Q&A with United coaching staff
Peter Nowak - Head coach
How critical are the next two games at home?
"It's all about us. We've struggled in the last couple of games, but we know what we can do. All of the previous fifteen games, before this stretch of losing three and tying one game, I think we hit the point of what kind of potential we have and what kind of game we could play. Right now, it's going downhill, because sometimes the concentration isn't good enough, the mentality isn't good enough and we know it's not going to get easier. It's going to get even tougher, because everyone wants to play and everything in the conference is tight. Every game is important and every point is important. We spent a couple of hours talking about it and I can see in their eyes they are ready for it. I expect good things to happen."
Of the last 11 games, nine are in conference. Is that the situation you want as a coach?
"Yes, because we're going to be playing these teams in the playoffs. It's pretty good to get you ready for the playoffs."
How confident are you that a deal for another player will get done?
"As I've said, we've looked in different places at different players. I hope that it's going to happen soon and we can get ready for this important stretch. I know that everyone is working very hard to make this happen fast."
As a former player in the playoff run, what will you tell your players to prepare them?
"I told them in the very first meeting when we met back in February, back in the cold and in the ice, how it was going to be playing in the playoffs. Almost every week, I've told them that there's no better feeling at the end of the season than to hold the trophy. A couple of these guys have had these moments and they know what to do. A couple of the young guys have seen it in the last three weeks, if you're not going to be ready mentally, physically, then they won't make it to the playoffs. All the mentality stuff is important to me, but so is the physical. We're not going to change our routine with the fitness; we're going to go hard during the week. I know the work will payoff."
With the injuries, the heat, the couple of losses ... is this the lowest point of the year for the team?
"I think it's been a cold shower for all of us. I think after the New York game I told them not to get too high, keep your feet on the ground and to be realistic with our chances. I told them that if the team is working well together we're going to have success. After the last game, like I've said, we made too many individual mistakes. One mistake led to another one, and another and another, which led to giving up the goal. It's a team effort. I've said to them that, 'we can win the game, we can tie the game or we can lose, but it's still a game where you run and fight.' As you get closer to the playoffs, it's tougher, faster, and harder for everyone. That's why we train like that."
Are you concerned with the lack of creativity on the field?
"No, it's still mental stuff. Creativity has little to do with it. The connections and links between the offense and midfield and the midfield and defense were too slow. We were too slow and too predictable. That's why it was easy for the other teams to cover and close us down. We didn't really have any chances to score goals, because we were too slow. We trained this week and talked about it, watched the videos from the last couple of games and then analyzed it, and I'm sure they understand my points. I'm never going to question their hearts. They have the potential and now it's time. It's always been a question of how many guys are going to have a good day. In the last couple of weeks, we haven't had enough guys that have had good days. Our strengths have always been pressure, winning balls, going forward, using the wings and using Jaime (Moreno)."
Have you talked with head coach Bruce Arena about who might be called in for U.S. national team duty?
"Yes, we've talked about it. You know my opinion about the national team. I'll deal with the situation. It's very import to everyone - our team, our organization, for U.S. Soccer and for the players. I respect the call-ups. I think there's probably going to be a couple of guys called up for the national team. Ezra (Hendrickson) is going to be one of them. We'll see. We will have enough players to deal with the situation. Whoever is going to be on the field is going to be running and fighting. Maybe the soccer part isn't going to be that great, but that's what I'm all about. After meeting with the players, I'm sure they know what to do."
Tommy Soehn - Assistant coach
What are your impressions of the team now that its two-thirds of the way through the season?
"Throughout the year, we've had a lot of ups and downs and this is the time of year where you look to get consistencies. We're hoping to start that this week and build off of that as our guys get healthy."
Is consistency from game to game the biggest concern at the moment?
"I think it's more of a mentality that you bring to the game, whether you're on the road or at home. The mentality is what makes you so successful because the teams are so close. You can see what kind of team you are coming onto the field, the hunger in their eyes, the attitude that, 'Today I'm going to be better than the guys standing across from me.' That's what we need to do better at, especially on the road."
From a coach's perspective, with 11 games remaining there are nine in conference. Is that something you prefer?
"One-hundred percent! You really can't worry about how other people are going to do; you have to worry about taking care of yourself. Fortunately, we're in that situation and we need to take care of it ourselves, especially the conference games. We control how well we do or how poorly we do."
As a player you were in the run up to the playoffs. What are you going to pass on to the players?
"I've always had this saying, 'It's hard work being a good team, especially this time of year. It's real easy being a bad team.' I think taking care of yourself physically, mentally, clearing distractions and focusing on the last stretch, which is the most important part of the season, takes a lot of hard work. Sometimes it's eating pride, when you're not part of the starting 11, and sheltering that from everyone else - being a team guy. It's all hard, hard work and (now), in this last stretch, is when all the work becomes vital."
With all the injuries, the playing conditions, and the competition, where is this team emotionally?
"Same as everyone else. Everyone goes through it. You never use those as crutches. You just go on trucking forward. Like I said, it's a mentality, whether you're the first guy or the last guy, the results normally take care of themselves. We need to get into that mindset through this last stretch. If we start doing the little things right, work hard, right mentality, all the things you can control the results seem to take care of themselves."
Has there been a change in tactical philosophy in the last couple of games?
"No, part of the consistency that I'm talking about is having the same guys on the field. If you look at our lineups through that stretch, it's changed dramatically every time. The ideas haven't changed, but the personnel have taken on a different look. As I said, we need to get consistent in our lineups as well."
Mark Simpson - Assistant coach
What is your opinion on where the team stands at this moment?
"I think everybody goes through their summer lull, and we seemed to have hit it, obviously with the injuries, and the heat and everything. We're constantly trying to make our team better, whether it be with the personnel we have or trying to get people in with the salary cap and roster spots we have open. That's an ongoing process.
"I think it's time to dig deep. There's these last stretch of games, this last third, I think we have two non-conference games left to go. That's important because every game in the conference is a six-point swing and we need to take care of our business. We need to start playing the way we're capable of, especially at home, and gain some confidence on the road, too."
Emotionally the team has been on a roller coaster. How are the emotions at this moment?
"I think we're beat up more physically. We had a bad stretch of injuries that were kind of over use injuries, and we've toned back on that a little bit, kept an eye on it and made sure that guys are getting proper treatment - coming in twice for therapy. The only people that are going to dig us out of the hole is ourselves. We just need to take it game by game and throw the good points out, be critical, and go from where we are now and take each game as it is and get three points out of each one."
Eleven games left, nine of those against conference teams. From your perspective is that a good thing?
"Well, right now we're thinking about it because that's what the situation is. Now, not only can you take care of your own business, but you can obviously put other teams down as well. Right now, that's the best situation for us. If we had mainly non-conference games, we'd be hoping someone else would take care of us. We want our own fate in our own hands."
Do you have any information on the new player possibly coming to the team?
"It's a day in, day out process. What looks good one day can easily change the next. Dave (Kasper), Kevin (Payne) and Peter (Nowak) will announce it when everything's on the dotted line. It's hard to speculate. I've seen things that were about ninety-nine percent sure, then turn under, and that's just in the last three years. Even last year, I heard rumors and things falling through from one thing to another. We had Nana (Kuffour) in training for three months and look how long that took! So, those things change back and forth. There are some people overseas who play games. You might be interested in one player, give him an offer and he just uses it for bait. That's something that people don't even see. That happens behind the scenes all day. That's the reason why it takes so long sometimes to get these things done."
With your experience as a player going into the playoff race, what will you tell the current players to prepare them?
"We just need to get back to the way we were playing at the beginning of the season and work ourselves into peaking. I think if you look at the history of the league, even our first year, we peaked at the right time. We just peaked at the right time. You had a sense that when you walked on the field, no matter at home or away, you were going to get a win out of it. The confidence has to be there, the playing ability has to be there, and the teamwork has to be there. We're just looking for everybody to be on the same page. If anybody's confused, our doors are open 24/7. That's basically it, everybody on the same page and working hard for each other."