there's been some suspect decisions on the field in some cases. But for us it is a big priority. I don't want to rank it relative to the MLS Cup. They are two completely separate events, and frankly, the CONCACAF Cup will be over before our league barely starts."
How important is the new reserve team to D.C. United? And what amount of importance are you going to place in developing that system for the full squad?
"It's important. We were the ones that really pushed the league in this. I don't think there's a definitive understanding of this yet. We've pushed to have non-contract players -- younger players, kids in college during the summer -- as part of that team. We think it's important to get as many young players in that environment and competing on a regular basis with and against professionals. I think it's a great step forward. None of us knows how it's going to work just yet. It's going to take a little time after we get into it, get into our first season with it and figure out what is the best way going forward."
What will be the impact of expansion on D.C. United and the league this year?
"I think these teams have the right kind of leadership. Chicago was one of the expansion teams in the past and obviously that worked out well. In Chivas, you have an organization that has been in the game a long time and understands it. You've got very committed and passionate ownership, and a brand that should carry some equity in the United States. In Real, they probably would have preferred to have started in 2006 if they could, but Dave Checkets is one of the top sports executives in the country. They know what it takes to make a sports team work, especially in that market. I'm confident that both teams will do very well. Chivas already has a soccer specific stadium at The Home Depot Center. Real Salt Lake is working very hard to get a soccer stadium underway. They understand the things they have to accomplish to do well."
What are the challenges, outside of the stadium issue, that baseball will create for D.C. United? Are you worried about losing media attention? Will you be competing for entertainment dollars?
"I'm sure we'll be competing to some extent for corporate activity, whether it's sponsorship or ticket sales, but I don't think our fan base is going to abandon us for baseball. I think our fan base, particularly our young fans, has any interest in baseball. We are pretty comfortable with our strong, passionate fans that support our team. It will be a little more difficult with regard to corporate dollars. On the other hand, we're at different price points than they are. We may end up getting more activity as a result. Time will tell."
"We're somewhat concerned with the media. I'm hoping some of the entities in town don't turn themselves into advertisements for baseball and that they continue to cover us appropriately. We are the championship team in town. We're the only team that's won a championship in the last twelve years or so. We certainly don't think that our standing in the community will diminish at all; we just hope that the media doesn't fall all over themselves. While they are all very excited about baseball, there are a lot of people who really don't care about that sport anymore and they have other interests."
"I think the media will treat us fairly. I think they will treat baseball more than fairly. Our numbers are still very significant. We certainly stand very favorably when compared with the other sports teams in town, whether it's the attendance numbers or the ratings. There are a lot of people who care deeply about our team. Our TV ratings last year were absolutely fantastic. We've always been very strong, we don't see that diminishing, and I hope that will be reflected in the way the media covers us."
Peter Nowak - Head coach
With the loss of Ryan Nelsen, are you current plans to have Mike Petke sit in that central defensive role?
"We can put anything on paper right now and see who is available for us, but making predictions right now don't make sense. During the pre-season, we will establish who is going to play and what we have to do to have a back-up for that position. We're still looking to make this team better. It's a high priority for the team right now. It's something for the pre-season. A lot of teams have their roster on paper, and make a move, that's fine with me. It's a long way to the first game and a lot of things can change."
Does your approach in pre-season change because you will be in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup in six weeks?
"We have five weeks to figure out what we're going to do in the first game. I think that's enough time to make sure that we have every piece in place, and to think if we're going to add somebody that will help this team, to utilize that player, and to be ready to play in the first leg."
What are the strengths of this team?
"I can tell you the strengths before the first game of the season?"
Are you concerned about the players' desire going into the season coming off a championship?
"I don't care what happened last year right now. It's always easy to go back and see what we did right and wrong. Our mentality isn't going to change. As I've said many times, I'm not going to back off an inch and do something I or the team is going to regret. If you talked to the players last year, you heard that they were tired of losing. The point is that they won't get tired of winning. That's the whole point to this year. Last year was last year. Everything was great. We had team, front office, our fans, and it's something we're going to remember. It means nothing if you say, 'We're going to do the same thing without working like we did last year.' Like I said, it's going to be even harder and faster. I'm not going change anything with my mentality or our mentality. I think the players understand that. There was a lot of discussion at the beginning of last year about the past and what we were going to bring to the table. It's the same this year. The point is that they cannot be tired of winning. We're going to start this season with the same mentality."
Who do you see stepping into the leadership void with Earnie Stewart and Nelsen leaving?
"It's a natural selection. The team will choose who is going to be the leader on the field. There were some days that Ryan and Earnie didn't play and there were enough guys to that showed the character of this team and what we were all about. Benny (Olsen) was out there; Jaime (Moreno) was out there; Dema (Kovalenko) and Nicky (Rimando) were out there. As I said, it's a natural selection. The personalities of Ryan and Earnie were hard to fill when they didn't play, but I think we have enough guys who understand where we're coming from to step up to win games."
Last season, you spent a great deal of time working on fitness and then proceeded to a game plan. Is that your concept for this pre-season?
"I think the tactics are a little different right now, because the players understand the whole idea of playing our game. It's easy to play the game, but if you run and you don't fight the game means nothing. We have enough time to do both. It's going to be important to develop fitness and playing skills and understanding on the field. Without that understanding on the field between the players, it will be difficult to figure out the details of the system we're going to play. The communication skills, the understanding and the respect are what we're going to work on."
How concerned are you with sharing the field with baseball and the changes between games to the playing field?
"It's going to the same 80 by 120, the same 22 players on the field, the same referees, and the same fantastic atmosphere with our fans. To make excuses like that is unacceptable to me. We have to stay positive and to find what we have to do to win the games. We have to make our stadium the fortress like we did last year. I don't want to go back and say, 'This is what we did last year.' This is our obligation: to make our home a fortress, for every team that comes here they will know it's very difficult to play here. When (American) football season starts you have to play on the same surfaces. You have to be professionals and play."
Mike Petke - Defender
With the loss of Ryan Nelsen, because you will be the most experienced defender, are you comfortable with stepping into the leadership void in the defense?
"I'm very comfortable with it. With Ryan leaving, there are some big shoes to fill. I'm looking forward to getting in there and being a leader. In the past, I've been somewhat of a leader in MLS, but I've never taken a main role. I've led in certain ways -- taking people aside and talking with them -- I did that a lot with Freddy (Adu) last year. I'm going to have a conversation with Peter and Tommy (Soehn) and see what my leadership role will be and what they expect of me."
Who else on the team do you expect to step into the leadership roles on the team?
"I would definitely say Jaime Moreno, by the way he plays and leads by example. Ben Olsen has been in the league as long as I have, and he's won a couple of championships. I think the three of us. Everybody leads in his own way. Nicky Rimando definitely leads from the back. But I think between Jaime, Benny and myself, because we've been in the league the longest and we're the most experienced, will be leaders. It's going to be a challenge for all of us, but it's going to be fun. It's great trying to defend the championship and starting fresh with a new goal. I'm looking forward to it."
Although you have not played with this team since the departures of Nelsen and Stewart, it is a different team. What immediate differences do you see in this team?
"Honestly, the only difference I see is that there are two key players missing. Besides that, we have the core of our team back. We have guys that have so much more experience going through what we did last year. It's not like last year where we were coming in with a new coach and the players had different priorities trying to prove themselves to the coach. Everybody knows where they stand now. Everybody knows the coaches and that's a step ahead of last year, so I think we're looking good."
The club is now faced with playing the CONCACAF Champions' Cup at the beginning of the season and defending the MLS Championship. How does that affect the club?
"It doesn't really affect it that much. It's equally important. I think it's important that we have a good showing for D.C. United and for MLS soccer because we're playing against the champions of the region. Then we can go on and play in Japan against the champions throughout the world. It shows where American soccer is, and what we can do, and what level we are at in the world. It's very important. I think it's two separate things, but equally important."
Santino Quaranta - Forward/midfielder
How was your off season?
"It was good. I put a lot of hard work in. It's the most work I've done in the off-season."
You faced several injury challenges last year from the start. How are you approaching this year differently mentally and physically?
"Coming in, I want to be a starter ... I want to start every game. It's different, because I think I've matured after seeing how it works around here. As fast as it comes, it can go away as fast. I just want everything to work out this year, especially with having a family -- it's always in the back of my mind. I really just want to do well."
Do you have a preference as to where you want to play this season?
"It doesn't matter. With Earnie Stewart gone, we've talked about the right side a little bit. I'll play wherever I have to play. I'm making pretty good money this year, so I have to contribute. Basically, that's what it is. I just want to be on the field somewhere playing somehow."
In what ways is this team different than last year?
"It is different. We lost two huge personalities. I think some guys that weren't the obvious leaders will have to become leaders this year. I think it's a different team, but the same corps. Other people are going to have to step up for us to win."
Are you going to take on a leadership role for this team?
"Yes, especially for the younger guys. I've now been in for a couple of years, and I've got to set an example. I might not be a leader of the team, but with the young guys, I can show them the right direction. That's the role that I'm going to take."
Freddy Adu - Midfielder
What is different about the start of this year compared to last year for you?
"Well, being the champs and trying to be repeat champs is the hardest thing in the world, that's the first thing for the team. We're going to approach this year the same way as we did last year. The only difference is that this group has been together for a year and we know each other a little better. Last year, there were a whole bunch of new people and it was a little bit tougher. I'm sure this year might be a little bit easier, because we know each other. It's going to be very, very hard to repeat as champions. We've just got to come out and start off in the right way."
Are you worried about the "sophomore jinx?"
"No, I actually think I'm going to have a much better year than I did last year. That's due to work that I did in the off-season. I really didn't have much of an off-season; I was always doing something, which helped a lot. I'm not out of shape. If anything, I'm in better shape than I was all last year. I've gained eight pounds. My playing weight right now is 145 (pounds) and I'd like it to be over 150 before the season starts. My playing weight last year was 137 pounds, which was way too light. As you guys saw last year, I was getting pushed off the ball way too easily. I've been playing a lot, doing a lot of work on my fitness, movement off the ball, and other stuff that I said I was going to work on and I've gotten better at that. I can't wait to show what I've got this year."
Coach Nowak said at that draft that he expects you to play a significant role on the team this season. Are you ready to be a day-to-day starter?
"Definitely, definitely ... definitely! Once you've got that year under your belt there are no excuses. This year, I'm not going to be sitting on the bench. I'm not going to be sitting on the bench! I want to be out there playing. That's just the way it is. Wherever Peter puts me, I want to go out and play. I want to play 90 minutes if I can. I want to start every single game. That was my motivation in the off-season, and that's what I've been working towards. I think I'll be able to do that."
What position do you expect to play?
"I don't know where. Wherever Peter puts me in, I'm going to lock up and just do what I've got to do to help the team win. I'm definitely a midfielder. I love playing in the attacking midfield role. Like you said, there's a lot of competition in midfield, but Earnie Stewart left. Peter has brought in some new guys. I've been here for a year and I feel like I have a better chance at getting one of the wide midfield positions if I don't get the attacking midfield spot due to Christian Gomez, who played that position brilliantly last year. Like I said, wherever he puts me, I'm going to play to the best of my abilities. That's what you've got to be, a versatile player ... play wherever the coach puts you. That's the mark of a great player."
Are you concerned with playing a full MLS season and playing on the U-20's?
"It's definitely another challenge, but it doesn't bother me at all. Whatever comes up, comes up. I took some time off with the U-20's last year to play some games in Ft. Lauderdale. This will be longer, probably for a month, but it's going to help me see a different style of play and a different atmosphere. When I get back, I'll be refreshed and ready to play and that's always needed and welcomed."
John Dyson is a contributor to dcunited.com.