Q&A with L.A.'s Steve Sampson
this final part of the MLS season before the playoffs start. So I think it was much deserved. Obviously, I would have loved to take advantage of that opportunity to get to know the players more, but I think their needs of getting rest were more important than my needs of getting to know the team.
MLSnet.com: Aside from training sessions, how have you been acclimating yourself to the Galaxy and getting to know the players?
Sampson: I've been meeting with them individually. I've been leaning on Martin Vasquez, who is the assistant coach. I've been watching videotape, consulting with others in the area who have watched the Galaxy play for the last two years -- people who I respect and trust -- and with my own eyes, I've been seeing how they respond in training and in the match against Chicago and making my own assessment.
MLSnet.com: Having overseen training for the past couple of weeks, how would you assess the overall team attitude?
Sampson: I think they're all very committed to making the playoffs and winning a championship. I think that's the single focus for this team, and obviously, with so many players on national teams, we have to rely on people coming off the bench and filling in those roles and doing a job, as well. So, it isn't just players 1-11. The entire roster is involved now, hopefully, in the success in this latter part of the season.
MLSnet.com: Are there any players that you didn't have a chance to see before becoming that head coach of the Galaxy that have either surprised or impressed you in the past two weeks?
Sampson: I think Marcelo Saragosa is an outstanding player, a very complete professional. Joseph Ngwenya is also a very, very talented player, one that didn't play against Chicago, but one that is impressing me an awful lot in training. I think Kevin Hartman continues to impress. He played exceptionally well against Chicago and in training, he's living up to his role as captain. Ned Grabavoy is showing me that he's going to be a strong player, not only in this season, but for many seasons to come in this league. So, that's just a handful. I've got to be honest; the level of effort I've seen by the team has really been outstanding.
MLSnet.com: This weekend, six of your players will miss the Galaxy's game in Columbus due to national team call-ups or suspensions. What do you expect from the players who will have to step in and fill out your lineup?
Sampson: Well, we have four players that have been called up to national teams and we have two players who are out due to yellow card suspensions, accumulation of points. When you talk about six starters [being absent], it really provides a great opportunity for six others to step onto the field and show what they can do and try to impress enough to earn themselves a starting position for the following match. Guys like Memo Gonzalez, guys like Joseph Ngwenya, guys like Danny Califf, who hasn't played for a while: these are all individuals who have wonderful talent, but have just been wanting to crack that starting lineup and get significant minutes to show what they can do. This game against Columbus will afford them that opportunity.
MLSnet.com: Is there an added bonus of being able to see players who don't get a lot of time on the field play in game situations, as opposed to seeing them in training?
Sampson: You can only make certain judgments on a player based on training. The true test is when you see them perform in match conditions and how they respond to the opponent, how they respond to the atmosphere and to the conditions. I know players who have trained incredibly well, but when it comes to game day, they don't meet the expectations. And I've seen it the other way around, where players don't train very well, but they play extremely well on game day. Obviously, the most important thing is how they play on game day.
MLSnet.com: Tuesday was trade deadline day throughout the league, and the Galaxy sent defender Ricky Lewis to Colorado in exchange for a 2005 sixth round draft pick in order to open up a developmental spot on the roster. Do you already have a player in mind to occupy that spot?
Sampson: We have two players that are playing in Portland [Ore.] right now. Scotty Thompson, who is an outside back and has been playing pretty consistently for the Portland Timbers, has played very well. I actually went up and watched him play last Friday against the Minnesota Thunder. The other player is Alan Gordon, who is the leading goal scorer for the entire A-League. So, we had one spot open to begin with, and we had every intention of bringing Scotty in for that spot at the end of the A-League season. But we had to create another spot on the roster for Alan, and we felt it was a win-win situation for Ricky in that he could go to a club that had interest in him, and he could see more playing time than he was getting here, and we could then secure the leading goal scorer of the A-League.
MLSnet.com: With Carlos Ruiz, Jovan Kirovski, Joseph Ngwenya and Alejandro Moreno, you've already got a large contingent of strikers. What will Gordon add above and beyond what those players offer?
Sampson: Any time a player scores 17 goals in the A-League, I think you have to respect that, and goal scorers in the A-League are a rare commodity. That was something we just couldn't turn our back to. I think that would have been a foolish decision from a team standpoint, to allow some other team to pick him up.
MLSnet.com: The management of the Galaxy has been clear that maintaining a high standard of play, in addition to getting results, is important to the club. How do make sure you can make that standard?
Sampson: That's the expectation. The Los Angeles and Southern California communities demand an attractive forward-minded style of soccer. We're in the entertainment capital of the world, and that's what they expect in their soccer team. There's an awful lot to do in Southern California, and if we don't provide an entertaining product, they could easily be at the beach or Disneyland or movie theaters or some place else. So, we have a very demanding public here, and we aim to please. But, on the flip side of that, you can't have a team that throws everything forward and doesn't get back.
It's a balancing act in that we have to have players who are extremely fit and have the ability to get up and down the park. Obviously, we're going to tinker a little bit with the system of play. We're going to try to play a very direct and attractive offensive-minded style of soccer, but outside of that, it's very difficult to talk about specifics.
MLSnet.com: Is meeting that high standard of play more about tactics or is it more about mindset?
Sampson: It could be just having the mindset of looking for certain situations in a match to take advantage of and get in behind the defense. A team that's a little bit more conscientious of keeping possession of the ball and not giving the ball up so easily, a team that has a little bit faster speed of play, forcing the opponent to react to that speed of play. It could be just a change in mentality. These are the things we're assessing right now. These are the things we're implementing right now. There won't be swooping changes in the short term, but hopefully it's something people will see over the long term that will be a very positive thing for the Galaxy.
Jason Halpin is a contirbutor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.