At the forward position the competition is tight. Quaranta, Curtis, Eskandarian, and Stewert talk about the pressure and of performing.
G- Bohonick, Warren
D Reyes, Prideaux, Petke, Swann, Ivanov, Stokes
M Carroll, Nelsen, Woodworth, Etcheverry, Namoff, Kovolenko
F Curtis, Eskandarian, Quaranta, Stewert, Jake Edwards
Transitioning from the 4 inches of snow on RFKs field to the sunny climes of Florida should be a welcomed relief for DCUnited. The team spent the entire practice doing calisthenics and strength training due to the snow.
The team will practice in Florida until February 21st. Several scrimmages are planned for during that phase of their pre-season.
Head Coach Hudson is in Florida supporting Convey, Olsen, and Rimando on the National Team.
Unlike last year, DCUnited will not compete for the opportunity to play in Open Cup. As in every year except 2002, all MLS teams are included. Along with NY/NJ Metrostars, DCUnited will play in its first Open Cup game on July 16th. Opponent and site to be determined later.
Assistant Coach John Trask
– How do you think the team is fairing to this point in pre-season?
Im very, very, very pleased. The guys, in terms of fitness, the guys like Marco, its unbelievable. I think you can ask any player that was here last year, the feeling in the locker room, admittedly its early, and its pre-season, but you can get a feel for things, theres a lot of respect. Theres a lot of positive energy with this group of players. Bringing in players like a Petke, and a Dema Kovolenko, theyve added to the whole experience to every player in this locker room. And its tangible, you taste it, you can smell it, Ray (Hudson) would say. Theres a feeling in training that just didnt have last year. I dont know why we didnt have it, but we have it now.
– Whats the mission for the team in going to Florida for two weeks?
We end up with three college games the 16th, the 18th, and the 20th (February) but the key thing is that the first four days were really going to push the guys hard. Everything will be competitive, everything will be fast moving. There are some new activities that we want to show them that we will be using during the course of the year that Ray and I have talked about during the course of the year. And really we just want to get in some good, hard, demanding work. We may do a couple of days of two-a-days. And then well see what were like in a game-like situation against some decent college teams to gauge where we are. These are the first three of what I think are twelve pre-season games. So its like this slow building process that we believe in with the long season in front of us. That was the big goal when we decided to go down to Florida for this first ten day period.
– As good as you feel the team is doing, do you think there are any weaknesses on the team at all?
Yeah, its hard to say at this point because we dont have any preconceived notions of how we are going to play. Were going to take a look at a couple of different things. The compliment of players is key the eleven that make up the best team, rather than the names that some people may think are the best group. Weve made no decision on whether well play a 4-4-2, or possibly a 3-5-2, or hell, we could do a 3-6-1, or something like that. Thats just going to take a little while to come to grips.
I dont see any weaknesses. Weve got competition in every single place on the field now. That was one of the big goals in the off-season. Yeah, we needed to bring in some big name players, but we needed to up the competition level, and you can its there. Is Brian Carroll ready to take Milton Reyes position? No, but Ill tell you what, hes a talented football player. Alecko is pushing hard. Hes very, very talented. Stokies is a good solid defender. So we picked up some depth in areas that we needed to. Last year we were twelve to thirteen strong. And this year every indication is saying that were seventeen or eighteen strong right now. Its a real dog fight out there.
– One of the concerns is that by getting rid of Williams, Pope, and with McKinley retiring, the defense will not be a strong point this season. Is that a concern of yours?
No, I dont think so at all. Some of the moves we had to make were cap related, such as Eddie (Pope), and at the end of the day Ritchie (Williams). No, thats not a concern.
Id argue with people that if you look at the stats, we werent a good defensive team. Our goalkeeper ended up being the MVP. And that was by far the most goals he had scored on him. So, it tells you that he made some great saves in the process of keeping us in games last year.
I dont think we were strong in a lot of different areas last year. You can paint the picture that it was just goal scoring and our defense was great, but I dont believe that. I think the total team effort wasnt good enough across the board. Defensively, attacking out of the back, the ability create and finishing chances in the attacking third, I look at stats every single week, and we were a 10th place team.
– Eskandarian is pushing Quaranta for the other starting forward position. How do you keep them focused on that?
I think thats Rays strength as a coach, handling personalities. Theres a lot of personalities in this locker room. And theres going to be some big named player on the sidelines that first game. What player that is, I dont know. But theres going to be some big named player that was part of the team last year, or was brought in to be a part of the team that may not be on field that first game. And thats good! Thats what LA has and thats why theyre the best team at this point. They have competition everywhere. People look at Sigi (Schmidt) and say, How do you deal with that? Thats the good part of coaching when you get to that point, when youve got good, deep talented players at a bunch of different spots. From a coaching standpoint thats very good.
To be honest, if we had a game tomorrow, I dont think anyone in this locker room would argue if we started Hristo Stoichkov and Eskandarian as the two front runners. And thats no disrespect to Ernie (Stewert) because he just got off the plane, and no disrespect to Tino because hes playing very well. But those guys are playing extremely well.
– Go down the forwards and give your impression on each. Stewert?
Just a tremendous technical and tactical athlete. I just . . . Ray summed it up, hes been to the highest level the game has to offer, and did very well at that level. Hes just tremendously talented whether is passing the ball, or finishing the ball, or running off the ball, its all aspects. Hes a player. Hes very special.
Unbelievable when hes on his game. The fans were talking with me this weekend, and people are looking for him to have that coming out year, much like Bobby Convey did last year. It seems like this injury, the hernia situation is behind him. He looks like hes getting stronger all the time. This is a big year for him this year. Theres a lot of people talking around the world about that young man. And its going to be a proving ground. Game day will tell.
Ali is everything that hes ever been. Ive known Ali for 10 years and hes a great competitor, very strong. He can change a game as soon as he enters, whether its in the 10th minute or the 90th minute. Hes a powerful, hungry type of player. Were still looking for him to develop. Hes still a young player. Tactically at times he doesnt seem to be in tune with the other guys.
His job as an assistant coach is to give the insight and the little things that make forwards special to give that to Ali Curtis, Santino Quaranta, and Alecko Eskandarian little bits of information that need to be passed on to those guys. And hes doing it every single day in practice, every single second in practice, whether its by his own play, or by pulling these guys over during a water break. He is such a special person, and to have a chance to have him work with these guys . . .
Is he a strong personality? You better believe it. Is he pushing for his place in this team? You better believe he is. We dont see any diminishing skills with that guy. Its all there, and its all on the table every session.
Can we ask him to play 30 games at 90 minutes? No, I dont think we want to. I dont think thats in his best interest, or in our best interest. But if the last week and a half has been any indicator, we have no problem going into any game with that man as one of our front-runners. He is just a different class. He scored over 350 goals in his professional career for the likes of Barcelona and Bulgaria these arent MLS goals, this is the big time. I think his strike rate is about 32 to 34 percent over the history hes played. Thats big numbers.
– Did you have a good off-season?
Yeah, I thought so. I came in pretty fit, ready to go. Mentally I was just trying to prepare myself with all the changes going on. With all the talk going on about DC United I just wanted to come in mentally and physically fit, and be positive about the season to come.
– Hudson has said that forward positions are wide open for anyone that proves themselves. With Stewert, Stoichkov and Eskandarian coming in, and with Quaranta still here there is a great deal of competition. Do you feel any extra pressure?
No, I dont let anything put pressure on me. I put the pressure on myself. I just go out everyday in practice and do my job. I work hard to the best of my abilities to put the ball in the back of the net. Thats the only thing I have to worry about. When Ray puts the team on the field I need to be compliant with what he says. Hes the coach and hes going to field the best team. Hopefully Ill fit into those plans. If not, hopefully it will be the best for DC United.
Im going to do exactly what I did last season. When I get my opportunities to play Im going to make the most of it and take it from there.
– Whats it like to have the presence of world-class players like Stoichkov, Stewert, and Etcheverry on this team?
I think they have great character. You respect them because of their talent, but in terms of their personalities, and how they conduct themselves in the locker room, and how they go about their work, its exceptional. Thats the reason why theyre world-class players and they have the reputations they have. Hopefully all the players on this team can learn from them how they carry themselves and things like that. I think well be very successful if we can.
– What is your goal for this year?
First and foremost we have to meet the team goals. The team goals are to be in the playoffs, and be successful in the playoffs, and to hopefully win a championship. Hopefully I can play a major roll in helping the team do that. Personally, I just want to be on the field as much as possible and score a lot of goals. I scored an average amount last year, and I want to improve on that.
– Have you talked with Coach Hudson what your role will be this year?
Ray and I spoke briefly. Of course hed like to use me at the forward position. Now days, you dont know if that will change. He thinks I had a very productive season last year. He cant say exactly what will happen because of injuries, and how the pre-season is going to hold up with the team chemistry and all that. I think Ray and the coaching staff would like me to do what I did last season, and that is work hard, be a team player, and be as productive as I can, and be as positive as I can be.
I think I learned a lot last season. Im a better player for that, and hopefully Ill be more productive for DC United.
What does it feel like coming into a team like DCUnited with its history of championships?
Its pretty awesome. Just look around this locker room with all the great players. Theres a lot of history with this club, so Im just excited to be a part of this team.
I think Ill be able to bring a little bit of my own style. These guys have raised the bar a little bit, so Im going to learn from them as much as I can and incorporate that into my own game. Hopefully that will bring out the best product.
What is your style?
I love to attack. I love going at goal, and scoring goals. Im pretty attack minded and I love to take risks. Thats my game. At the pro game level, sometimes I feel a little safer keeping possession and things like that. I think Im going to add a little emotion, a little flair, and see what I can do to help this team.
What about weaknesses?
Ive got to learn to hold the ball better and read defenses better. Knowing when to pick and choose my spots to try different things. Thats why we have all these veterans here, and hopefully Ill watch and learn some things.
Has Stoichkov pulled you aside as a mentor yet and showed you anything specifically?
Yeah, Ive been fortunate enough to be paired with him for the last 3 or 4 sessions running up top. From the first day, whatever he tells me . . . hell yell something, and Ill turn around and do it. Hes pulled me aside a couple of times and explained things to me. Ive noticed my game improving a little bit because of little things hes showed me. Like you said, World Football Player of the Year, you cant get any better than that. Whenever he talks, I listen.
The coaching staff uses the word special when talking about you. Has that put any more pressure on you?
No, not at all. Every time I step on the field I have fun. I work my butt off, and do the best I can. Thats all I can do. Hopefully thats good enough. I think its working out OK. Im just excited to step on the field and show what I can do.
The coaches said that all the positions are open for competition. Are you pushing yourself to get one of the starting forward positions?
Thats a positive for me because that just shows me that if I just keep working hard, showing what I can do, and if Im productive I have a good chance to start. I want to start. I want to play as much as I can. Thats in Ray and the coaching staffs hands. But I know that theyre a great coaching staff and theyll give me an opportunity if Im playing well.
What do you think about Hudson so far?
I think hes awesome! First off, hes the funniest coach Ive ever had in my life. Everything he says is great. The thing youll notice is that hes a motivator. Anytime you do something good hell be the first one to pat you on the back. If youre struggling a little bit hell tell you youre struggling, and motivate you to do better. Thats all you can ask for in a coach is to get the best out of a player, and I think thats what he does.
Did you have a good off-season?
Yeah, it was good. A little busy with the U-20s, but Im ready to start back up. It went by fast. But Im here again, ready to work hard again.
There have been a lot of changes since last year. What do you think of the changes?
Its a quiet locker room. I guess because people are new its not as loud as it was. Its really . . . theres a lot of people working hard that way and its good. Still, I miss some of those veterans a lot. I miss Jaime (Moreno) a lot. Its just going to take awhile for everyone to get used to each other. Its a good group of guys.
What do you think about bringing in Stoichkov, Stewert, and some of the other players?
Its good. These guys are great veterans . . . great players for the game. I think theyre really going to help the team, especially Stoichkov and Ernie. With all the young forwards, I think we can really learn off of those guys. I think it will be good.
Hudson has said that the competition for all starting positions is wide open. Do you feel any pressure about earning one of the starting positions?
No, I dont feel any extra pressure. Im just out there having fun. These are my teammates. Of course youre competing for a job, but theres no extra pressure. It makes you play better actually. Youve got more of a challenge around you.
There are a lot of expectations from the fans with your addition to the squad. In your own mind, what are you looking to add to the team?
I dont know right now. Im just over here enjoying being back in the United States. Of course, when you come over here people do have expectations, and I just want to bring a little bit of leadership on the field. Thats what they want me to exhibit. Talking left and right to some of the young players, and go from there.
How are you approaching the fact that youre now a mentor, leader, and a veteran with some of these young players?
I dont think it has too much to do with age. Its just what youre used to. In Holland I was the same way. I like talking on the field, talking to other players trying to help them. Thats something that you get better when you age a little bit. Thats always been with me in that regard.
Have you talked with Ray about your role tactically?
Not specifically. Of course, we spoke about what he wanted me to do. I would be in a forward role, or maybe a little behind the forwards. But nothing is set in stone, and these two months are going to pretty much say where Im going to play.
How do you approach the fact that with Etcheverry, Stoichkov, and some of the other players, there are a lot of strong personalities on this team?
There are good personalities on the team. Theres a good chemistry over here. I dont think Stoichkov thinks hes up there, or that Marco thinks that hes up there. Were just one big team and we want to win games. And thats the most important thing. In the end, its great to be with players like that. Marco has been here since the beginning and won three championships. Its good to have someone like that on the team. Stoichkov used to be one of my heroes when I started playing, when he was with Barcelona. To have those people on your team is just fantastic.
Did you know Ray Hudson before you came here?
I knew about him from talking to other players in MLS. They told me what a great guy he was and a good coach. Thats pretty much all I knew about him.
What are your impressions about him so far?
Unfortunately we havent been able to practice that much because of the weather. Ive talked to him a couple of times on the phone and at a dinner we were at. Hes great fun, and a great person to play under.