Q&A with Peter Nowak, Kevin Ara
Peter Nowak - Head Coach
With all the injuries this season, how much of a problem is it to the team?
It doesn't matter. Of course, it's not good for the mentality of the team. We're going to do our best no matter who is on the field. Whether they're nineteen or thirty years old, it doesn't really matter. We have to do a better job.
We were very disappointed after the game on Saturday because, like my message to the team in our first meeting in pre-season, 'The season is going to be long, and we're going to win, we're going lose and we're going to tie.' The way we play the first seven games, eight games, nine games, we are good in the midfield, we work very hard, we control the game, we play our game, we pressure and we create some chances. In the last game, that wasn't the case in any of those elements. That concerns me a lot! The guys weren't fit? Or the game was too big for them? They weren't prepared for it, and we have to do a better job, starting with the coaches. I'm going to blame myself first. Maybe they weren't prepared mentally for this game. Maybe they weren't prepared for the game mentally because the game was too big. Maybe we weren't ready and we have to do better with all of it.
Everyone is talking about David (Stokes). You know what? I'm going to say, 'Blame me.' When you see the first goal, Andy Williams has so much space ... even I could have played the ball to Damani Ralph. It's the whole situation from the start. Brandon Prideaux got killed (kicked in the face) by Ante Razov, and we didn't do anything to stop it. We didn't do a good job being aggressive and sending a message that we were in the game, and we're not going let anything happen.
We just stopped playing, and that's the thing that I was very, very disappointed in. We didn't play this kind of soccer for the last couple of months. We've got to get back to our routine and our style. I'm not going to change anything. We're going to play a 3-5-2 all season long - three defenders in the back. We're going to do it because they can. They just have to believe in what we're doing and believe in us ... nothing else.
Were you surprised by Chicago coming out in a 3-4-3 formation?
No. If they were pushing a 3-4-3, then we should have had an advantage in midfield because we were playing a 3-5-2. That wasn't the case. DeMarcus Beasley was coming back ... Ante Razov was coming back to fight for the ball. DeMarcus was playing behind them, but not like a striker. They would mix it up, then we'd get caught forward, then there was no one to pick them up. As I said, soccer requires running - running and fighting. Maybe one day, the soccer part is good, and one day it isn't good. But, if you don't run and fight you'll lose every single game.
I'm not emotional because we lost to the Fire. I'm going to go nuts if we play like that against Rochester or Virginia Beach and they play like that style. It doesn't matter if it was Chicago, L.A. or Kansas City. The way we played was unacceptable.
How are you going to adapt for this weekend's game with all the injuries?
I don't know about Bryan Namoff. He's going to see the specialist today. Ryan Nelsen is going to be back - Benny (Olsen), of course. Jaime (Moreno), you saw him today, and he's ready to go and score a couple of nice goals.
As I said, we can talk about all these injuries, but I'm never going to complain because I believe in this team, and I'm really proud to be the head coach of this team. But, they have to start to believe in me and what we're doing here. I think the message is very clear that we're going to do whatever we can to put the best eleven on the field. We won't go back and try to find excuses - 'He's injured - he's not'. We just want to make this team better. We'll see what comes.
The team is very young. Is this one point in the season that they are mentally tired? Is there anything the coaches can do to pump them up again?
I'd say they are doing a pretty good job. We are not looking to squeeze them like oranges. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday's we work hard. And they have to take care of themselves. Thursday and Friday's we mix things up and try to get them mentally prepared for the game.
I still don't believe its early season or late in the season. You can't turn the key in the car and the engine is going to start. Some of these guys need experience, especially with games like last week. But, I'm not going to back off one inch from what I chose. They're professional soccer players and it's their jobs to play good soccer as a team, as a unit. You cannot say, 'Freddy this or this or Stokes this or this'. It doesn't matter. One player doesn't make a team. There are eleven of them.
As far as the game last week, I didn't see one player who was angry or mad, or trying to do something because of the way they played, or the result. We had three guys who had a good day. Three guys! We had eight guys who didn't play and I'm still angry. I'm still mad.
Who were the three players?
It doesn't matter! Three guys! You cannot win the game with just three guys who have a good day.
You need to get the fourth, fifth, and sixth guys and start creating the leadership. And then they start carrying the others along with them. Then it becomes very easy for me. With this kind of mentality I don't need to interfere.
Kevin Ara - Midfielder
How was the transition from college to professional soccer?
I've always wanted to play professional soccer. It wasn't so much a transition, it was just getting done with school so that I could concentrate one hundred percent. I'm lucky to be with an organization like D.C. United, who let me finish (school). They could have just as easily said, 'No, we're not going to let you finish. You've got to come and play'. They were really good about letting me go back and forth, and I can't thank them enough. I owe them a lot for letting me finish, and it has been great. It has been really good for me. I've been trying to improve everyday, and work everyday on getting better.
What is the most difficult thing about the transition?
I think we're lucky here at D.C. United because we have so many experienced players here such as Earnie Stewart, Benny Olsen, Ryan Nelsen, Ronald Cerritos and Jaime Moreno. Benny and Ryan told me some things that have really stood out and helped me. It's a matter of being able to concentrate on what you're doing for that two hours of training. It is a matter of being able to see the ball, being able to play it quicker and all that. But, it's also being able to be on top of your game for two hours each day. I think a lot of young players have a problem with that coming in because when you come out of college you might have trained for three hours one day, but it's not anything near the intensity we have here. I think the first couple of weeks it hits everyone. Unless you've played professional elsewhere, or been with one of the national teams it's difficult to make that transition right away. I think over the last two months I've really gotten a hold of it, and I know what needs to be done - just work as hard as you can every single day. Everyone sees it and realizes how hard you work and they start to appreciate it.
What are your impressions of Coach Nowak and D.C. United's club?
I've been to a couple of and trained with a couple of different clubs. I've trained with Bayer Leverkusen for almost a month and a half and I trained with Independiente in Argentina. It's different. The organization here is very good about being very personal with you and dealing with you as a person and not just a number. Big clubs elsewhere deal with you like you're just a number. Here they take the time. (Assistant coaches) Tommy Soehn and Mark Simpson do great jobs just talking with you and helping you make that transition.
What role does Coach Nowak perceive you playing tactically?
I was recruited as a defensive midfielder - the tough guy in the middle who wins balls, wins headers, wins tackles, then distributes the ball. Everyone says that if you go to Harvard it's only because you're smart and things like that. However, I was recruited by all the big schools - UCLA, Santa Clara and UCONN. Once I was accepted to Harvard, that's where I went. Obviously, we didn't have all the high quality of players as the big schools and that's why my role was moved into being an attacking midfielder.
I think that helps me a lot to be a defensive midfielder. I now know what it's like to be on that half of the field. If you give me the ball, I can give that attacking ball and make the quick move into the offense, helping us get out of the constant sideways passing. Playing four years as an offensive midfielder has helped me play a better defensive midfield. I see my role here and Peter sees my role here as a strong defensive midfielder. That's a good role for me. I can play offensive midfield if we ever need it. Right now, I think I'd be a pretty good defensive midfielder.
With the injuries and the national team call-ups, you should see some significant playing time sooner rather than later. Are you mentally prepared for it?
Sure. It's funny because you never really know what kind of fitness it takes or what kind of mental capacity it takes to be at this level. It's a strong level. I think that I've gotten a hold of it. I've done the fitness well and I know I'm ready to play at this level for ninety minutes and make an impact. I can be a strong presence at midfield for this team, get the counter-attack going quickly and do whatever it takes to win games. Peter always talks about doing whatever it takes to win games and I think I can do that.
How much grief do you get from the other players about going to Harvard?
They're pretty good about it. Whenever there's a question, they might ask me and I don't mind. It's nice to get the recognition. I put a lot of work into it to finish up. I've got my graduation on Thursday and it will be nice to get that piece of paper and get it off of my shoulders and enjoy the rest of my life.