we played Chivas and Atlas. So really, the schedule isn't that different than last year. As I said, this year things are much better. Jaime (Moreno) and Santino (Quaranta) are coming in fit and ready to go. Right now, it's a matter of how we're going to structure things and implement the new elements because Ryan Nelsen and Earnie (Stewart) aren't here and Dema (Kovalenko) is injured."
With Nelsen and Stewart gone and Kovalenko injured are you going to ask any of these players to change their roles on the club? Will there be any possible position changes?
"No, it depends on what is available at the moment. That's what we're checking right now, what is the best combination on the field going to be? We're going to give players the opportunity to show what they can do at the different positions, because there might be some point in the season they will be needed there. In this preseason, the first two or three weeks are perfect for us to check that out. Then we'll make a decision and go with that group of players."
You have always said that every position is up for competition every game. However, in midfield there seems to be several potential starters for those positions. Do you approach that problem any differently?
"There are 24 players all trying to get the starting 11 positions. I'm not going to make any exceptions, and it doesn't matter which position it is. Together with Tommy (Soehn) and Mark (Simpson), we are going to find a balance between what we have and those positions. The practices have to be competitive and the players have to be competitive because how we train will be how we play."
What are your thoughts on the potential of the rookies and the players on trial?
"That's why we brought them into camp into the first place. I think we have enough time to give them a close look. The point is to have a close look and see how they play and how they might fit in. There are a couple of the guys that are pretty good talents. And because our roster is bigger, and there will be a reserve league this year, we want to make sure that everyone is on the same page. We don't want players just for the reserve league, but also for future."
How will you handle the reserve team?
"I'm going to handle it the same way as the whole team. There's not going to be a 'First Team', a 'Second Team' or a 'Reserve Team.' There's going to be 28 players on this team and every one of them is a member of the team. On any given day, we might have an injured player that was starting. He might need more time in regaining his fitness, so we might not want to risk him in one of the big games, so he will play in a reserve game. The reserve games are not going to be something that is disrespectful to the player. It's an additional element to player development, both younger and older players. For everyone, it's a good thing."
Alecko Eskandarian - Forward
How is preseason going so far for you?
"It's going well so far. We're just trying to start where we left off last year. We've all come in here, and there are obviously some new faces, rookies and things like that, but the mentality and the work that we've put in hasn't changed. It's been pretty good. It's just getting through the double-days, and hanging out here in Bradenton, there's not much to do except play soccer."
D.C. United lost Ryan Nelsen and Earnie Stewart in the off-season. What impact do you believe that will have on the team?
"It changes a lot of things. Obviously, those guys were huge personalities on our team. Personally, those were two guys that I respected a lot, and I looked to as our leaders. We're going to have to make a little transition to find new leaders and a captain. I think the transition is going well. Everyone is a year older, a year more mature and more improved. It shows out there that we haven't missed a step. There are guys stepping in, stepping into different positions and doing a great job. It's a tough gap to fill, but I think we'll be fine."
Do you feel that you will be able to recreate your personal success of last year? What are your goals for this season?
"I'm definitely looking to go a step higher! My goals are to always improve each and every day. Even today, out at practice, I got so emotional, maybe too much, because I want to do these things in preseason. And I try different things, and even if I fail or make mistakes, that's what is going to help me become a better soccer player. As soon as the season gets underway, I expect to do 10 times better than last season."
Are you afraid that you might be putting too much pressure on yourself to reach those goals?
"I have always put a lot of pressure on myself. Ever since I was a little kid, I was my own worst critic. I like pressure. I thrive on pressure, so I put it on myself. I demand a lot out of myself and that's how I succeed. I don't think that it's too much pressure either. I think it's realistic for me to expect myself to improve and get to the next level, such as the national team. Obviously, as we talked about before, with Earnie and Nelly leaving, I think that this being my third year, I have to step up and take on more responsibilities and maybe a leadership role for the younger guys."
Is being part of the 2006 World Cup squad one of your goals?
"No question about it. I think it's the most tremendous honor for any player to represent his country. For me, to get a look with Bruce (Arena) would be great. I got a little bit of a taste of it a couple of weeks ago, but I got hurt while I was down there. He told me that he would keep his eye on me, and that I've got to keep working to improve my game. If I ever get the opportunity again, I'm definitely going to take advantage of it."
Are you concerned with the fact that D.C. United's season starts off with a heavy load of games -- Hawaii exhibition, CONCACAF Champions Cup, Carolina Challenge Cup -- before the MLS Season even starts?
"You definitely have to make adjustments, but this is my job. I've got to take care of my body as best as I can. Our coaches are very understanding about knowing when to give guys time off and things like that. But, I love playing soccer. Two or three weeks after MLS Cup last year, I was ready and itching to get back to it again. I've still got that kind of anxiety to get back into it, so I'm ready to play. If it's too much, I guess we'll find out later in the year. I'm ready for it."
Last preseason, this team was looking to build a new identity after several less-than-successful years. This year you are coming back as defending champions. How is the mentality of the team different between the two preseasons?
"It's a problem that we love to have. When you're on top you have an 'X' on your back and everyone is going to come after you and try to beat you. That's something we love. Every game we go out, someone is gunning for us and that's a pressure we like. I remember last year, when we a .500 team and not doing so well, it wasn't a good feeling going out there, because people didn't respect you. Now, with the standard that we've set for ourselves and the respect we've gained, we're going to live up to that challenge."
Josh Gros - Midfielder
How is the preseason going for you so far?
"It's going pretty well. Last year we had three or four games before we scored a goal. This year we're scoring, and I think we're at a higher level than we were last year. There's still a lot of work to be done, but it's going well."
Even with Earnie Stewart leaving in the off-season, there will be a great deal of competition for midfield spots this season. What are your thoughts on being on the starting 11 this season?
"I know that, just because I was here last year, it's not automatic that it will be given to me. There's a lot of good competition and I know that going into every practice. I've got to keep working hard and I can't slack off at all. None of us can, which will be a good thing. Which ever of us steps up, then that's who will play. It's good to have that competition for those spots."
Last year you were a rookie coming into preseason. Now with the first year behind you, how is this preseason different for you personally?
"It makes a lot of difference, because last year, I was nervous every time I came into practice. This year, I'm relaxed because I know what to expect. It's going a lot smoother for me."
What are your goals for this season?
"I definitely want to solidify my position as a starter. Last year, I was on and off all year. I want to score more goals for the team, because I only had one last year. I think I can help out the offense a lot more this year."
Are you concerned with the heavy load of games at the beginning of the year?
"It's a big transition. Everything has to be sped up. I think we're starting off at a higher level this year. I think we're ready to handle it. We've got a lot of work to do between now and then, but we're up to it. I think we'll be alright."
John Dyson is a contributor to DCUnited.com.