, from the league, was there. It was just an issue of miscommunications.”
“Peter, when he was 15 years old, he went pro. He was brought up in a different way than I’m being brought up. He was trying to do whatever he could to bring me up the right way. I guess I just didn’t see that, or respond well to that. But, I had a meeting with Peter, and everything is cool now. I trust the guy. I’m willing to just work to be out on the field.”
“I’m glad to be back at DC United because this is where I want to be. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I get the best of both worlds playing for DC United – living at home and playing for a team, in my opinion, the best franchise in MLS.”
Was part of the problem that you expected to get more playing time than you were?
“Well, yes and that’s why I decided to join DC United for preseason. That is the main reason to join the team for preseason. I want to be a regular starter for DC. I want to be there right from the start with the rest of the guys just working, doing the fitness drills, and doing everything with them. Hopefully I do well enough to get a starting spot. Bruce told me when I was with the National Team, ‘You know, pretty much your best shot with making a World Cup team is being a regular starter with DC.’ So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do – work hard for that. And take it one day at a time. And hopefully things go the right way.”
“That’s something you have to work for even the coach says ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. It’s up to you. It’s really up to you. It’s not up to anybody else. It’s up to how hard you’re willing to work out on that field. And when you get that chance what are you going to do with that chance. I’m ready for that. No excuses. You’ve got to go in and do whatever you got to, to help the team win.”
You did start 16 games out of 25 last year. Weren’t you a regular starter last year?
“It just didn’t feel that way, I guess. I didn’t even know I started 16 games, to be honest. It didn’t feel that way to me.”
“This year is a whole different year. I want to concentrate on this year, and forget about what happened last year because we’re all not happy with what happened last year – with the way we went out of the playoffs. We want to get back and win MLS Cup this year, and we’re willing to work for it. Everyone looks good in practice. Everyone looks ready and excited. I’m excited myself, so hopefully we get back there.”
This is your third year . . .
“Do you believe that?!”
You’ve got several people around you giving advice, you’re traveling back and forth to the National Team camp. Do you ever feel stretched?
“For the first couple of seasons I did, to be honest. Now, look at me, I’m having fun. I’m just having fun and playing. It’s just one of those things where now I’m not thinking about anything else, but just enjoying myself when I’m on the field. That’s the most important thing now. That’s what I want to do because I feel like I’m a whole different player when I’m having fun. I’m a completely different player. That’s where I want to be.”