The first day of practice. So many new faces, including several invited players, all looking to make an impression with RH & Co. for the upcoming season. Although the wet, cold weater dampened the energy of those watching, it didn’t affect the competition on the field.
G Bohenick, Jorge Geddes (West Virginia, Wesleyan)
D Stokes, Nelsen, Reyes, Ivanov, Prideaux, Swann, Petke,
M Stoichkov, Etcheverry, Namoff, Digimarino, Woodworth, Amani-Dove, Quintinilla, Kovolenko, Carroll
F David Hayes (Richmond Kickers), Eskandarian, Curtis, Jake Edwards, Quaranta
Convey, Rimando, and Olsen are with the National team
Stewert is expected to arrive during the week
Alegria is in the process of updating his visa
The team played 2 half-hour intra squad scrimmages.
Stokes and Swann were a little lost in the initial half of play. Stokes looked to be tucked too tight to the goal, and was caught forward a couple of times. Swann as often as not was beaten by the first step. However, by the end of the day, both began to fit in with the speed and spacing of the professional level and showed improvement. One thing that showed was they were faster learners for this particular day.
Woodworth does run constantly. It is obvious why some compare him to Olsen
Carroll is special. Compared to the initial practices of Justin Mapp, Carroll has that extra something that you hope to see with younger players. You saw it in Convey and Quaranta with their first practices. He went after the older players, challenged for the ball, and wasnt intimidated by the fact that he was playing with former World Cup stars in Etcheverry and Stoichkov.
Very impressive in net was Jorge Geddes. Apparently Assistant Coach John Trask and Geddes have a history, and Trask knows that Geddes is a Rimando-esc type of GK with his bravery and physical abilities. Geddes also is height challenged, coming in at around 59, but is lightening quick.
Ivanovs defense seems effortless. He is in the right place at the right time, all the time.
Eskandarians efforts showed why he will likely push Quaranta for a starting position. For much of the day Eskandarians level of play was superior to Quaranta. However, at the end of the day, Quaranta netted a nice chip goal, and Eskandarian didnt score. Also, after an excellent stop by Geddes, Curtis slotted home a shot during the scramble for the ball. On the negative, both Eskandarian and Curtis still want to take the one extra touch before firing. Amani-Dove also scored a garbage goal when Bohenick slipped on the wet grass.
Nelsen and Digimarino played well throughout the day. Nelsens footwork today was a step up from last seasons. On one occasion he went through a double-team of Stoichkov and Reyes much to their chagrin. He also fooled Carroll with a little back-heel to himself, spin, and charge forward. Digimarinos play along the left side of midfield was extremely well done. Outstanding speed, constant effort, and knowing when to break were marks that caught the eye of RH & Co.
Play of Practice:
During the run of play Petke clears a ball out of defense to Stoichkov on the right wing. As the ball comes down out of the air, Stoichkov one-times it 50 yards to the left flank for a perfect lead pass to a streaking David Hayes. Moments later, Etcheverry round kicks a ball in mid flight, with a back spin, that plops down perfectly for a streaking Ali Curtis.
How did the first day of practice go?
They didnt see each other . . . they didnt know each other . . . theyve never kicked a ball with each, and I thought they did outstandingly well. Lovely stuff. It was passing exercises. It was like a jousting contest at times between Stoichkov and Marco at who could top off each other with the more breath taking passes! It was lovely to see. It was smashing. Im very, very pleased.
Was there any one thing specifically that surprised you?
No, not particularly. I think they all . . . . I think Stokes looks a very good player. Eliseo looked nice and comfortable in the middle. You could go on and on. Galin looked nice and comfortable back there. Stoichkov was . . . If you ask what was the surprise, Id say Stoichkov. He looked f—— great. Dema looked smashing.
It was . . . there was a good sort of buzz amongst them, that was the thing. It seemed to be the first day at school. They are all new faces, they didnt know each others names basically, and theres no comfort level there yet. . . . they havent slept with each other. Theyve just looked across the room at each other. And its going to take awhile for all the familiarities, and the real appreciation where each other is going to move.
And then you know Ernie is not here . . . Benny, Bobby, Nicky, theres a lot of good stuff to come back in here.
Its also the first day for you with basically a new team. What kind of plans you have going over the next two months?
I think its a case of weighing them all up. Theyre obviously some very talented, good, athletic players. Eskandarian, Ive got to give a big thumbs up to him as well. For me, he looks like a f—— diamond, that kid. I mean hes going to do f—— great! It might come up overnight, but I thought he showed up tremendously well.
But, I think the next couple of months its bringing them together; its getting that comfort amongst them, that expression, just getting them bedded down and really seeing where that good chemistry is between them.
Its going to be hard. Everybody said it. But after looking at this, and thinking of who is coming in, its going to be f—— impossible. I mean Esky and Stoichkov. How the hell are you going to leave them out? I mean, Stokes-ie looks f—— great! Its going to be extremely difficult to pick this team, pick this eleven.
I think over these two months the eye will become more alert to different players habits. Youll start to see different combinations, and the where good compliments is going to be. Thats what I think what well be looking for in the next couple of months.
Do you think you want to play a 3-5-2 or a 4-4-2?
I think well probably play a skewed 4-4-2. It will look more like a 3-5-2, but I think well be flexible enough, with Bobby Convey especially; hell be a key influence I think. Plus the fact that Bruce (Arena) is looking at him as a left sided defender. So that would fit in good to us, having Bobby come out of that left side. Hes got the energy to run up and down there all day, thats what hes all about.
So would you play him at left back?
Possibly. Possibly. But like I said, it would be a skewed type of team. But its too early. Its too early to start picking the formation. But I like the 3-5-2. I mean, I could see us playing the 4-3-2-1 with these guys, with somebody else holding in behind there. The Christmas Tree formation they used to call it. This team could do well with that because well be attacking from all sides from the back. Well be playing football from the back.
Im very, very comfortable with this set. I dont think were finished. I think there will be another one or two more coming in though.
Youve got to like the personality of the team.
Oh sure, that goes without saying. But I think the personality expresses itself in the football. Its not just about character, its about what Stoichkov is . . . thats the type of guy he is . . . character, and all the bravado. Its the same with Etcheverry. They just express themselves. Ernie Stewert is going to be the same. Benny Olsen is another one.
Do you feel this is your team now?
Absolutely. Unquestionably it has my paw prints all over it now. And I hope its a team Im proud of in the way they play.
When we started at Miami, it wasnt building as much even as a winning team. I wanted to entertain, and with the entertaining, fluid type of football, with players that can pass and players that can move, that it would produce results, it would produce wins.
Were not going to lower our standards and play Route 1 football, ever. Its all about passing and moving, and that dynamic stuff will come out with this team, especially when the internationals come in.
Last year you held high standards from Day 1, and some of the players didnt make those standards, but you didnt move the players. Can we expect you to act quickly if some of these players dont reach your high standards?
I think in terms of changes, yeah. I think this team . . . I said right before we kicked the ball off this morning, We have to keep our standards really high. And I think with this team the players will have to play well. I wont drop the guillotine on a player if has a bad game. But I probably will if he has two bad games. Theres too much talent. Were going to be too stacked. The standard cannot come down. Theres got to be total commitment, and total execution in the way they play. They have to play extremely well for 90 minutes every game. They have to be because someones breathing down . . . every position on the field, I would say, theres somebody very close to them breathing down their neck right from Santino on the top, all the way back to . . . well maybe Nicky Rimando, to be honest. The Clemson kid (Doug Warren) is a good goalkeeper. So, its going to be throughout the team. The competition for places is going to be very good, and that puts pressure on the players to perform well. And theres nothing better than that when youre f—— winning with that sort of atmosphere. Youre keeping good players out . . . thats the goal. Are you good enough to keep that good player out? The only way to do that is by performing with a real hunger.
I dont think we had that last year. I think we were a little soft. I think players felt, Whats he going to do? Its got to be in the back of their mind. Theres that comfort zone. And we were so limited as to where we could turn last year once the season got going.
I dont think its going to be that way this year. Dont be surprised! Theres no . . . Well build a team towards our best players that are going when the game whistle blows. Those players take on a different thing between the white lines. You go with that. You dont bank on the youthful inexperience. You bank on the guys who have been through hell and high water, and they can do it. Now if they do it, thats all well and good. But if they dont, well give youth its chance, definitely.
Has Stoichkov done anything off the field, in his role as assistant coach that stands out in your mind?
No, you just hear him. Hes a loveable character. Hes not Bulgarian either. Hes got to be Italian. Hes not f—— Bulgarian! Hes got Italian stamped all the way through him!
Just his expressiveness, and his emotions and stuff, and everything.
Galin (Ivanov) is the Bulgarian. The stone-wall face, and the tattoo on his tongue.
But Stoichkov . . . hes going to be great with the guys. Its the manner in which he gets on players. Even if its fire and brimstone, its a manner which is hard to argue against. Thats why I think he wants to get into coaching. Theres nothing else like when hes playing on the field when hes holding his standards. You dont want to let a guy down like that. You dont want to! Its shaming him . . . its diluting his brilliance. And he still cares about that.
Marco is exactly the same. These are the true leaders of men. You cant get enough of that; you cant get too much. I think weve got that.
I think weve got the players that want to respond to that. The likes of Bobby and Dema, and Petke is going to be very similar as well.
Do you see Stoichkov and Etcheverry on the field at the same time?
Take a look. Theyre looking pretty good to me! They really did. I dont see why not. Its going to be one that looks beautiful for a lot of the time. But its a compliment again. We cannot get away from the compliment. We have to keep the balance. Theyre two brilliantly gifted footballers. But lets be honest, theyre not 25 years old anymore. Youve got to get stuff around them. Youve got to get the energy. But, theres things they do that defeats athleticism with the stroke of one f—— left foot. And cannot do doggies to put that into players. Its that magic. There will be plenty of opportunities for that to come out.
Stoichkov talked about going back to Chicago regularly to see his family. How often will he be allowed to go back? Every week?
No . . . no. You know what? If you ask any of the guys, I have a very good way of dealing with that. The guys with the national team I told, Take two or three days off after the game. It was the same way with Petter Villegas last year. Youve got to give the kids a chance to get back amongst their own.
Some coaches are very, very dictatorial that way.
But no. If after a game Stoich wants to get back for 2 or 3 days, I have no problem with that. Its not like hes going back to the old country. But, its not just him its everybody. Same with Jaime last year when he needed to get back to Bolivia, or Milton to Honduras. I like the guys to feel if theres ever a break they can get away.