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 RFK’s 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?
“I’m very, very, very pleased. The guys, in terms of fitness, the guys like Marco, it’s unbelievable. I think you can ask any player that was here last year, the feeling in the locker room, admittedly it’s early, and it’s pre-season, but you can get a feel for things, there’s a lot of respect. There’s a lot of positive energy with this group of players. Bringing in players like a Petke, and a Dema Kovolenko, they’ve added to the whole experience to every player in this locker room. And it’s tangible, you taste it, you can smell it, Ray (Hudson) would say. There’s a feeling in training that just didn’t have last year. I don’t know why we didn’t have it, but we have it now.”
– What’s 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 we’re 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 we’ll see what we’re 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 it’s 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, it’s hard to say at this point because we don’t have any preconceived notions of how we are going to play. We’re 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. We’ve made no decision on whether we’ll play a 4-4-2, or possibly a 3-5-2, or hell, we could do a 3-6-1, or something like that. That’s just going to take a little while to come to grips.”
“I don’t see any weaknesses. We’ve 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 it’s there. Is Brian Carroll ready to take Milton Reyes’ position? No, but I’ll tell you what, he’s a talented football player. Alecko is pushing hard. He’s 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 we’re seventeen or eighteen strong right now. It’s 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 don’t 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, that’s not a concern.”
“I’d argue with people that if you look at the stats, we weren’t 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 don’t 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 don’t believe that. I think the total team effort wasn’t 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 that’s Ray’s strength as a coach, handling personalities. There’s a lot of personalities in this locker room. And there’s going to be some big named player on the sidelines that first game. What player that is, I don’t know. But there’s 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 that’s good! That’s what LA has and that’s why they’re the best team at this point. They have competition everywhere. People look at Sigi (Schmidt) and say, ‘How do you deal with that?’ That’s the good part of coaching – when you get to that point, when you’ve got good, deep talented players at a bunch of different spots. From a coaching standpoint that’s very good.”
“To be honest, if we had a game tomorrow, I don’t think anyone in this locker room would argue if we started Hristo Stoichkov and Eskandarian as the two front runners. And that’s no disrespect to Ernie (Stewert) because he just got off the plane, and no disrespect to ‘Tino’ because he’s 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, he’s been to the highest level the game has to offer, and did very well at that level. He’s just tremendously talented whether is passing the ball, or finishing the ball, or running off the ball, it’s all aspects. He’s a player. He’s very special.”
“Unbelievable when he’s 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 he’s getting stronger all the time. This is a big year for him this year. There’s a lot of people talking around the world about ‘that young man.’ And it’s going to be a proving ground. Game day will tell.”
“Ali is everything that he’s ever been. I’ve known Ali for 10 years and he’s a great competitor, very strong. He can change a game as soon as he enters, whether it’s in the 10th minute or the 90th minute. He’s a powerful, hungry type of player. We’re still looking for him to develop. He’s still a young player. Tactically at times he doesn’t 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 he’s doing it every single day in practice, every single second in practice, whether it’s 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 don’t see any diminishing skills with that guy. It’s all there, and it’s all on the table every session.”
“Can we ask him to play 30 games at 90 minutes? No, I don’t think we want to. I don’t think that’s 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 aren’t MLS goals, this is the big time. I think his strike rate is about 32 to 34 percent over the history he’s played. That’s 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 don’t 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. That’s 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. He’s the coach and he’s going to field the best team. Hopefully I’ll fit into those plans. If not, hopefully it will be the best for DC United.”
“I’m going to do exactly what I did last season. When I get my opportunities to play I’m going to make the most of it and take it from there.”
– What’s 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, it’s exceptional. That’s the reason why they’re 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 we’ll 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 he’d like to use me at the forward position. Now days, you don’t know if that will change. He thinks I had a very productive season last year. He can’t 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. I’m a better player for that, and hopefully I’ll be more productive for DC United.”
– What does it feel like coming into a team like DCUnited with its history of championships?
“It’s pretty awesome. Just look around this locker room with all the great players. There’s a lot of history with this club, so I’m just excited to be a part of this team.”
“I think I’ll be able to bring a little bit of my own style. These guys have raised the bar a little bit, so I’m 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. I’m pretty attack minded and I love to take risks. That’s my game. At the pro game level, sometimes I feel a little safer keeping possession and things like that. I think I’m going to add a little emotion, a little flair, and see what I can do to help this team.”
– What about weaknesses?
“I’ve got to learn to hold the ball better and read defenses better. Knowing when to pick and choose my spots to try different things. That’s why we have all these veterans here, and hopefully I’ll watch and learn some things.”
– Has Stoichkov pulled you aside as a mentor yet and showed you anything specifically?
“Yeah, I’ve 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 . . . he’ll yell something, and I’ll turn around and do it. He’s pulled me aside a couple of times and explained things to me. I’ve noticed my game improving a little bit because of little things he’s showed me. Like you said, World Football Player of the Year, you can’t 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. That’s all I can do. Hopefully that’s good enough. I think it’s working out OK. I’m 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?
“That’s a positive for me because that just shows me that if I just keep working hard, showing what I can do, and if I’m productive I have a good chance to start. I want to start. I want to play as much as I can. That’s in Ray and the coaching staff’s hands. But I know that they’re a great coaching staff and they’ll give me an opportunity if I’m playing well.”
– What do you think about Hudson so far?
“I think he’s awesome! First off, he’s the funniest coach I’ve ever had in my life. Everything he says is great. The thing you’ll notice is that he’s a motivator. Anytime you do something good he’ll be the first one to pat you on the back. If you’re struggling a little bit he’ll tell you you’re struggling, and motivate you to do better. That’s all you can ask for in a coach is to get the best out of a player, and I think that’s what he does.”
– Did you have a good off-season?
“Yeah, it was good. A little busy with the U-20’s, but I’m ready to start back up. It went by fast. But I’m here again, ready to work hard again.”
– There have been a lot of changes since last year. What do you think of the changes?
“It’s a quiet locker room. I guess because people are new it’s not as loud as it was. It’s really . . . there’s a lot of people working hard that way and it’s good. Still, I miss some of those veterans a lot. I miss Jaime (Moreno) a lot. It’s just going to take awhile for everyone to get used to each other. It’s a good group of guys.”
– What do you think about bringing in Stoichkov, Stewert, and some of the other players?
“It’s good. These guys are great veterans . . . great players for the game. I think they’re 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 don’t feel any extra pressure. I’m just out there having fun. These are my teammates. Of course you’re competing for a job, but there’s no extra pressure. It makes you play better actually. You’ve 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 don’t know right now. I’m 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. That’s 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 you’re now a mentor, leader, and a veteran with some of these young players?
“I don’t think it has too much to do with age. It’s just what you’re used to. In Holland I was the same way. I like talking on the field, talking to other players trying to help them. That’s something that you get better when you age a little bit. That’s 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 I’m 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. There’s a good chemistry over here. I don’t think Stoichkov thinks he’s up there, or that Marco thinks that he’s up there. We’re just one big team and we want to win games. And that’s the most important thing. In the end, it’s great to be with players like that. Marco has been here since the beginning and won three championships. It’s 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. That’s pretty much all I knew about him.”
– What are your impressions about him so far?
“Unfortunately we haven’t been able to practice that much because of the weather. I’ve talked to him a couple of times on the phone and at a dinner we were at. He’s great fun, and a great person to play under.”