FCdallas.net had the opportunity to sit down with midfielder Simo Valakari and speak to him about the "Survivor-Apprentice" trade that was made involving him, the pressure on FC Dallas to make the playoffs and his playing partnership with Richard Mulrooney. FCdallas.net: The news is spreading fast in Spain about your good buddy Oscar Pareja trading you on the first night of the "Survivor-Apprentice" competition. How do you feel about that? Simo Valakari: "Well, it was definitely a big shock to everybody (he says laughing). After the trade, we had a long, serious talk and he told me about his decision. He thought it was best for his team to get me out of there. It's part of the game and all this is so much fun. But now I have to make sure our team, after a bad start, gets back on track and I can show Oscar it was wrong to trade me."
FCdallas.net: How do you think the "Survivor-Apprentice" challenge has gone and what exactly do the players get out of it?
Valakari: "It allows for good team bonding. It is good fun, but sometimes these competitions are hard and are part of our training. Yesterday we had to hang on the crossbar which tested our upper body strength as well as our mental toughness. You get fun, training and most of all you get team bonding. I get the feeling that this will get more and more serious as we move on."
FCdallas.net: With the team not qualifying for the playoffs the past two years there is a lot of pressure on FC Dallas to be there this season. What, in your opinion, is different about this team?
Valakari: "I do see some differences, the first being that I believe we have a more balanced team now. Our minimum goal is to make the playoffs. If we can't accomplish that goal, then we should find another job because three years without the playoffs is unacceptable. Along with the team being more balanced, I think we also have more confidence this year. The players are better and the coaches have another year under their belt. I'm definitely confident in our abilities for this season."
FCdallas.net: When you ask anybody on this team who the most professional player on FC Dallas is, they always say you. Why do you think that is?
Valakari: "I guess that's just how I've been brought up. In Europe, soccer is the number one sport so if you don't work hard there, you struggle. Also, with me getting older and older, I have to look after my body. I would be happy if I had the talent and was naturally fit, but that's not the case for me. I have to look after my body and do every little thing right."
FCdallas.net: Not including Oscar Pareja, who do you think is the most professional guy on FC Dallas?
Valakari: "I would like to say that all the boys really look after themselves and work hard on and off the pitch. Even the guys that complain about fitness during training, they always work hard and give it their all. If I had to just say one guy, I would probably say Bobby Rhine. After training he is always doing his cool downs and extra work to get better. I've been very impressed with his attitude."
FCdallas.net: It seems as though you have a playing partner in the middle of the field in Richard Mulrooney. What do you think about playing closely with him all season long?
Valakari: "I've said before that it is much easier playing with good players. It doesn't matter what language you speak, you speak the same language on the field. He has won two championships and has played on the top level and I have a lot of respect for him. I have often been asked about playing in the Premiership. I usually respond to that by saying, don't get me wrong but it was easier then you think because you are playing against and with good players. The high expectations make the game tougher, but playing with good players always makes things easier."