Q & A with United’s coaching staff

Head Coach Tommy Soehn
How did the first phase of pre-season go for the team?
“I think it confirmed what I said at the end of last year, that we built from the bottom up. I happy with the guys. We’re still looking for a couple of pieces, but it’s a real competitive roster. I still have a couple of hard decisions to make. But, that’s a coach’s dream.”

“I think in the next camp that we’ll focus a little more on the tactical stuff. I addressed it a little bit today knowing that we have a game tomorrow. The starting points were real good.”

You said in the first interview a week ago that your main purpose this week was to build team chemistry. Did you accomplish that? How so? Is there chemistry on this year’s team that was not present last year?
“Yeah. The real pleasing part for me is how well this group has come together as friends. You overcome a lot of battles when you fight like friends, and that’s what we’ve managed to do. It’s a good group of guys. They are all happy to be a part of this. I think we’ve accomplished that first step.”

Two big roster moves in the last 24 hours. First, Roger. He looked to me as if he was not physically ready. Is that the case? Also, the team said that it was a personal decision by the player. Can you expand on why he decided not to play in DC?
“All I can say… I’m not going into big details, but what I can say he did do it for personal reasons. Having said that, they were all very professional reasons right up to the point where he was looking out for his interests and for the interests for DC United. He was a first class guy and wish him the best in whatever he does.”

Last year’s main problem was defense. Now that Roger is gone, how big of a hole is that to fill?
“Roger was here for depth and experience. He’s not the only guy that we’ve been after. We’re still in the process of making things happen in that regard. That’s all I’m going to say on that.”

The other big move is Christian Gomez coming back to DC United. How did that decision come about?
“We had some early discussions; probably back in early December, wanting to know if he was a good fit for us again.”

“We always knew what kind of talent he had and what kind of chemistry he had with our guys. He understood the way we play. He understood what the organization is all about.”

“When he left, no one knew where thing stood at that point. We weren’t able to work things out with his agent – it was never him.”

“So, Dave (Kasper) and I had a long talk with him to confirm that he is still the same guy that we know he can be.”

“I had a lot of talks with our senior guys to make sure that was the direction that we wanted to go. Consistently, everybody said that they wanted him back. That says a lot about a guy when most of the guys that know him and have played with him wanted desperately to get him back.”

The team now has Gomez at 34 years old, Moreno at 33 years old, and Olsen at 30 plus with a bum ankle. With the injuries and the general wear and tear how concerned are you about that aspect?
“On the flip side, I think we’ve gotten really young. We’ve got a lot of young guys as part of our core. And we’ve picked up some young draft picks who I think are going to contribute.”

“Adding some experience and some veterans to a team … when you have a lot of young guys, you need guys that can settle a game down. Christian has a lot of good qualities, as does Jaime, as does Ben.”

“Having a deep team allows you to now have several different options … different formations. I’m hoping it’s going to be a year where we can look at several different options every time we play and make it difficult to predict what we’re going to do.”

Who impressed you in this first week, especially of the rookies and trialists?
“I think our draft picks pretty much lived up to my expectations. I still think there’s still a real big upside to Chris (Pontius) and Rodney (Wallace). You can see Rodney’s athleticism everyday when he plays because he does some things that other guys can’t. But, on the other side, he still shows some inexperience. In a good environment he’ll get through that instead of just relying on his athleticism. Everyday you see special qualities in that kid. You can’t wait to see what he turns into.”

“Chris, on the other hand, relies a lot on his smarts. I think when he plays along side of our better players he’s going to really shine.”

“Milos (Kocic) had an up-and-down camp. There’s a lot of talent there. Obviously his physical size goes a long way.”

With the group of players and the changes that have been made, has there been a philosophical change? Maybe a change in tactical philosophy that gets away from strong forward defense and pressure, attack the wings, etc?
“I think adding Christian gives us the ability to us different lineups and formations. I was saying that in our tactical session today. Whatever we play, if it’s a 4-4-2, it takes on so many different shapes, and that’s beauty of our game. And I think our team has a lot of outlets. We can press and force it … .go over the top, attack out of the back … .”

“The philosophy, the way I approach the game, hasn’t changed at all. Obviously some of the players’ faces have changed. Like I said, I think we have a deep team, experience in the right parts of the field. It’s going to be a fun year to see it grown and come together.”

General Manager Dave Kasper
What was the background on Roger leaving? There were such big expectations from previous news articles?
“He really wanted to come. He had some offers in Brazil, but what came through really clear was that he wanted to come to MLS. We were excited to get him.”

“He played some big games last year in Copa Liberadores, but at the end of the day, I think he just didn’t want to do it.”

“I’m not so sure that he’s going to play anymore. That’s not for me to comment on. But, I think he may be headed in that direction.”

Last year’s team the defense was the problem. Roger was going to be one of the pieces to solve that problem. What would you tell the fans that with five weeks before the season kicks off and the defense seemingly is still a problem?

“We have been looking, and we’ll continue to look. We have some players on the radar who are central defenders. We’ll see if something gets done here in this transfer window – we have until April.”

“Things got better towards the end of last year. I think Lewis (Crayton) was a big part of that. He came in and did a great job. Also, we got Janicki from Pittsburg on loan and we’ve executed his option and he’s back. He’s a big, strong central defender and a ball winner. Namoff is back… Burch is back… Devon (McTavish) played a lot of central defender with us. Those were the guys that at the end of the year, when we needed to get results, they started shutting down the other team.”

“We certainly want to get better. Certainly a big emphasis will be shutting down the other team and we’ll get there.”

The team also decided to bring back Christian Gomez. He is very much an offensive player, but the needs of the team seem to be defense. What was the thinking behind that move when there seems to be a conflict of needs?
“Behind the scenes we’re working day and night trying to identify players. It’s a difficult window – the January transfer window. I’ve alluded to this before that you have to find the right situation, maybe a player that is not happy with his club, who wants to leave. Then you have to negotiate to get the player out. Or, find a free agent.”

“The main transfer window is in the summer time.”

“We have been looking, actively looking, and having many conversations. It’s not as easy as it may appear. We’re talking about bringing a guy into our league at the right price as well. Where do you find this guy? You have to look very hard and find the right situation.”

Speaking of the right price, what kind of salary budget condition is the team in after all the changes from last year and the roster moves to this point this year?
“I would say that we have a fair amount of cap space available to make a move.”

More than an average player?
“Yes. A big part of our deal with Colorado was holding a significant part of his (Gomez) salary. It’s about fifty percent. That was important to us… being able to add other pieces, not just the Christian trade… . we’re getting Christian back, but now we have the flexibility to go out and get additional pieces to make us better.”

Speaking of additional pieces, DC United has not really had the opportunity to develop a young player over the last several years, mainly due to the lack of decent draft picks. Now the league has done away with the Reserve League. How does that affect the team’s philosophy when it comes to younger players?
“We can still play up to forty-five games this year! We could still play the same number of games that we played last year, so we’re going to rely on all of our players – all twenty-four of our players.”

“We will look to loan some younger players out that are not part of the eighteen down to the USL. The USL is a great place for young players to get some experience and grow as a player. We’ll look to do that. We’ll also look to play a couple of exhibition games against USL sides during the year.”

Goalkeeper Coach Mark Simpson
In general what are your impressions on Thorpe and Kocic at this point in pre-season?

“I think they’re doing well. It’s been a while since they’ve played. And Milos is getting used to the guys on the team. That’s what pre-season is for, just to settle down and work on the fine tuning.”

“The came with good starting points in terms of fitness and sharpness. Now we just have to work on the tactical side of it, and getting to know guys, and reading plays a play or two ahead, and when things do break down you make sure you get guys into the right spots and that’s something new to them at this level. So far so good. The just have to work on the fine tuning points.”

Can we assume that Crayton is the number one goalkeeper and these two are fighting it out for the number two and three?
“Well, I’m a big believer that you win your job everyday. Obviously we excused Louis to attend to some family matters. He’s assured me that he will be training with the Liberian National Team. We’ll assess where he’s at when we get them altogether.”

“Guys win their jobs everyday, it’s not just given to them. So, no matter how much you’re paid, or how much experience you have, it’s win your job every day. And every week we decide on who will play.”

With the Gomez trade the team brought in another goalkeeper. Why was that done?
“With the uncertainty with Zach (Wells) and trying to figure out what decisions he’s making, we’re just covering our bases and looking at as many guys as possible. That afforded us the opportunity to call in another guy.”

“Last year we tried to call him in as a league pool goalkeeper for CONCACAF, but he had prior commitments. So this gives us a chance to look at another guy.”

Q & A with Marc Burch and Clyde Simms

Defender Marc Burch
How is pre-season going for you?
“It’s going well.”

“It’s different this year. A lot more people came in fit and ready to go. It’s a lot more soccer. And the coaches are taking a look at how we are doing and how our fitness is doing, which is a lot better. I think we pushed a little too hard last year and burned out. This year everyone is enjoying coming back and feeling good.”

There were serious changes between 2007 and 2008, and now more changes from last year to this year. What do you believe that has done to the team?
“It’s definitely a big change. It feels like a lot more . . . . like everybody working for each other. We felt last year that it (pre-season) was more like trying to feel each other out. But, this year everybody is ready to work hard and get into it and be there for each other.”

“It feels good knowing that the guy next to you is working as hard as you are. It keeps him going and keeps you going. It just keeps going down, and down, and down. When somebody comes in that fit, then you know you have to get to that level. You know people worked hard in the off-season, so you’re going to work hard. It’s definitely better.”

“Last year we had people coming in that didn’t really know the team, didn’t really know how we ran things. This year is more like a core group of guys. A lot of that are back from last year are the group that is going to lead the team.”

How does it make you feel that your contending for a left side position and you have competition from Zaher, Fred, and Guerrero?
“It’s good! It’s great! It pushes me every single day to continue to work on my game and get better. I don’t think that I’ve got a spot guaranteed – I know they want me to play left back – so, I need to prove that I can play left back for this team.”

“With the guys in front and the guys behind me, everybody is working for each other this year and we’ve just got to fit in the right pieces.”

“If I have to move up to midfield, then I have to do it. If I have to play center back, then I have to do it.”

“I have to compete for a starting spot. I’m not just saying that I have a spot and I’m going to move forward from there. I’m going to make sure that on the 22nd (March) I’m going to be starting against LA (Galaxy).”

Many people point at the defense as the weak point last year. Specifically, many people point at the back line as a major weakness, and you were a major part of that last year. What do you think of that accusation?
“I take full responsibility. At the beginning of the year I started at left back, then I got benched. I take responsibility even when we’re giving up goals when I’m on the bench – I’m not pushing hard enough to make sure I get on the field, or I’m not good enough to be on the field. I take that to heart.”

“Also, we had some injuries. You can’t always blame things on injuries, but it is tough to move people around. When I came back into the line up it was more as a center back role, which I’d never played. But, I worked as hard as I could to try to figure out that role and to try to help out the team.”

“We take all the responsibility. I come into this season thinking that there is no way that we’re going to be anywhere close to the bottom of the table. It doesn’t matter who we have back there, we’re going to be working hard for each other.”

“I’m just hoping that we can prove what we did two years ago when we went on that seven game shutout streak, and a fourteen game unbeaten streak. I think that’s where we can be at this year. It will be a lot of hard work, but I think we have the guys to do it.”

“It’s going to be a lot more of a team defense than last year. I felt like last year people were pointing the finger at us, but that’s only four people, and there’s eleven people on the team. If the opponents take eight people forward, we can’t guard all eight. All of us are going to be committed to defending and getting the shutouts.”

Several of the other players this week said that they believe the team has a good enough core group of players to go forward this season. Do you feel that way?
“I feel like we’re good right now. I felt like I had games last year where I completely shut down the right side coming at me. I know that Namoff had plenty of games where he shut down his side. When the center backs were on, we were shutting people down. We can do it. When we stick together and cover for each other when someone does falter, I don’t think we need anyone else right now.”

“If they bring him in, hopefully we’ll be able to fit him in.”

“But, I think we have the people. If we play our best game every single game, and cover for each other, then I don’t see why we can’t have one of the best defenses.”

What are you personal goals, and what do you see as the goals for the team?
“I hate coming into this pre-season knowing that we were one of the lowest teams in MLS. The fact is that we were. We want to be the best team. We had games where we looked like we were one of the best teams.”

“Definitely this year I’m looking forward to getting more into the attack – getting forward, scoring some goals, getting a lot more assists . . . . and definitely shoring up the back. We’ve got to better in the back. We can’t ever let in five goals in a game. We can’t let four or even three goals in a game. Two max! I’m hoping for shutouts for every single game.”

“I’ve been thinking throughout the off-season that when I get with the defense that we’re going to pick goals . . . pick games where we’re going to get the shutout, going to shut down the big name players, shut down the flanks and not let crosses into the big guys. As a team I think we’ll be able to do it this year.”

Midfielder Clyde Simms
How is pre-season going for you?
“It’s going well.”

“We’re taking a different approach this pre-season. I think it has to do with us not having games so early like we had it the past. We’re taking it slow. I think it’s great on our bodies.”

“We do have a bunch of new faces and some very good players that I’m excited to be able to hopefully play with in the season coming up.”

Looking back on 2008 with all the changes, what do you take away from that?
“Like you said, there were a lot of changes in key positions. There were two center backs, and those are huge positions as far as the team is concerned. . . . .And a Number ‘10′ that we brought in also. And a new goalie, and that’s a big spot. All those spots take a lot of leadership.”

“We knew it was going to be tough. Those guys were new to the team. Soccer is a team sport and it takes a lot of chemistry. Whenever you bring new faces in, no matter how good those players are, it takes time to get those players together on the same page. I think we saw that a lot last season.”

Last year many said that the defense was the key weak point in the team. What do you think about that?
“When I think of defense in soccer I think of team defense . . .it’s all eleven players. It starts up to the forwards. A lot of people don’t realize how much pressure that the forwards can take off the midfielders, and the midfielders can take off of the backs if they pressure the attacker in the right way. It’s not about winning balls, but forcing attackers in one direction to make it easier for the guy behind you. I definitely think it’s a total team effort.”

“Some of the teams you watch, even in the big leagues in Europe some of teams rarely let in goals because guys are flying around, even the forwards are flying around putting pressure on defensive backs, not allowing them time to have good service forward. Things like that.”

“Team defending also has a lot to do with team chemistry. When you play with someone for a long time, a lot of the time you know where they’re going to be even if they’re behind you and you can’t see the – you know what positions they’re going to be in. That communication is usually there the longer guys have been together. I go back to the team chemistry thing and I think that had a lot to do with the break down in team defending.”

DC United has almost always worked with an offensive and defensive midfielder throughout its history – last year you were with Gallardo. How much of a disruption is it to your game to possibly get a new partner? And have you talked to Tommy Soehn about and specific names?
“No, I haven’t heard much about replacing Marcello. I do know that we do have some other good central midfielders. They may be a little more defensive minded.”

“I know that last year, when Marcello was out, we had to play with two defensive minded midfielders. I think that works well! I think that works well because a lot of the times, if you have a specific attacking midfield it limits the lanes for others to get forward. I feel you can throw the other team off if you have two guys, both attacking and defensive . . . one guy goes, the other holds. When you play with an attacking midfield and a defensive midfielder, a lot of the time they know that the attacker is going to be in the attacking position, and the defensive midfielder is going to hold back.”

“I’m excited to see if they do bring in someone. That’s totally up to the coaches. I do think that we have the talent here to fill that void.”

What are you personal goals and what do you think the goals for the team should be?
“My personal goals . . . I think ultimately that my personal goals will happen only by being on a great team . . . a winning team. First and foremost I want to make us a successful soccer team. When that comes, I think the other things, like National Team call-ups and things like that, will come after that. Right now I’m just focused on making the team the best possible.”

You turned down some offers in Europe? Do you want to go to Europe?
“I had some trials at Nottingham Forrest and Blackpool. They’re in the Championship. I thought about it long and hard, and I’m very happy here at DC United.”

“There are a lot of guys that go from team to team looking for a good situation. I feel that I have that good situation. I’m close to my family and home. I enjoy DC as a city. I’m happy.”

“I don’t think that I should just go after the money or something like that. I”ve talked with some guys that made that jump, then ended up back here, and they ended up in a worse situation now than when they first left. It’s tough. I might think down the road that I should have gone, but I’m happy.”

Q & A with Moreno and McTavish

Jaime Moreno

How is the pre-season going for you?
“Good. I’m thinking positive. This time I’m taking my time with a lot of things. With the couple of surgeries I had I’m taking my time coming back slowly in training trying to get into shape.”

Last year was a disappointment. On top of that there were many changes last year to the players. Now that you have had a couple of months to think about it, what are your thoughts about last season?
“Whatever went wrong was in the past, and I don’t like to talk about the past. I think we have to look forward and think about the future and about DC United right now. Whatever happened, I think we have learned from those mistakes and go on.”

What do you think of the core group of players that have been with the team now for three years – you, Olsen, Emilio, Fred, Burch, etc.?
“I think you have to have eleven guys on the field, and backup just in case somebody gets hurt like last year. I think that is what happened. Relying on just one guy that we signed or some of the young guys that got injured . . . . We really didn’t have a good bench.”

“I think when you look at a team you have to look at all twenty-four. Unfortunately, we weren’t that deep last year because of the injuries.”

“At the same time, its not just one or two guys, it’s got to be the whole group, not just players, coaches, doctors, the staff, everybody!”

“At the end of the day, as an athlete, you’re going to do your best, not just for yourself, but for the team, your family, the fans, everybody.”

In talking with Tommy Soehn, he said that he was forced to play you more than he wanted to last year. Going into this season, have you and the coaches made a plan on how much you will play?
“I want to play as long as I can and as much as I can. On the other side, last year my knee didn’t hold up that much because we played so many games last year. I think I did pretty good, especially my knee did well with that many games. The doctors didn’t think my knee would do that well that long. I wasn’t capable of playing 90 minutes, but I could play for the last 30 minutes, and I was just trying to give my best when everyone knew I had to have surgery.”

“But no, we haven’t talked about it. After last year’s experience, I cannot make plans because if the team needs me, I’m going to be there. It’s hard to make plans about it right now.”

With Ben Olsen and his injury, he said that he is willing to be a starter or a sub off the bench. You have been a starter your entire career. Are you willing to be a sub if Tommy thinks it is necessary for this team to be successful?
“I don’t think about that because like you say at the end of the day the most important thing is the team. But, at the same time, you’ve got to be honest with yourself. The coaches have to be honest too with the players. Everything has to be a balance.”

“If I see myself not helping the team, if I’m not good enough, then the coach has to bench me. That is what I’ve always said to Tommy.”

“We’re grown-ups . . . we communicate . . . . we have to say things.”

“If he thinks it’s better that I come in from the bench, maybe I won’t like it but I will do it.”

Out at practice today I saw you were very forceful and demanding with the younger players. What is the one thing that you try to explain to the younger players that they must learn to be successful?
“Sometimes these guys have been through a lot and are a little bit nervous. The thing they have to learn is to be more creative, and not to be afraid to try something. Practice is the time where you need to do those things. If you’re doing it in practices, then you’re going to do it in games too. That’s what they have to learn is that in practice is where you experiment on things. They have to loose that fear, be creative, and be themselves.”

“That’s something that I’ve been lucky enough with in my career. I’ve been creative and get to do what I can do.”

Do you want to eventually be a coach?
“I haven’t thought about it because I’m not that close to retirement. Maybe later I’ll think about it. Right now I’m just enjoying playing.”

What goals do you have for this season?

“To win the championship. That’s all there is.”

Devon McTavish

How is pre-season going for you?
“Pretty good. A little sore . . . a little tired, but pretty good.”

With all the changes on the team from last year, what are the effects on the team?
“Last year when we had such a big turnover, we had a quality side the year before (2007) – the Supporters’ Shield side – we had such a big turnover from that the players were a little bit shocked. There were some decisions by the players themselves that changed the team quite a bit. So, it was kind of tough entering last season thinking that what we did in 2007 wasn’t good enough. We were a little unfortunate to walk away from 2007 without anything other than the Supporters’ Shield.”

“So, coming into this year, with the way things went last year, it wasn’t a surprise with all the turnover. When a team doesn’t make the playoffs, that’s definitely going to happen. So far I think they’ve made some good decisions. There are still some acquisitions to be made and I hope they continue to do that.”

Most of the fans blame a weak defense for most of the problems last year. Specifically they point to the back line. Throughout last season you played pretty much all those positions. How does that make you feel?

“You never want to be a part of that. We had a tough year back all the way around. I don’t think anybody had too spectacular a season. We had a lot of turnover on the backline. Once we started to get a little bit of consistency, someone would end up getting injured or suspended, and there’s a lot to that. Even when we were at our best it wasn’t that good, I think.”

“So, this year has to be better. We don’t really have that much choice in the matter. If we continue to let in that many goals it’s going to be another tough season for us.”

“I think they’re eyeing some new players to solidify that back line.”

“Having said that, it is a team effort. There is a lot of team defending that goes on. It’s eleven players behind the ball. Last year was definitely a bad year for us last year.”

“Hopefully everyone can pick it up a little bit and change the overall attitude in defending and change the amount of times the ball goes in the back of the net.”

You were all over the field last season – outside, midfield and defense – have you talked to Tommy about picking one spot and settling into it?
“We haven’t had that conversation. I thin it’s a kind of mutual agreement that I am the utility guy. That’s my role for this team right now.”

“I’ve said this before, I really enjoy being on the field. I think I’m better at one position than others, but I’m not the best at any one position on this team. Anytime I can get on the field, I’m happy to be out there. Wherever they ask me to play that’s what I’ll do.”

Quaranta said that he believes he is one of the best eleven on this squad and should be a starter. Do you feel the same way?
“Yeah, you have to feel that way. I don’t think it is arrogance. If you don’t have confidence in yourself you probably shouldn’t be here.”

“I definitely think there is a spot on the field for me. But, I’m not sure which one it is. I’m comfortable at several positions, which is a plus for me. I do think I can be one of the eleven here.”

What are your goals for this season?
“Obviously just to make the playoffs . . . . to improve upon last year and get back on track. We need to do what DC United teams do and that’s making the playoffs. From there anything can happen in the playoffs.”

“Obviously playing in defense most of the time, I want to improve the goals-against average. That was horrific – second worst in the league – I want to be part of a defense that improves upon that and get it down to where we were a couple of years ago.”

Q and A with Quaranta and Namoff

Santino Quaranta:

How is pre-season going for you? “It’s good. It’s been fun so far. This is the first time coming into a season with confidence.” “We had some fitness stuff last week – 2 miles in 12 minutes – I completed that in under 12 minutes.” “Just overall, around here it’s been a good feeling as a team. I think everybody understands that the way we’re going win this year, and the way we’re going to succeed this year is as a team. We’re not going to count on individuals. It seemed like that last year. We had to count on different guys. And when they didn’t succeed, when it didn’t work out every game, the wind got let out of the sail a little bit.” “I think this is more of a group. I said this in an interview on the MLS website with Charlie (Boehm) it’s definitely more of a team feeling here than it’s ever been for me in the past. That’s the recipe for success. It’s going to be alright.”

You have been around teams that went through drastic changes, such as those under Ray Hudson. In 2008, DC United brings in several players, but now they are all gone. How much of a disruption is that to the team? “In all honesty . . . it’s almost . . . You bring in so many guys and not one of them are here now. You have to move on from it. We’ve all made mistakes, and I’m sure that the front office does it differently now. But, you have to have respect for what they did. Tommy (Soehn) coming in here and saying, ‘We’re going to try to steady the ship.’ – I think that’s what they did last year.”

Have you talked to Head Coach Soehn about what he expects out of you this season? “We haven’t had that conversation yet.” What do you want to tell him going into that conversation? “There’s not a whole lot that I need to tell.” “For me, when you want to succeed you put the best eleven out there. That’s their (the coaches) job to figure out who and where the players go.” “Do I feel I should out there now? If it’s on right side, then it’s on the right side. Or if it’s in the middle, or helping out defensively, that’s what I’ll do. Or if it’s playing forward, that’s what I’ll do.” “A good team isn’t like robots. That’s the good thing that’s always been with DC United. The feeling here now is that we’ve got so many talented players that can drift around. We’ve got guys like Fred that gives us the freedom to play. That would be the perfect scenario for me, to give me some freedom.”

You have already had some highs and lows in your career. There were many expectations when you were younger. Then, with your admission to personal problems many fans just wanted you to succeed on a basic level. Now that you got to that level, fans are now looking for you to get back to that high level of playing that was originally expected of you. Do you feel that pressure to become more than just an “average” player? “There should be that kind of pressure! That’s a sign of becoming a good player – people expect more of you. I don’t want to just a player that scores two goals year after year. I want to be in that ten goal range.” “I need that pressure. I need to know that my team is counting on me to perform. That’s what I live for – that nervous feeling to succeed.” “The people that are closest to me know how hard I work now. These guys know that I’d do anything for this team. Really! I’ve got a love for this team from the top on down – Kevin (Payne) and everybody! This is a family feeling here for me now. I’d do anything for this team to succeed.”

What is the one thing this team needs to do to be successful? “If you have to point to just one thing I’d say . . . you have to start out the year a little faster. We were five games in the last two years and not doing well.” “This is the first time in a while that we’ve had a pre-season that we have two months to work. We aren’t worried about games three or four weeks in.” “We have to figure out what’s the best fit for formations for everybody on the team.” “I’d say we probably have to shore up our backs, and have a set back four going into the season, and not worry about making changes. Let’s get that squared away first. That’s what’s going to win us a championship. From the front to the back we have to defend as a team, and not worry about making this look pretty. We need to shore up our defense because if we’re not leaking goals we have the talent to score.” We’ve got the attacking players to score goals, and we’ve had that for a while.” “If we can do that we’re going to win some games.”

What are your personal goals? “I’d like to get to double digits in both goals and assists – ten and ten. Ten and five would be nice.” “That and I’d like to make the playoffs.”

Bryan Namoff:

How are things going for you this pre-season? “It’s always nice to start a new pre-season because it’s a clean slate – a new beginning. It’s where you can put the past behind you.” “I’m really excited for this year! A lot of the guys, including myself, you can tell, have put in the effort during the off season to get ready for this year. I think the core group is much fitter coming into this year, and I feel that they are more committed.”

With all the changes between 2007 and 2008, and now with more changes with this season, how has that affected the team? “We’ll see. The only answer that I can think of is that with as many changes that we made last year it was very difficult. I feel like with the core group . . . it wasn’t really there. It was disassembled and trying to find your main guys, who were going to put in the majority of minutes, it was difficult to see because there were so many changes. And putting that on top of the injuries it was really disruptive and took its toll on everybody.”

The defense has taken a lot of the blame for last year. How does it make you feel? “Sure! Sure! Yeah, from the defensive stand point they said, ‘the defense struggled . . .the defense isn’t performing . . ..they’re underperforming . . . .’ I’m in the back line so that I take personally.” “That’s one of the things that I’ve held with me through the end of last season into this pre-season. I’ve dedicated myself to be better from an individual stand point in order to help the team.” “I think if we can do that . . . if we can ask ourselves, ‘What can I do that I didn’t do . . . How can I become better and not just become complacent?’ If we get enough guys to say that, they’ll put the team ahead of themselves and their own individual goals.”

Do you feel like the core group of guys, such as yourself, Moreno, Olsen, Simms, Burch has the skills and experience to carry this team forward this year? “It’s interesting that you’re now starting to see some of the younger players, like Devon McTavish and Mark Burch, become slowly seasoned veterans. They are now making up that proto-typical root of a team.” “I do think the more years you can play with another player you build and develop chemistry. And if we can get enough hard working players as that core unit, I think that’s when success happens.”

Now that you are almost thirty, as bad as this question is to ask, for a player most would consider that an age where you are looking on the down side of a career. Have you thought about that at all? “No. I will prove that it won’t. I feel going into this pre-season better than I have in years past. I feel a lot fitter.” “As an experienced player I don’t think I’ve hit my peak yet. Maybe I’m a late bloomer, as they say. And that’s what I’ll be striving to prove.”

With the lack of success from last year, how much pressure is there for this team to be successful? “It’s everything. The build up and pressure are pretty high for the coming year. We have a lot to prove.” “The Open Cup, although it’s great because I haven’t won it before, it’s a let down.” “The expectations outside the organization, the fans, we have to dedicate our performance to them and bring a trophy for them.”

What are your goals for the season? “My goals . . to have the best year I’ve ever had. From a collective stand point and individual standpoint. I want to be the best that I’ve ever been.” You want to be an MLS All-Star? “Yeah, that would be great! In order to do that, you have to be successful within your team. They all go hand in hand. If that can be the result of it, that would be great.”

Q and A with Soehn and Olsen

Head Coach Tommy Soehn

How are things going for the team?
“Good! The starting points are pretty good for everybody fitness-wise. The attitudes have been great – they’ve been putting in the work.”

Speaking of fitness, Coach (Mark Simpson) mentioned that the team will be taking a different approach this year, a more technical approach. Can you explain that? Is the different approach because there were so many injuries last year?
“I think when you evaluate last year, we had so many injuries, and the amount of games that we had, that you were asking the healthy guys to do more. It really stretched them out and you wear them out.”

“It was a combination of things. So, we made sure in this off season that we evaluated everything to see what we could do to make it better for everybody. One of the things that will help that is having a deep team and avoiding injuries.”

“We’re doing a lot of research. We making sure that we don’t over-train, and that we train in the right ways.”

Last year you brought in several players and now they are gone. What was the problem? Were they the wrong players? Was it bad chemistry?
“Coming into this league, especially for foreigners, it’s difficult. It’s a very athletic league, and with the amount of travel you do, and that you play in the summer months it’s a hard adjustment. So, we felt that building the core around the guys that have been here . . . we have a good core of guys.”

“At the end of last year because of the injuries, we had to build from the bottom up. It made us a lot better team.”

Are you going to make the key of this team that group of guys that have been around for the last couple of years? Or are you still looking to bring in a “big name” player? A designated player?
“I think . . . . We always leave our options open. But when you look at some of the guys that you have on this team, you have MVPs. You got guys that make the guys around them better. I think so much needs to be said about the team and not the individual.”

“I’m real confident with the guys that we have, that one, we’re good offensively, and that we’ve got to do better defensively. We let in a lot of goals.”

Was that the problem last year?
“There were a lot of things that we had to adjust to – different line ups, new keeper. There was a lot of ‘newness’ and with CONCACAF on us we didn’t have a lot of time to be patient and work on things. This year it is refreshing that we don’t have to go through that.”

You talk about the depth of the team. One of the biggest changes is the league getting rid of the Reserve League. How is that going to affect this year’s squad going forward?
“In reality we’re still twenty-four deep. A lot of those guys that aren’t back or won’t have a roster spot were guys that were on the bubble. The Reserve League was valuable for them.”

“We’ve opened up two senior roster spots and you can put in guys that you have faith in. It’s a reality. It’s made competition for our spots tough. We’re going to have some decisions to make after spring training.”

One of those decisions is going to be Ben Olsen. What have you discussed with him about his role with this team?
“I think first and foremost that we have to make sure in the future that he’s able to play. You take one day at a time. . . . One step at a time. . . . He’s been doing really well and his body is healing. In the process he’s been able to make it through quite a few training sessions, so that’s encouraging.”

“We’re going to make sure that we’re not rushing him. He’s always been honest and open with us when we’re doing too much.”

“In the short amount of that we’ve been together, you can always tell a difference when Ben plays. We missed that desperately last year – the enthusiasm and the energy and the experience that he brings.”

Jaime Moreno, the heart and soul of this team, he is 34 years old. Do you have plans to limit his playing this year?
“Well, I think that Jaime has come out of the couple of surgeries . . . .more like oil changes . . . . he’s come back really strong. He’s done a lot of work on that to make sure that he’s recovered all of his strength in those areas.”

“Unfortunately, last year, we had to push him more than we wanted to. In an ideal world you want to manage Jaime and be able to pick and choose . . . to set him up to be successful. So of that is limiting his playing time, such as not playing him on ‘turf.’”

“From what I’ve seen so far, we should have that ability this year. We should have that option this year.”

Last year the team owners said something to the effect that winning internationally was one of, if not the, goal of the team. Have the team decided what the strategic goals are for this season?
“We always set our goals to accomplish a lot in all the competitions. The reality is that it is very difficult. It left a bitter taste in our mouths about CONCACAF. And a lot of that had to do with the officiating. It wasn’t very fair.”

“I think this year our goal is to be back on top of the league. The rest of it all comes along with that. Obviously winning the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup are big for us. We want to establish ourselves as a power in the league.”

What are your goals for the team through pre-season? What should people be looking for?
“The first one (camp) is a little bit more fitness related. This group is very honest group. We can do a lot of that through playing, which excites me. We need to make sure that we come together as a group in this first one. There are a lot of new faces and trialists here and we have to make sure that everyone has a good understanding of each other . . . and knowing what it is to be a team.”

“The second one will be to bring the team even closer, but now it is tactical.”

“And the third one is the one that it all comes together.”

And finally, the question you hate to answer, what inactive or retired player do you want on this team right now? Last year you picked Beckenbauer.
“Well, it can’t be active .. . . That’s always a tough one to answer! Right now I’m happy with what we have . . . I’d have Peter Nowak.”

Midfielder Ben Olsen

How are you feeling?
“I’m feeling OK. It’s good to be back playing even though it is somewhat limited as far as not being able to play everyday.”

“The ankle is cooperating . . . it feels great. It’s good to be back with the boys and competing.”
“When you’re hurt, you’re part of the team, but you’re really not. It’s nice just being out there working with the boys.”

You worked out this morning, but decided to sit out this afternoon. Why?
“We did the training last night and it held up. This morning it was pretty sore, but it warmed up enough to get through a training. This afternoon it wasn’t going to go.”

“It’s about managing myself so that I don’t get too sore . . . so I don’t put myself back a couple of more days. By taking off this afternoon hopefully I can have one good training tomorrow.”

Have you made THE decision that you will definitely play through this season? Is there a date?
“I’m fully prepared to go through the season. In what role and what capacity has yet to be determined.”

Have you talked to Tommy Soehn about that?
“Yeah, we’ve discussed it! He’s been great. I think he trusts that when I can play I will do everything I can to impact the team in the right way, whatever role that may be.”

“We’re all kind of feeling this thing out. This is a new thing for me, and probably a new thing for them – dealing with a guy who can’t play everyday.”

“I hope to get it to a point where I can train everyday. But, right now, in pre-season, the two-a-days, we’re going to have to pick and choose some times to take the load off it.”

You’ve been a starter with this team pretty much since day one. Are you prepared to be a “super sub?”
“Again, in my mind, right now, is to be a positive influence on this team. If that means me playing twenty minutes, and helping shore up a lead, or if it’s me needing to fill in for an injury . . . . If I become a starter and can do that role every now and then . . . .”

“I’m dealing with a mind frame of, ‘I shouldn’t be playing!’ I was prepared to retire and prepared to not play this game ever again. Anything at this point is really exciting. The prospect of stepping on the field ever again is very exciting again. So, whatever that’s going to be, that’s going to be up to Tommy and the coaching staff.”

“I’ll be honest with them, and they’ll be honest with me. We’ve got a good relationship. It’s a type of thing that we can work out.”

This team has changed again. How that affected the team? How has it affected the chemistry?
“Chemistry doesn’t always mean that it’s been a team that has been together for three years. Chemistry can happen right away if it’s the right group of guys. Last year wasn’t the right group of guys. For whatever reason it just wasn’t the right group that was going to get that team to the next level.”

“I think they’ve made some commitments to some of the guys that have been here for a little bit now. I think our core base is held over now for a couple of years – ‘Luci’ (Emilio), Fred, Namoff, Jaime (Moreno), myself, Devon (McTavish), Burch, Clyde (Simms) that’s ten guys that have been here for a couple of years playing.”

“You’re always looking to keep that core base . . . . keep what your team is about. And you’re always looking for new pieces. We’ve got a couple of nice ones that are going to fit in on the field and chemistry-wise.”

What does this team have to do this year to wash away last year’s problems?
“Obviously we need to defend better. We scored some goals last year. There was a stretch that we even looked pretty good. But overall, defensively we weren’t together. It seems like that we didn’t defend as a unit. We defended OK individually. But as a team we didn’t help each other out, or jell as a defensive unit. If you don’t do that you’re screwed.”

Do you feel that this team needs a “big name” player to be successful?
“DC United needs to field eleven guys that are going to win! It has nothing to do with names. We’re lucky that we don’t have to bring in any type gimmick. We’ve got a nice core of fans that want to see us win. That’s all that is important. It has always been that.”

“I think that as an organization we have learned some stuff with what was going on. But, it’s about the winning for us, not so much the juggling and the circus shows.”

What are your personal goals for the pre-season and the season?
“Personal goals? I keep saying this . . . whatever my role is I need it to be a positive influence. I need to help this team in whatever capacity. If it’s on the bench, I need to be ready to be a sub. If I’m starting, I need to be ready to do my job. If I’m doing neither, I need to be able to help the young guys. I need to do what I can do to positively affect this team.”

“I know it’s a vague answer. As far as me, personally, I need to be honest with myself this year and be smart about the times I can play and cannot play. I have a tendency to over do it because I don’t like to not play. So, I’ll put up with the pain to the point where it is painful and I’ll go again. Then all of a sudden, I’m out three days.”

“That’s the challenge I have facing me. To make sure I don’t go overboard.”

Ben Olsen “Excited” for DC United in 2008

The following is Ben Olsen’s responses on a variety of subjects in there entirety. He has a wry way of speaking and tends to joke a bit at first, but he had some interesting thoughts and was genuinely positive and excited about DC United and the upcoming season.

Is this a big off-season turnover for DC United and how do you feel about that?

Olsen: “I can remember one or two [other] years where there’s been kind of an overhaul!” (said wryly). “But it is a big one. Watching the team warm-up out there today, not many faces I recognized as far as having been here. But, it’s nice. New opportunities, new players, plus the guys who have been here, all together. I’m real excited about the team right now.”

How’s the ankles?

“OK. Not as good as I want them to be right now, it’ll take a couple of weeks from now to heal totally. But, it’s still on schedule, it’s still early. I’ll go with the team to Bradenton, but I may come back if it needs a little more time.” [Olsen did not participate in the first practice beyond some jogging and conditioning].

How about all these South Americans coming into the team, is language a concern?

“I’ll have to brush up on my Spanish! No, I was saying just now about how team meetings take twice as long now. After Tommy says something we have to wait around for the translations for the other side of the locker-room. So I’ll have to be pretty patient at meetings. No, It’ll work out fine. As you saw today, we can already communicate out there. Soccer has it’s own language. It’ll sort itself out pretty quickly. We’re all professionals.”

What has been the problem in big games the past few years, and do you think this off-season has addressed those problems?

“I don’t know. You never know until afterward. You can only do your best as a team to find who have been through big games so they know what it takes [to succeed]. But, on the other side of that you have guys here that have now been through big games every year they’re here. Every year they get better and learn what it takes. SO, it works both ways. You need both.”
-“To me it’s about, on the day, can you bring the best that you have as a team, and that’s what I think hasn’t been working the last couple of years. I don’t think it’s any big secret that’s what we’re working on [with these new players]. I don’t think it’s anything to panic about, but that’s what we’re looking to remedy.”

Perkins and Arguez being lower profile players, yet getting signed in Europe for pretty decent transfers, what does that say about MLS?

“It’s getting better! I think it’s two-fold. There’s the awareness that Americans are emerging on the global stage, and also that the American player is getting better. We’re producing a different type of player now. Before it was really hard working, good athletes, good all around soccer players. Now, I think we’re actually producing guys that are really interesting players. Like Freddy, Clint, Eddie Johnson. Certain attributes about them as players are getting people pretty excited about the American player right now.”

Seems like salaries are loosening up in MLS, how do you feel about that?

“Hmmm…. They’re going up at the top level. And that’s great, I’m all for that. I’d like to see some it come up from the league side for the lower levels as well. Getting some of these other guys up as well is important too.”

Will the big salaries cause trouble in teams?

“No, No. It won’t cause trouble as far as he’s making this, he’s making that. We’re all grown men. We understand why some people are getting paid a lot of money. That’s just how the game works. However, the disparity between the top and bottom is disturbing to me. Not on the top side. I’m all for that. Be sure you include that. But, I think the league needs to do more to get some of these minimum guys more money. But, I also think the more we get high value players in this league, the better. I think it’s great.”

The league has said they’re raising the limit of foreign players in order to aid in expansion and keep the level of play up. What do you think about that?

“I think it’s important to continue to the standard of play and see it get better with expansion. They’ve got their ways, their reasons to make sure that happens. I’m sure other people have different views. I see it as a step in the right direction. It helps American players learn and grow and it adds to the foundation of the league.”

Specifically at DC United what do you think needs to happen to integrate all these new players?

“Because you have the language issue, it’s important we all do our best to be inclusive. The quicker you bring guys together, the better. But as you can see right here. These guys are very open and friendly, good guys in the locker-room. Credit to DC United. They always do a good job scouting players including personalities. I think that will make it easier.” [Olsen organized a trip to the Wizards basketball game for the next day and most new players went].

There’s going to be a lot of games this year with all competitions. How do you think the team will be able to handle that and be successful?

“I think we’ve dealt with things like that in a pretty good way despite some of the results last year. I think it wasn’t due to fatigue or anything like that. It was really down to game management. I think we were physically in the right place last year, so this year should be fine.

Right, it seems like last year, the team did everything right, but the results weren’t there…..

“As I said, I’m not a coach, but from a player’s point of view, we need to do better. I can’t pinpoint this game or that situation or one aspect as the problem. There was a lack of focus here, a lack of finishing there, etc. Soccer is not like that. It’s not so black and white as [the media] try to make it. It comes down to during that big game you are performing with all eleven guys at their best. And sometimes that hasn’t happened. And we need to make sure going forward that we are at our collective best in those big games because you get punished for those lapses.”

Do anticipate any changes in your role on the field this year? Still playing outside or moving back inside?

“Way to early for that! It’s a clean slate, anything can happen.”

Bonus quote from Tommy Soehn on integrating the new playersfrom South America.

“They’ve played for several different teams in several different countries. They know how to adapt. You saw today how fast it all came together. That’s why it was so important for us to get these deals done before training camp. To make sure these guys know what we’re about right from the start, and that these guys understand what’s expected of them.”

Q & A With Coach Soehn

– DC United is getting ready for the play-off push. How does this team look right now?

"I think we understand a little bit more. We're not there yet, but (we understand) what it means to play on the road and the importance of shoring up games, and doing what you have to, to win. We've always been a pretty good home team, but part of the maturity of a team through a season is understanding what it takes to do it on the road."

– The season, starting in February, is broken down into several mini-seasons, if you consider tournaments seasons in themselves. From here on out you have basically three "seasons" remaining: MLS playoffs leading to MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, and SudAmerica. Where do you place in importance? And how are you going to attack each one of these challenges?

"I think the season carries a lot of weight. Obviously you have to manage that more than all the rest. The tournaments are sometimes a week, sometimes two weeks. We've been able to inject a lot of fresh legs throughout the course of the season, and give guys time off to make sure we're ready for those stretch runs . . . and the tournaments because there are a lot of games."

" . . . . I think we've done that well all season. We'll continue to do that the rest of the season. Like I said, there's times you take educated risks in games. This is an important stretch for us. We've got four games coming up, three of which are on the road. It's really important coming out of those games doing what we need to do. Finishing off the season at home probably makes it a little easier to play with your line up at that point. Granted, I don't know how these four games are going to work out, so as we play through that stretch of games we'll have to evaluate what we need to do for the rest of them."

– Being in the middle of a run for the Supporters' Shield, especially with a six point games coming up this weekend with Dallas, isn't there a conflict between trying to rest some of older guys . . . the veterans . . .

"I'm going to came at him soon for calling my guys old!"

– . . . or going with the best eleven and possibly tire them out for the playoffs and MLS Cup

"You're way too early to be talking playoffs. There are a lot of games to go before we get there. We've got a four game stretch here that is going to be important for us to come through with some results. And as much as the results we just had were important you always look at your next stretch of games. We've got four quality games coming up in which we have to get points if we're going to compete for the Supporters' Shield. I think you're looking further than we are. We look shorter and make sure we take care of the games that are coming up."

– One of the big differences that you've done compare to earlier coaches, such as Peter Nowak, is that you've injected new blood of the younger players throughout the year on a steady pace. Are you happy with your "Best 18"?

"Yeah, I think having done that the guys have separated themselves. You can see that they are good enough to start on any given day. It gives you a few more options. Still, throughout a season you're going to have injuries, suspensions, and having injected that throughout the year everyone knows what their role is, and how to step in, and know they've done it so that their confidence is high. A big thing is building confidence in the young guys so when they come in they impact a game."

– How difficult was it for you as a "rookie" head coach to make some of those moves? One example would be Bobby Boswell – National Team player, league Defender of the Year.

"It's not that hard. As a player, a senior player when I played, everyone was held accountable. When someone wasn't doing it, I'd tell them. I'm very honest with people. I'm sure they can contest to that. Whoever, and I've always said this, whoever shows well is going to play. There are no spots that are guaranteed. At the time we needed to make a change. Whether is sparks him (Boswell) or anyone else to play better, that's what we need – competition for spots. So, it's never that hard as long as you're being honest."

– That depth and competition seems to be most dramatic on the back line. How have seen that situation evolve?

"I think throughout the course of the season we've had depth up top, depth in the middle, and in the back depending on who is healthy and who's out, and who's in. If I recall, you guys were sitting here telling me that we had no depth in the back. We didn't change anything and now all of a sudden we have depth in the back. It's your perception of how things look. I felt that we had depth everywhere."

– You've made significant changes to the team from the start of the season – trades, bringing in new players. How difficult is it to going to be to continue with the good form of play with the current squad? Or, are you looking to make some more changes?

"The changes we've made we put a lot of thought into. You always looking to give yourself the best opportunity to be successful, whether its experience, or a type of player that compliments the other players you have . . . There are so many things you think about before you make a decision that will affect not only the guys you have here, but also the guys you're bringing in. It doesn't happen overnight. We put a lot of thought into it. You can always say that you're going to listen to opportunities that come up to make your team better, but you have to be sensitive to know that the team you put together is there for the right reasons, and that you feel confident in them. As a coach you're always looking to make your team better. As I said, the changes we made we felt were appropriate. As we've continued through the season a lot of those guys have contributed in big ways."

– It has been mentioned recently that the team is looking to make one more change via a trade. Can you expand on that?

"I'll expand on that in saying that I don't comment on rumors. It's kind of waste of all our time. Does that put that one to bed?"

– What traits made you think that "BC" (Brian Carroll) would work well on the flank?

"BC used to play on the flank in college. When he first got here we kind of turned him into a holding midfielder. He's a guy that can run all day. I think in the four years since I came here he's gotten a lot games under his belt, so his ability, as a smart soccer player, to adjust makes you put him in a situation like that and see if it becomes an option later on. From the first time we put him out there I thought that he did pretty well. Obviously there's some situations he can tuck in, but that comes with the experience of playing that side. You're always looking to see how many options you have, and what options they are. A lot of times you have it in your clubhouse. It's our job to make sure we check all options out."

– How much has Ben (Olsen) injury affecting him? How much is it hampering him?

"I think it's just wear and tear on Ben. I took Ben into the office, and we made a conscious decision to rest him because we don't have many opportunities to do that. He could have played in Toronto, but we thought it best to sit him out and give him rest needed, and hopefully have him come back refocused and a little more rested."

– After being assistant coach for a couple of years, and now several months as head coach, what is the biggest difference in your mind between the two?

"We (he and Peter Nowak) shared on everything the whole time. I don't think you just turn into a head coach. Its years of experience as a captain on a team, or playing the last couple of years on a team with your eyes open and watching everything going on behind the scenes. It's a constant process of learning from guys you coached with, or from guys who coached you. It's a constant learning experience. I don't think it changes that much."

– How about the media? At the beginning of the year most were proclaiming DC United as possibly the most complete team in MLS history. After the initial dip and some struggles now the team is coming back. How fair and accurate has the media been in talking about DC United?

"Honestly, it doesn't faze me too much because when you lose games they want your head, and when you win the team is doing great! So I'm fine with whatever criticisms there are. I've had them as a player, as an assistant coach . . . they're all the same. You just don't focus on that part, you focus on the team. We do a pretty good job of getting rid of distractions. We make sure that the locker room is where problems are solved. You don't solve problems by reading the paper."

– With the changes in personnel, and changing tactics, and the roller coaster season, has there been a lot of consternation in the clubhouse?

"Consternation? No. We make sure, first of all, it's established that when everybody gets here they know how important our locker room is. I think that anybody who has player, or been on a team where the locker room is right, that team has a better chance at being successful. When you look at guys that you're going to bring into your team, you're going to make sure, at least we do, I don't know that everybody takes this approach; you go out and get guys who understand that part. And if you find they're not that kind of guy, then we don't bring them in. There's time when things are going well, and times when things don't. The difference is having a strong locker room that can go through changes and adversity. Our locker room is strong that way."

– How concerned are you that you won but didn't dominate in Toronto, and there have been times that DC United dominated but didn't get the result?

"There's times as a coach you take a chance and you rest guys because you feel that you can afford the risk. Through the course of a year we have so many games and that was a situation where we chose to do that. We knew that that wasn't going to be the prettiest. Taking guys off that are the pretty part of our game, we knew that. You knew it was going to be a game where you roll up your sleeves and work. I credit the guys that we put in and did that. You can see when we injected the soccer players – Jaime (Moreno) and Guy (Roland-Kpene) – the soccer got better. Benny (Olsen) was missing; Josh (Gros) was missing; Luciano (Emilio), your leading goal scorer, was missing. So, we knew it was going to be like that. We took, not a gamble, an educated risk and got some rest for guys who needed it."

– How do you see Josh Gros' status right now?

"The reports are coming back a lot better than expected, so we should have him back soon."

– Is there a different message for him? Does he have to think about the "Big Picture"?

"I think it was over done a little bit. A lot of people jumped to conclusions before he was truly evaluated. It turns out that it might not be what everyone thought."

– Are you expecting him to be back this season?

"Oh yes, absolutely."

– You are going to be playing four games in the next twelve days. At this stage of the season how is that going to affect this team?

"We've been doing that for the last three months. In some respects it's not the worst to play back-to-back, especially if you get a rhythm of playing and an understanding of what you're trying to accomplish. In some respects it works in your favor?

– What are your thoughts on the Copa SudAmerica?

"We look at all our tournaments as honors to be there, and a chance to represent MLS. Anytime you get a chance to show well for your country and your league it is important. DC United has always had a high regard for how they want to do in those tournaments."

– If DC United defeats Chivas (Mexico) you will be traveling to Brazil and Argentina. How complicated will that make this towards the end of the season?

"It's been complicated all year."

– Is there anymore pressure to do well because of the lack of success in the earlier tournaments?

"Not really. We came from playing no soccer in two months to a spot where we're three-quarters of the way through the season. It's a totally different time, and a totally different situation."

Houston Falls 1-0 in Costa Rica

Shock of all shocks, an MLS team comes up on the wrong end of some questionable officiating and Houston loses 1-0 on a 92nd minute goal. Although 3 full minutes of stoppage time were given out, the final whistle blew on the subsequent kickoff. Dynamo defender Eddie Robinson was strangely sent off for a second bookable offence in the 70th minute, though it’s hard to tell exactly what he had done wrong. Robinson had been on the ground for about a minute after he was punched in the head by Dynamo keeper Zach Wells after a corner kick clearance. After Putarenas played the ball out, Robinson got up and was stunned to see the Mexican referee sprinting over to him and brandishing a second yellow card. Additionally, a Dynamo trainer was sent off as well after reacting to a rough non-foul call on Alejandro Moreno near the Dynamo bench a few minutes later.

It seemed Houston would hold on to the scoreless draw until a Puntarenas forward juked Moreno out of his socks at the top of the box and his shot was redirected past a helpless Wells for the final score.

Houston though remains in decent shape as the return leg comes to College Station, Texas next Thursday night. The Dynamo will be without Eddie Robinson due to his red card and forward Brian Ching, who didn’t play on the admittedly high school quality pitch, is still questionable with an off-season injury. Pat Onstad started in goal but was injured and subbed out early in the first half. Wells came on and was instantly called into action as he saved a Putarenas penalty kick on yet another dubious penalty call.

Notes and Quotes 02-16-07

– An absolutely miserable, cold overcast day. It was pretty obvious in the way the team way playing no one really wanted to be outside.

– You can update the alumni list. Mark Lisi is with Addidas and was down with a crew to do a film shoot with Boswell and Moreno.

Quotes

Coach Chad Ashton

– What do you see as the strengths of this team and organization?

“I think the biggest and most obvious thing that I saw immediately when I got here is that you’re dealing with a good group of guys. No egos. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody is treated the same way. And everybody accepts that and pulls their weight regardless of what it may be. It might as simple as picking up stuff, getting water bottles, getting the bags, stuff like that. That makes it a lot easier to fine tune when you are dealing with guys that are professionals and are more about the team than themselves.”

– As you said, everyone from the top on down inside the organization, and to include the fans, has high expectations for this club year after year. How much pressure did you feel coming into this environment?

“I would say I felt pressure before I got to DC just in terms of your mind is going a million miles and hour and you don’t know exactly what to expect, although you probably have a pretty good idea. But, from the second I met everyone at the combine, they made me feel at home, the made me feel comfortable. They’ve made the transition easy for me. I’m just excited. I’m ready to get going with games. I’m excited to be playing in a fairly difficult role next week.”

– What type of role has been given to you? Do you have any specific areas you will be concentrating on?

“No, it’s the same as before with the team. Everything is handled by everybody. Tommy, Dave Kasper, Kevin Payne, everybody is included in all the decisions that are being made. That’s what makes it easy for me to be at home and to feel like I’m one of their family. Everybody shares their little bit, and it’s different on a day to day basis.”

– Which of the younger, newer players are impressing you?

“Obviously of the new additions, Luciano stands out. I think he’s impact within the league and he’s going to score a lot of goals. Of the younger guys I’ve been impressed with, maybe he’s not a rookie, but he hasn’t seen a ton of minutes, it has been Clyde Simms. He’s doing a fantastic job. It is evident to me that he can fulfill a lot of roles on the team. If we’re ever struggling he’s a guy that can play a lot of position on the field. I think Stephen Deroux has done a very good job. Devon (McTavish) has done a fantastic job so far. I think we feel pretty comfortable with the lot of young guys. I think if, knock on wood, something goes wrong with one of the starters, we feel like we’ve guys that can step right in.”

– What type of personal goals do have?

“Honestly, I haven’t look past this year. My personal goal is probably the exact same as the team goal, to win MLS Cup this year. Obviously we want to do well in these tournaments, and anything else we may be in. But, for me I want to keep it in the now and present, and I want to win a championship this year.”

Luciano Emilio (through translator)

– How is pre-season going for you physically and mentally?

“It is doing a lot of good physically and mentally, especially with the tough challenges and tough tournaments coming up.”

– What are the differences between DC United and some of the previous clubs that you played for in the past?

“The main difference is that because this league isn’t that old yet, he can be part of the evolution of the league. Other league might have a lot of experience or players that are veterans at another level, he isn’t able to flourish. He feels that in this league he can be a part of something new, and hopefully shine.”

– How do you describe yourself as a player? What style do you play?

“The type of player Luciano is, is Luciano. If you were to try to match him with someone in the soccer world, then it would have to be like Ronaldo in the type of movements and motion. He can hide in the corner then suddenly shine.”

– How is joining up with Jaime Moreno and Christain Gomez as a trio of goal-scorers going?

“From day one there was chemistry between the three of them. Mainly that comes from that they are all from South America and the style of play is similar. On the field and off the field they are a tight group. He is excited to be part of that group, this trio.”

– Although it is a young league and team, DC United has won a lot of hardware over the years and is considered the ‘Class of the League’. Does he feel any pressure coming and being an important part of getting the team to the next level?

“He said the pressure is inevitable. Any team has that pressure. It’s something that you just have to handle and not freak out.”

– Do you have any personal goals for this season?

“Like he said, for him to shine at the position he plays, he’s going to have to score goals. That’s what he plans on doing – score a lot of goals.”

Facundo Erpen

– How is pre-season going?

“It is going good. In a couple of days we play in Honduras in CONCACAF, and we are getting in good shape doing twice a day practices. Mentally, we are thinking (concentrating) about the game. It is going well.”

– The team started the season playing very well, but then at the end of the season it did not finish well. Why do you think that happened?

“I think it was because the time from July to September was playing every Wednesday, every Sunday, every Wednesday. For two months it was too many games. I think it was that. We play like 15 games in two months, I don’t know – All-Star game, Celtic, REAL Madrid.”

“We did not have so many players that could play. . . . That was the problem with what happened last year. . . . We needed one more player. We needed like a midfielder, a good player (experienced) if somebody have injury he could come in change.”

– How important is it to the team that because of last year that this team wins some hardware this year?

“Yes, we thought we were the best team last year. We played so many games we played well. I think that was in the past. This year we the CONCACAF, we have the Inter-League, we have to focus on one game after another (one game at a time). Last year we were thinking of the playoff and the championship together, that was a mistake. We have to think of what team is coming and play that game. We know that was last year.”

“We know we have to be smart. 2005 and 2006 we go to the playoffs playing well, the first game we are out, the second game we are out, that was bad. We know we were the best all year, and for one game we were out. We don’t want that again.”

– The defense was one of the great parts of the team last year. Why were you, as a unit so good, and will it happen again?

“Yes, I think so. Bobby plays so well. And he goes to the US (National) Team, same with Namoff and Perkins. I think we have to stay focused, like I tell you before, on each team we play.”

– What are your goals for this season?

“I want everything. I want to play in the All-Star game. I want to win in the playoffs, the tournament, win the most points in the league. Every team and player wants to win the championship. If they don’t then they don’t (shouldn’t) play. DC United has the best team in the league. They have the best history. For me, I want to have another championship.”

Christian Gomez (through translator)

– How is pre-season going physically and mentally?

“Physically, just like any other pre-season, we’re feeling it. But, we’re toning it down so that we go into the game next Wednesday with the best conditioning possibilities based on our situations.

– Last year the team played very well for the first two-thirds, then fell apart in the final third. Some say ‘burn-out’ and others say complacency. What do you feel happened last year?

“We had a pretty good pre-season and then we had a great start to the year. I feel like we got to a point where we had too many games in too short a period of time. We were traveling across the country and that mainly wears you down mentally. But, on the upside, some of the younger players got to play in games. Knowing that, this year we’re going to be playing a lot of games as well. Those young players will be able to step in and contribute with their experience. Hopefully that will give us more balance this year. . . .”

“In terms of the number games, we’re playing a similar number of games. So, it’s important that we approach it with a serious mentality. Whatever tournament we are participating in we’ve got to be smart as a team.”

– You and Jaime Moreno have been the best scoring pair over the last couple of years. Now Luciano is being added. How is that going?

“Luciano is a good addition to the club. Let’s not forget when Eskandarian was here, he helped form a trio up front. He brought a lot of speed and that went with Jaime’s touch and my passing ability. With Luciano now it is just a matter of getting to know one another. You can see in the training sessions we’ve had everyday we understand each other a little more. He’s a great addition to the club because knows the game really well and understands how the game is played. He plays very well with his back to the goal. We’ve needed a forward that can play inside the box. He’s someone that can hold the ball for us and help get other player’s involved. It’s one of things the three of us are looking to do – get the entire team involved. Hopefully with the three of us going forward it will create enough headaches for the opposition and we’ll look to take advantage of the situation.”

Quotes: United’s Nowak, Eskandarian, Namoff Reflect On Season-To-Date

Though the forwards have not scored goals in the last two weeks, they’re doing the necessary extra work off the ball, according to DC United coach Peter Nowak and Alecko Eskandarian, who played down his on-field run-in with Jaime Moreno during the team’s loss in Colorado.

Nowak says Moreno needs "to use the options around him and create space for other people," and adds that his coaching is the biggest of the team’s weaknesses six games into the season. Nowak, though, is pleased to see Bryan Namoff’s return from injury. It’s something Namoff says still mystifies him, but he’s found a way to get through the pain and retake the field.

For more with Nowak, Eskandarian and Namoff, read what they had to say to John Dyson:

Peter Nowak

The strikers haven’t scored in the past two weeks.  What is your impression on how they are playing?

"I’ve been really happy with them because they are doing the extra work, the dirty work.  They’ve been leaving spaces for the other players, so we’re not going to be that predictable.  I think it is important for others to know where the strikers are going.  They’ve done a great job both offensively and defensively.  I’m really happy with them.  We continue to work with all of the strikers–Lucio [Filomeno] and Freddy [Adu] and Santino [Quaranta] is coming back.  There’s a lot of work to do.  As far as how many goals we’ve scored and who has scored, I’m happy with that because the most important thing for us is to be unpredictable.  We can’t let the other teams close up options, so I’m happy with that."

Specifically, with Jaime Moreno, not only is he not scoring but his distribution hasn’t been as good.  Is there anything specific with him that needs to change?

"I think sometimes he needs to play the ball a little faster and simple.  He needs to use the options around him and create space for other people, like our second line players, such as Christian [Gomez] and Freddy.  Everyone needs to do their jobs.  Defensively he was very good.  The most important thing for us to know is that we have options up top and other teams have to guess who is going to score and how.  I think he’s not happy with himself having just two goals in the last six games.  There’s still a lot of work to do and he knows it.  He’s working extra hard to get better.  In the back of his mind he wants to score a lot of goals and be the MVP."

Are you happy with your start to the season?

"If you look at the standings we can be satisfied.  Of course, we want more points, but the team is playing well.  I’m not surprised that we have this many points right now.  It would be nice to win six games straight, but I didn’t expect it to happen.  The last game in Colorado was tough because of the altitude.  It’s always tough to go there because the people are always saying we should do more, we should press, we should play our game.  I don’t think those people have ever touched a ball playing at Mile High Stadium.  It’s not possible to do that.  We need to play smart.  We made two individual mistakes and let up the goals.  With our experience that’s not supposed to happen."

It’s early in the season, but you’re facing Kansas City for possible first place in the conference.  Does that fact make this game more important?

"We know that from the first day where we wanted to be.  When teams come to our place they aren’t looking to play a wide open game against us.  They look for a chance to score and steal three points.  In the worst case scenario they are looking for one point.  We have to be patient.  We have to know what we can play and the way we play.  I think we’ve found a good balance in our lineup.  They are reading the game pretty well right now.  Kansas City is no different.  We know it’s going to be a difficult game.  First place is on the line and we’re going to there."

How do you feel Bryan Namoff played?

"Bryan Namoff is not Ben Olsen.  Bryan brings a lot of defensive work in that position, and Ben is more offensive minded in this case.  He did very well considering that he hasn’t played in so very long.  It’s important to know that he’s back.  We need him on the field.  In that position he did well.  It’s not easy to play after six months, especially at that altitude.  The team played a lot of balls up top, and then just fought for the ball.  I was happy that he was on the field, and we’re going to continue to work with him as a defensive midfielder or a right back."

He hasn’t played there for four years…

"No, he played there last year against Dallas."

He hasn’t played in that position for several games in a row.  How long are you willing to continue using him in that role?  How do you see the future of that position while Olsen is out?

"I don’t know. We’ll see what happens with our team, and what options we have.  I cannot predict how it will be.  Clyde [Simms] is feeling better right now, and everyday he’s bringing something new.  With Benny Olsen gone for the next two months, sometime he will be playing in that position, sometimes he will be playing in the back.  We have to determine that before each game.  For me, the most important thing is that he’s back on the field.  There was a lot of talk about him having surgery, or he’s the guy that won’t be able to come on this year.  I’m just happy that’s he back on the field.  Whatever his position I’m sure he’ll be happy just to be on the field.  For me it’s not a question right now."

Six games into the season, what do you think the biggest weakness on the team is at the moment?

"Coaching."

Does that include you?

"That’s mainly me."
 

Alecko Eskandarian

How would you assess the way the strikers are playing this season?

"I think we’ve done pretty well.  To my knowledge we haven’t been shut out as a team.  We really pride ourselves on playing team offense and defense.  You just mentioned that the strikers haven’t scored in the last two games and I was like, ‘Huh, I had no idea’, because we don’t really care who is on the end of the goal because it’s such a team process.  I know for a fact that the strikers have a lot to do with the goals, whether it’s making runs to create space, or getting an assist, it’s a team thing.  We take a lot of pride in attack as a team.  I would be disappointed if it was only strikers scoring because you really need your midfield guys coming up to join the attack, taking shots.  With that said, the strikers need to score too.  That’s our job."

"I think in the last two games, with Dallas and Colorado, they both played four in the back, which makes it a little more difficult to find space as a forward because there’s an extra defender.  It also makes it easier for a midfielder to come in from behind, so that’s probably been the case."

How frustrating is it to face goalies in the last two games that have had great games?

"That’s how it goes.  You can’t score 100 goals every game.  I wasn’t frustrated at all.  The only time I get frustrated is when I don’t have any chances.  Those are the days that I take a look in the mirror and say, ‘OK, something is wrong.’  For me, as long as I’m getting chances, and deep down I know that should have had two goals that day, I have confidence in myself, and I put that pressure on myself enough to know that next time I’m going to get it right.  As a striker, as long as you get chances you’re happy.  As long as your team is winning you’re happy.  Like you said, it’s early in the season so there’s no reason to push the panic button.  We are playing good soccer, and we’ve outplayed all of our opponents so far."

Lately Jaime Moreno doesn’t seem to be playing as well as he would like to be playing.  Is there anything specific you see with him?

"No, if there is anything you guys see you should ask him.  I really don’t have anything to say about that."

You and Jaime were caught on camera in the last game arguing in the second half.  What was said?

"We were just exchanging recipes. … No, it was nothing.  It happens.
 

Bryan Namoff

How are you feeling now?

"I don’t know if I’m over the injury, but I do feel good.  It was a question of fighting through the pain, and continually rehabbing.  It’s something I’ll have to do each and every day to keep it strong."

Do you know exactly what the problem is?

"That’s the million dollar question.  It’s related to my hernia surgery.  Whether its scar tissue that has built up around the nerve, or maybe it’s just a deep groin strain in the muscle."

What has Nowak told you your role–defender?  Defensive midfielder?

"That was the role last week, to fill in for Ben Olsen.  It’s great credit to him to get accepted onto the World Cup team.  On the other side, it’s another added responsibility for me to fill in his position at this time."

"I don’t know what the lineup will be for this upcoming weekend.  If it is the same, then that’s the position I’ll have to fill."

After being primarily a defender for the last four years, how difficult is it to make the change to defensive midfielder?

"Yeah, it’s definitely a new position.  It’s not as comfortable as where I have been playing, at the right back position.  It’s something that you’ve got to ease into.  It’s a different mindset.  You take a 360 degree approach, where before in the right back position it’s straight up and down.  It’s something that I’ll have to play more, and if I do have to fill that position, then it’s just gaining confidence and playing as simple as I can."

Which position do you prefer?

"I’ve played in the back for so long now that I’ve grown accustomed to it.  That’s where I’m the most efficient, or where the team can most benefit."

When Olsen returns he’ll want his position back.  How do you feel about that?

"That will be the question.  The one good thing about it is that I do have that versatility, which is an asset to the team.  I can play in that position if the need is there due to injuries or the World Cup situation.  When the time comes, and Benny comes back, it looks like I’ll be competing for a starting position in the back.  It will keep it highly competitive, which will only add to the improvement of the team."

Kansas City is coming in and they’re missing a few players.  How does that affect the team?

"KC has always had that hard-working mentality.  It’s the true test of those two Midwestern teams.  They’re still going to come in and fight hard.  It’s going to be a game that’s going to require 100% effort.  We’re at home in front of our home crowd and that’s our biggest asset.  That’s going to give us that confidence to get that first goal."

What happened in Colorado?

"In Colorado we played a game of halves.  In the first half I thought it was a good half on the road.  There weren’t too many opportunities on either end.  Maybe if that shot by Jamil [Walker] goes in and we’re and we’re up 1-0 at halftime, but that wasn’t the case.  It is a benefit going into halftime 0-0.  I think we just let it slip away.  We got careless in certain situations where we didn’t pressure, and by that there were a couple of mistakes in the back, which led to the penalty kick, which led to a miscommunication on the second goal.  So, it was a whole team performance.  I don’t think we came out as well as we did in the first half, and we paid for it.  Colorado does have good players."