Q&A with Nowak, Namoff, Gros
Peter Nowak - head coach
Do you feel a greater sense of urgency from the team at this moment?
"Everything is important right now for everybody, even in the Eastern Conference. It doesn't matter what position you are in the standings. Every game is going to be sudden death. Everybody has to realize this, starting with the coaches, and focus and concentrate on what we are doing. At the end of the day, they are going to make a play or make a tackle that will change each game completely. I think the players responded after the loss in Chicago. We had a couple of meetings and we talked about what we had to do better. And now is not the time to talk and discuss these things. Now we have to take care of business."
"No team in this league can feel comfortable enough right now that they can just let things go. Even with L.A. over the last couple of weeks ... What's going on there? They still don't know if they're going to be in the playoffs. It's not like you have a special approach doing this or that, it doesn't matter. Every game is important. Those were my first words when I had my first meeting with the players back in February. It doesn't matter. You have to be prepared for every single practice and every single game. We expect things to be like that. I know things are going to be even harder and faster at a time like this. We have to deal with the situation by showing the character of this team and the character of every single player. You've got to be ready for the first game, the second, the third. That's how you build confidence in the team. Then you're going to be ready for the playoffs when it's even harder than the regular season."
How is Christian Gomez fitting in after a couple of weeks?
"I think he's doing a fantastic job. He's always talking to the guys and asking questions when he doesn't know the tactical stuff. He's the first one to practice and the last one to leave. He wants to learn more and more. I think the understanding between him and Jaime (Moreno) and the others is pretty good. He's a veteran and he knows what to do. Like I said, soccer is a common language all over the world. If you see it, you understand it."
With the up and down performances of the team throughout the year, during these final few games, do you, as a coach, worry that the team will not be able to bounce back?
"No, that's my job to keep them on the on the same page, keep them motivated and keep them confident. You can lose games, you can win games and you can tie games, but it still doesn't matter. I feel that every week is a new story. Every week, everyone has to bring something new to the team. After each game, I study the game in my heart and in my head and try to get the answers for what I should be doing better. Every single week, I come with something that will give us something more. I'm sure the players understand when I say that I'm going to be hungry every single week. This is the time for everyone to step up and show the character of this team. I'm sure they have it."
Is there any one part of the team - defense, midfield, offense, goalkeeping, the bench - that you have concerns about in these final few games?
"If I saw that a player doesn't deserve to be in our lineup, or our bench, or on our roster he would not be here. The deadline was on September 1, but we decided to go with this group because we have confidence in them and we believe in them. That's what we decided to do."
What is the possibility of adding a player before the end of the season?
"As long as he is free, I don't know. Everything is possible. We cannot go back and forth trying to create something. We have 23 players to take care of and that's the most important thing. Everything else is a second priority right now."
What are the team's plans for scouting out college soccer for this off-season?
"We already have arranged credentials for games all over in different places for the college season. All off us, me, Tommy (Soehn), Mark (Simpson), Dave (Kasper), everyone is going to watch the games."
In general, when you are looking at a player, what do you look for?
"You gather information throughout the season. Sometimes a player will have a good day, and you'll say, 'He's a great guy.' But it's just like our season. Other times, that player will struggle. Other players sometimes show up at the end of a season. The sum of what the player is all about is seen at the combine. You can watch them close and get information from different coaches, different games, see what other players see about other players. If you're interested in them, as far as skills, we watched three or four games at the combines and we chose to go with Josh Gros in the last thirty minutes of the last game, because he impressed us. We didn't see him too much in the first three games, but in the last thirty minutes, we decided he was playing at a Major League Soccer level."
"Chicago drafted, what, 10 or 11 guys? Which of those players played really? Zero! So, sometimes it's luck and sometimes it's the ability to realize what your team needs and finding it. We didn't draft Troy (Perkins), but we had him in mind and right after the draft we invited him to our camp. We saw something there. It's different with other coaches."
How much communication do you have with the college coaches during your scouting?
"We get the information we need. Sometimes we get video tapes or have a player train with us. It's a normal procedure with all the coaches in Major League Soccer. You have to trust some people. The season is only three months. You have to show up with enough information at the combine and at the draft. Also, you have to know what kind of player that you need."
As a professional team coach would you like to see the NCAA rules for soccer more in line with FIFA's so that it is a better building block?
"I'd say that you see coaches in colleges, such as Jorge Salcedo, who played with me, and Mike Sorber in St. Louis (University) have pedigrees. They are very good coaches that can prepare players to get to the next level. That's what I think we had success over the last couple of year. Every year, the league has six, seven or eight guys that show what they can do. And they are not all only coming from the big colleges, some are coming from the smaller colleges. The NCAA does a good job and the coaches do a great job."
"As for the opportunities during the college years, they should go a little harder to send the players to the major league teams during the summers to get them proper practices. There have been a couple of guys that practiced with us, especially on harder days, they said that they were dying. They said it was impossible to train like that in college. Maybe level of play and practice needs to be used. I don't make the rules and I don't have any control over that though. I know that sometimes, the step between college soccer and professional is too big. Some players struggle because the physical part and that the speed is too quick for them to adjust quickly to."
Bryan Namoff - defender
How is the team dealing with the pressures at the end of the season?
"I think these last road games took a toll on us. I think some frustration came out in the Chicago game losing 3-1. There's been a lot of talk about tactics, motivation, pressure, those types of things and try to combine those. There's a certain mentality that we have to go out and show. We need to make a statement so that the rest of the League knows that we are here. We've been up and down this whole season, running a roller coaster winning one game then losing the next. We need the consistency in the last couple of games in the season."
What specifically is lacking, which is leading to the inconsistency - lack of leadership, the changing lineups?
"You can list all those things. What it boils down to is our mentality and our pressure in the game. We fixed those two things this week."
You have been the one consistent factor in the defense all year long. How difficult is it for you to have the other positions around you changing all the time?
"Obviously it's tough. The injuries take their toll - (Ryan) Nelsen was out for a good six weeks. Ezra (Hendrickson) came in and got injured for a couple of weeks. And the national team duties take players away. But, the defensive line has been interchangeable all season. It's tough, because just as you get used to a certain person, there's an injury, or national team duty, you have to get a new chemistry with the new back three. It's going to be interesting to try to keep that flow. Sometimes, when you lose it, it's tough to get it back. I think that's what we've really been working hard to do, when we don't have the flow of the game, if we're down or the other team is starting to pressure us, it's knowing when to low pressure or when to step it up."
How much pressure is there on you in this playoff race?
"I think it's going to be game by game by game. I think it's going to be this game is the only game that matters! Each game could potentially make or break us. We have these couple of games at home and it's going to be vitally important for us to win them. It's not something that we wanted, but it was something that we brought onto ourselves, because of our lack of wins on the road."
Josh Gros - midfielder
What is your impression of how the team is feeling right now physically and emotionally?
"I think we were down for a few days with the loss against Chicago. I think we've regrouped pretty well and we're ready to play."
It is your rookie year. You started on the bench, but now are considered a regular starter. How has your year on the team changed?
"It's definitely a dream come true. It's a lot of work and a lot of responsibility. But I think I've done pretty well to take on the role. I've just got to keep on working."
How has your role on the team changed tactically over the year?
"In the beginning of the season, I was playing a little more conservatively, not taking on too many people. Lately, coach Nowak has been telling me to take people on, not be afraid of taking people on, so I started doing that."
Are you feeling the pressure of this being your first season and the fact that the team is fighting for a playoff spot?
"Yes, but once your out on the field, you forget whether you're a rookie or a tenth-year player. You've got to! Everybody has the same responsibilities. I definitely feel the pressures."
What do you think it will take for the team to get into the playoffs?
"I think we've just got to prove it in every game. I think we're ready."
John Dyson is a contributor to DCUnited.com.