The new ball MLS is using in 2006 is already giving the goalkeepers difficulty, says DC United equipment manager Francisco Tobar. Besides Tobar, John Dyson had a chance to talk with assistant coach Mark Simpson and goalkeepers Nick Rimando and Troy Perkins.
For Simpson, Jaime Moreno, John Wilson and Clyde Simms are standing out early on.
On the battle to start at goalkeeper Rimando says the decision to be a starter "will be up to me, not to the coaches," adding that "if I go out and play well, I’m going to make it easy on [the coaches] to decide who will start." Meanwhile, Perkins is hoping to use his offseason experience at Everton to overtake Rimando as number one.
Francisco Tobar – Equipment Manager
What are your thoughts on the new ball MLS will be using this season?
“It does take off. It’s a lighter ball. The goalkeepers are having a difficult time adjusting to it.”
“I think some of our (field players) like it. They can definitely hit it harder, faster, and longer. But some of them are having a harder time because they can’t quite get used to it – it’s a bit bouncy. But, most of the guys like it.”
“It’s taken us an adjustment period to get used to it. We’ve been playing with it since we got to Bradenton, so it’s been five or six days and the guys are still getting used to it.”
“The main issue, as you noticed yesterday, when we do shooting drills it takes off. We’re still finding out when you hit it, and you hit it a certain way, the ball does certain things. When we got the Puma ball last year it took time to figure out. Their reaction time has to be a little better, a little quicker and faster. Once the ball is hit it moves. When it doesn’t rotate, it doesn’t move straight. It’s tough.”
How is the team looking thus far into preseason?
“It’s good. I think everybody came in with a pretty good base of fitness. We’re still missing our National Team guys. We’ve got a lot of new faces in. Obviously we’re missing Dema (Kovalenko) from last year. But, we’ve picked up some people to fill specific holes. So, I think right now we’re just trying to push them to get them fit, not really worried about results. We’re trying to keep guys healthy and strong, and get ready for our trip to Spain.”
What specific areas have stood out as being ahead of the preseason training game or areas where they have surprised the coaches?
“I think it’s right on par. Some guys are now starting to hit the wall. We want to see what that wall is. We want to push them to almost the point of breaking them a little bit because we want to see what their tolerances are. So, some of the young guys are starting to peter out a little bit. That’s all you can do, push them physically and try to get them as fit as quick as possible, within reason.”
“I think Jaime (Moreno) looks strong again. John Wilson has looked really good in camp – he’s had his really good days. Clyde (Simms) has been really steady back there. Those are the three guys that have stood out for me.”
Kevin Payne and Coach Nowak stated that one of the biggest challenges will be to keep a consistent, focused mentality throughout the season. What are the challenges you are facing, as a coach, in bringing that about?
“I think because we were in all those competitions, and we didn’t get results, I think that is what shot us mentally at the end of last season. But this is a brand new season. Everybody comes in refreshed and hungry. We know that if we’re in those situations again, where we’re in those top quality tournaments, things are going to be different, that the results are going to be different. So, everybody is I think that everybody has come in mentally stronger knowing what could have been. So now we’re trying to get back into those tournaments to get better results.”
It seems over the last couple of years one of the biggest off-season speculations is whether or not there is a goalkeeper controversy. What are your thoughts on that?
“To me there’s really not a controversy. We have two quality goalkeepers in Nick and Troy, and a third in Webber. We’ll continue to evaluate our team.”
“At any point in time you’re trying to make your team better, no matter what you do. We’re going to try to find someone, between those three, or anyone else for that matter; we’re going to try to find the best for that position.”
“One thing going through the season last year, it was our best season ever for goals-against. I think the disappointing thing for the team was we just didn’t get enough big games out of key people, whether it was our goalkeepers or other players on the field. That’s what our stance is in terms of . . . . I don’t really call it a goalkeeper controversy. We’re just trying to evaluate at this time and have the best team on the field at the start of the season.”
How will you improve on the best goals against average in team history this season?
“Obviously it’s not just the goalkeeper, it a team defensive issue, and it starts with the guys pressuring up to and making things predictable. And it is not allowing ourselves to get broken down through the middle, not allowing ourselves getting stretched out. When the ball does get behind us, can we mark up in those positions, and can the goalkeeper make a save and win a game for us. All those intangibles go into team defending. It’s not just finding the best defender or best goalkeeper to keep the ball out of the net.”
What are your thoughts on the different ball being used this season?
“It’s different. I think the Puma ball was heavier. This is definitely a lighter ball. I don’t think it takes spin as well as the other ball. The other ball if you hit it one way, and you wanted it to go one way it would. This ball you can hit it one way and it might not go that way for you. It’s definitely a different ball. It’s got less resistance going through the air, therefore if it doesn’t have a lot of spin on it, it can knuckle all over the place.”
“I think it’s going to be difficult not only for goalkeepers, if it’s knuckling all over the place, it’s going to be tougher to trap, and tougher to pass. I don’t think it’s necessarily good that you have an inconsistent ball flying through the air all the time.”
What should fans look for through preseason to know that this team is on track for the MLS regular season?
“Going back to last year, we put a lot of guys in situations where they played a lot of minutes. This year we’re looking to have a deeper team where if a guy is fatigued we’re not going to bat an eyelash at putting the next guy in because we’re not going to lose anything on the field. We’re looking at having a real deep team this year, not just a first team and a reserve team. We’re looking at having 28 guys who can step on our first team field at any time. I think that’s what we’re looking for. It’s just the consistency of all 28 guys on the field at any one time.”
How is preseason going for you?
“I feel healthy. I’ve been making all the fitness tests, so I feel fit. Here it’s a little easier to play because there’s no snow on the ground, so you know when we get our running shoes on your feet aren’t going to get wet. Here you know you’re going to run, get fit, and get murdered, but that’s what pre-season is all about. We’re going to find out who is ready for the regular season. I feel good and ready to go.”
Being a veteran you have better insight, how does the team look coming into the preseason?
“There are good and parts. We’re very young. We do have some veterans, but we have a lot of new faces, and some faces who aren’t coming back. It’s not going to be the prettiest in the beginning, but that’s what pre-season is for, to sharpen edges and get as good as we can, and getting on the same page. Peter has been doing that little by little. By the end of this long season we’ll be alright.”
It seems that every preseason it there seems to be talk about a goalkeeper controversy. What are your thoughts on that?
“That’s what the reporters need to talk about. I don’t think about Troy, I think about myself. If reporters what to talk about it to get things started, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m concentrating on myself, going out there everyday and trying to perform to the best of my ability. I think the decision is up to me, not up to the coaches. If I go out there and play well I’m going to make it easy on them. I think Peter and Mark have made it clear that everyone is fighting for a position. Coming into this preseason I wanted to be fit and know that if I’m in that first game I am prepared.”
Kevin Payne and Peter Nowak mentioned that the team’s letdown at the end of the year was because of mental fatigue. How are you approaching this season differently mentally?
“It’s still all in the back of our heads, the worst lost in post season at RFK. Especially in front of our fans, it took a toll on me personally because I did think we were good enough to go further. To get beat like that at home was something big and it’s definitely in the back of my mind. When I step on the field that’s going to be in the back of my mind and know that we have a history and we don’t lose at home in front of our fans like that. I think a lot of the guys know that and can’t wait to play them again.”
What are your personal goals for this season?
“Again, to start the season in goal. I guess to start off with a win. I don’t want to look past the first game because if you look past that there could be some troubles. Going in I want to be in that first game and I want to win that game. That’s all I’m asking for right now. Also, to be healthy and ready to give the team whatever I have to offer.”
How is the preseason going for you in general?
“I’m really enjoying it this year. There’s a lot more confidence and I feel a lot more comfortable than I have in the past. The two weeks I spent in England helped me a lot mentally getting ready to come here for two weeks.”
Other than the mental preparation, how else did your experience in England (Everton) help you?
“Overall, there threw me in the fire right from the get-go. They let me train with the first team everyday. Chris Woods, the goalkeeper coach there, is an incredible guy. He stayed after everyday working me twice a day. The goalkeepers there were very receptive of me helping me with little things in the game that you might not get here just because of the lack of experience of the players. Just sitting around with them (and) talking about situational stuff really helped a lot.”
Being a veteran, how does the team look going into preseason?
“We actually talked about this the other day. We’re pretty deep. We’re a very young team, but we have a lot of talent and work ethic in our young players that are in their first or second year. Last year the reserve league helped out tremendously as far as developing players and getting them experience. You can start to see that in those players. I think overall, we look good and now we just need to gel the team and get a rhythm.”
Every year about this time there is talk about a goalkeeper controversy between you and Nick Rimando. What are your thoughts on that subject?
“It makes you better. As professionals this is what you’re going to find no matter where you go. Any club in the world the top spot is always battled for. It makes you better physically, mentally, and emotionally. Last year was up and down. I didn’t really get a chance to step in and play. It was tough. I sat down with Mark (Simpson) before we came down here and that’s what he said, ‘You’ve got to learn from everything.’ It makes you a better person and a better player. It’s going to make you the best you can be.”
How are you approaching this season mentally battling against the team’s performance in the post season and trying to win the starting goalkeeping job?
“It’s the little things like picking up gear to making sure that you’re responsible for your own stuff. It all starts there. So, when you step on the field, following the runner, coordinating where you’re supposed to be all falls into place and you’re not worried about it, it takes place on it’s own. That’s what it’s really about from my end. I’ve always believed if you take care of the little things on and off the field in training, then the games are the easy part.”
What are your personal goals for this season?
“Personally, you want to be on the field, on the field every game. Obviously last year we won the Reserve League, and if I don’t get a chance to be the number one, I want to do that again. I also want to win another cup. I told Mark that this year I want to make it back to the championship and I want to be on the field for that.”