DC United assistant coach Tommy Soehn gives his thoughts to John Dyson on yesterday’s DC United/MetroStars match, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Dyson also had a chance to chat with Bryan Namoff and Josh Gros, and found out what they did for Valentine’s Day.
What are your general thoughts on the game today against the MetroStars?
“It’s always early. We’re concentrating on fitness. We always like to think our starting point is better than anybody else. There were times where we controlled the ball well, but we are still early in camp. There are a lot of things to work on. But for this time of the year we’re pretty happy where the guys are at.”
What positives did you see coming out of the game?
“I think we exposed the flanks pretty good with ball movement. Obviously it wasn’t consistent for long periods, but there were flashes in there. Our fitness is also very good.”
Are there any specific players that have impressed you so far? Are any of the rookies standing out at this moment?
“On any given day one guy stands out, and then on the next day he’s a little inconsistent. I think that’s part of the . . . . It’s tough on the rookies. On some days they look good. To say that anybody stood out, I’m not going to comment that way. I think they all have a lot to learn yet, and a lot to grow. But, we’re pretty pleased with what they’ve brought to the table.”
As a coaching staff how are you approaching the change in mentality to get the team back to its championship ways?
“You gear yourself every year from this point to make sure that you’re going out to play a championship game. I don’t think our approach is different. Throughout the year we’re going try to limit distractions. Obviously our schedule is a little bit lighter, so we don’t have all the tournaments to go through. Also, we have personnel changes. I think every year we approach it the same. You make sure you don’t make the same mistakes that you’ve made, and you fix the things that have gone wrong during the year.”
In general, the tactical philosophy of a 3-5-2, with defensive pressure through the midfield and forwards, man-marking in back is going to remain the same?
“We don’t really come into a season saying, ‘This is the way we’re going to play.’ I think the personnel decide that. We try different things in the spring to see which works the best, and which complements the best. Throughout the year you lose guys to injuries or to the National Team and you have to be able to adjust it. We try to have as many options as we can.”
The defense was one bright spot last year with the lowest goals against average in team history. How do you keep that going through this season?
“Defending doesn’t just start in the back, that’s a misconception we have. I think defending starts with the forwards. When the forwards are doing a good job, then everyone behind them has an easier job.”
“One of the key reasons why I thought we had a little more difficult time is that we lost some of the pressure that Eskandarian puts on the defenders. It’s going to be great to have Esky back. And we’ve got a couple of different options. I think we’re really going to focus on putting their backs under pressure, and that should make everyone behind them jobs easier.”
“Guys like Bobby (Boswell) and Facundo (Erpen) have more experience now. Namoff is still growing and getting experience. So, we intend on being hard to play through by being organized. That doesn’t change. Like I said, our philosophy on how we organize and pressure is the same. Obviously we didn’t finish that strong last year, and we don’t want to happen again.”
Offensively the team went through peaks and valleys all year long. How do you get the consistency?
“One stat, I think when you look, is that we were the second highest scoring team in the league. On both sides of the ball we’re doing a good job. Would you like to be number one in all those categories? Yes, but the most important thing is winning a championship. We didn’t do that last year, so we have a lot of work to do this year.”
The team did not win MLS Cup, but it did finish first in the Reserve League. What lessons were learned from that first experience? How important were your experiences with the reserves to the overall team concept?
“We look at it as one team, whether it’s the twenty-eight guy or the first guy. It’s our job to develop everybody. Certain guys develop faster than others, but our philosophy is the same with the reserves.”
“We’re going out to win every game. We’re going out to make sure we carry on the same pressure, everything. We take it very serious. And I take it very serious. I think that’s why we are successful. We demand the same from everybody. The guys who don’t end up not coming back. Every time they go onto the field it’s a trial.”
What can the fans expect in preseason from here on out? What should they be looking for to know that the team is on the right track?
“I said this when Peter and I first came here, you’re always going to see an honest, hard-working team, a team that you can be proud of. A team that you can look at and say, ‘Wow, they’re classy the way they play, the way they handle themselves.’”
“We strive for perfection. Obviously soccer isn’t a perfect game, but we’re going to be as close as we can along the way, and continue to push guys to mature. I think some of our young guys, whether they are first year, second year, or third year players, we’re going to demand more of them. That’s part of what league has with our salary cap. Responsibilities become bigger for players that might not have had it the year before.”
“We feel we have a great team. It’s our job to develop them to the next level, then the next level, and the next. I’m excited about this year. I think we’re deeper than ever. The only thing that can get in our way is ourselves.”
What did you do for Valentine’s Day?
“I planned ahead, I got something before I left for a change. Not just for the wife, but also for the kids.”
How are things going for you this preseason?
“I think pretty well. I think the team is looking pretty good. Everybody is working hard, and so far, so good.”
This is your third season – no rookie status, no sophomore slump excuses – you are officially a “veteran”. How is it different now?
“I think there is a lot more expected out of me as far as playing, and leading the younger guys that are coming up. So, there are higher expectations on and off the field is the main thing.”
Last year you ended on a sour note. Kevin Payne and Coach Nowak mentioned that there will be a new mentality to this season. What are the changes, and how are you approaching this change in mentality?
“Basically we’re going back to the same formula that we used in 2004. Not that we strayed too far away from it in 2005, I think we just got a little relaxed with our approach to the games and everything. We’re back to taking everything in practice and the games as if it were the last one.”
For your personal goals, in your rookie season here in Bradenton you said you just wanted to help the team. Last year you said you wanted to improve your game, specifically by scoring more goals and being more of an offensive threat. What are your personal goals for this season?
“Yeah, I think my main goal is to be more of a leader on the team. I want to score more goals than I did last year. And just be a better leader.”
As your personal goals have expanded, the expectations on you also are higher – this year you are expected to be a starter. Now that you are one of the “targets” to get pushed out of a starting position how does that make you feel?
“I guess I don’t approach it too differently because I’m going to be competing everyday for that spot. It’s not mine. It was never promised to me, and it never will be. So, I am approaching like we all have the same chance at playing. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been here.”
Finally, what did you do for Valentine’s Day?
“I sent a card to a nice young lady.”
How are things going for you in this preseason?
“So far, so good. You know, another year at good old Bradenton, Florida. Things are going well.”
“We just came out with a result – 1-1. Right now we’re concentrating on our fitness trying to get the rust out. There are a lot of new faces on the team and we’re trying to build up that chemistry again. There is still a long way until the season starts, so each and everyday is different. Right now our main concern is fitness. Obviously, the tactics will come afterwards.”
You picked up a knock already. What is your condition?
“A nice little groin strain. A preseason over-use, trying to work hard, and I just kind of picked one up.”
Both Kevin Payne and Coach Nowak stated that the season ended on a sour note and the key to this season would be to keep the right mentality all the way through. How has that changed the approach to this pre-season?
“I think it left a sour taste in our mouths. It’s something that we now have a mental image . . . we have that feeling still that we take into this season. It’s something for the players from last year that we’re not going to forget going into this season, and going through the season, and getting into the playoffs. The playoffs isn’t our goal, it’s wining the championship. That’s a main concern of our. On some teams their focus might be, ‘OK, let’s get to the playoffs.’ We want to get to the playoffs, but our number one focus is to win the championship.”
What are your personal goals?
“My personal goal is that I want to hold up that championship trophy at the end of the year. If I can win as many games before then that will be perfect.”
This is your sixth year. In what ways do you feel that you have grown over those years as a player?
“I guess it’s been a roller coaster ride. I saw success. I’ve always had to work hard for the things that I’ve attempted to accomplish.”
“Starting off in the first year I was able to see time. It’s hard for a rookie to come in and try break the starting lineup, and I was able to do that midway through the course of the first season. But, then coach being fired – and I’ve seen three coach over the last six years – that have taken its toll.”
“Just keeping your confidence up from one coach to the other. . . . One coach might have different goals, different objectives. You might not be aligned with his perspectives. That’s one thing that I’ve had to really concentrate on doing, regardless of whether a coach likes you or not, you make him like you by playing, and being competitive day-in-and-day-out, and keeping that mental edge. Player’s confidence can be up or down throughout the course of the year, or the course of the week even. So, gaining that mental edge has really helped me throughout the years.”
(Tommy Soehn walks by and laughs)
“And of course, our Coach Tommy Soehn has been the key through the course of the years . . . .”
“I think that the number one thing is that number one factor. I’ve seen what is out there. I’ve raised a championship trophy and I know what it takes to get there. It’s one step at a time. And I hope that is something I can pass on to these younger players coming in.”
Although last year ended poorly, in terms of goals against average, this was the best defensive team DC United ever had in its history. How do you improve on that this season?
“That was one positive outcome for that season, but it takes an entire team. In order to win games we have to score goals. At the same time we want to have as few goals go in as possible. It comes from defense all the way up through the forwards. If one person is off that night we need to have 10 other players supporting him, giving him confidence.” “That’s something that is going to big throughout this season, being able to pick each other up because you’re not always going to have great games. If you can have confidence in all your players, that will be a winning edge that makes up a championship team.”
What did you do for Valentine’s Day?
“I sent two dozen roses back out to Virginia to my girlfriend.”