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.”