Your first 90 minute game in quite some time – how are you feeling and how was that for you?
Casey: It was great. First and foremost, just to get the win, and to play, it was definitely a grueling, grueling 90, a little bit sore, but definitely excited to play, excited to win, and looking forward to this weekend.
What does it take for you in that process to ramp up to 90 minutes fit? Do you feel like you’ve been that fit for a little while now and it’s just a matter of getting the time out there? Where do you regard that?
Casey: Yeah I mean practices have been good – they have been sharp for some time now – at least a couple months. So I think you can get that good base fitness in practice and the games are kind of a different animal so getting those minutes on the field definitely will help push the fitness.
In the past two years, you’ve heated up around May and June. Why do you think that is and do you sense that trend continuing this year maybe?
Casey: I hope so. I’m not sure. I think the past couple of years I just maybe had some more playing time in those months compared to the start of the season whether because of injuries or just finding my way into the team. I hope that that’s the case again this year – that I can help score goals and help the team progress forward.
It seemed like earlier in the season you had a (groin) injury. Where do you stand with that now and what’s your process like of dealing with it?
Casey: It’s been good. It was a couple months ago – but it’s a daily routine I have to keep on so it doesn’t come back. The medical staff has done a great job in terms of keeping me healthy and now it’s just about trying to put that in the rear-view a bit and move forward.
For a goalscorer like you, how much does it mean to really get that first goal of the season?
Casey: Yeah, it’s big. I had some opportunities this weekend and unfortunately wasn’t able to put it in – so yeah it’s definitely on my mind – as a goal scorer, you want to score, winning is the most important thing, but I want to score goals for sure.
When we look at the Red Bulls and their high-pressure style and what they’re able to do, does that change anything for you as a forward in terms of how you approach things?
Casey: Not so much. I think that we understand that they’re playing quite a bit different than they did last year in terms of their pressing and it’s something we will have to deal with, especially playing there, but I think my job individually remains pretty much the same in terms of just trying to work hard, hold the ball up, and score.
Put a little bit more into that hold-up play if possession is harder to come by – that they’ll need you to hold up the ball up more?
Casey: Yeah I think that especially the fact we’re playing away we’re going to need to catch our breath – we don’t just want to be under attack all game so it’s going to be critical for everybody that when we have the ball, we’ll be able to knock it around a little bit or hold it and give ourselves the chance to catch our breath – especially the guys at the back.
You’ve had some pretty good games against this team – do you enjoy playing them? What is it about the Red Bulls that brings out the best of you?
Casey: Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve got a pretty good track record over the last couple of years. It’s a nice stadium to play in – it’s close – and our fans will be there too, which is really nice to have them there as well. So hopefully I can keep the good feelings going and get on the board there.
Now that you guys have a win under the belt, do you sense anything different in training in terms of mood or mentality with the guys?
Casey: Well a little bit more confidence – I think when you win that’s automatic; you get a little bit more confident. But we’ve had good trainings for a long time now, even though the results haven’t gone our way and we’ve had some games that haven’t gone our way, and some games that we haven’t played so well, but the trainings have been good throughout. There’s definitely a good vein running through the team in terms of competing and trying to get better.
Curtin: Briefly on DC again, just to reiterate, we won one game at home, which is something that we’re supposed to do – I’m happy for the guys, they put a lot into the game. Some guys missing to injury and international call ups, and I thought that the guys on the field were an experienced group and they stepped up and played in a big performance in front of a very good crowd here that stood behind us and pushed us onto a late win. Very happy for Zach Pfeffer – a guy who’s probably deserved a couple of other goals this season but for him to get the game winner in a big spot and get three big points – I’m very happy for him. As you look ahead, doesn’t get any easier with having to go to New York, a rival game, and also DC at their place, so there will be a bit of a revenge factor in that one. So two games coming up on the road that are very difficult against rivals in the Eastern Conference – obviously every game is a big one in our league because anybody can beat anybody – but NY will certainly be a tough task, a team that’s in very good form, a team that high-presses all over the field, and I think the team that has the best midfield in the league going right now between Dax, Sacha, and Felipe – a handful. A team that, if I’m being honest, gave us a lot of issues in the preseason even though the scoreline in that game was very much in our favor. They created a ton and were very good against us – a team we respect, we know that it’s going to be good, a coach I’m very familiar with in Jesse Marsch, any time you go on the road in this league it’s difficult to get wins, but that’s going to be our task.
Have you sensed any change in the team or the players after such an emotional win?
Curtin: Yeah, I mean I think if you go back to even the day before training when I picked the team before we prepared and when we set up the reserves in the way we thought DC would attack – it was a veteran group, they had an extra bounce in their step in that exercise and it carried over to the game. I thought they gave a strong performance. Winning cures everything in this league – it’s a league where the margin for error is very small, you’ll see teams go on four and five game successful runs and you’ll see that same team have a difficult spell. It’s a real grind in an MLS year – over the 34 games, though, I think it’s a true tale of the top teams rise and get in the playoffs. We know we’ve dug a deep hole and we have to fight our way out of it, but I do think there is a little bit of life in the group and after you win there’s always more confidence – and confidence is key right now. We have a lot of very good players that haven’t been confident for the first stretch of games and after one good performance you get a little bit of momentum, but at the same time, there’s a difficult situation in that Maurice Edu – who to be honest is in as good form in his career – probably not getting the recognition he deserves because of our poor record – we lose him so that’s a big loss at the back. Disappointing in that regard. Anytime it seems like we get a break in momentum we have an obstacle to overcome. But we get Richie Marquez back and I think he’ll be up to the task.
What’s the preparation been like this week to deal with NY’s high-pressure style?
Curtin: Yesterday was more of a re-gen day – we pushed the group that didn’t get a lot of minutes a good amount. Because their three midfielders are so comfortable on the ball and versatile, they have a way of getting forward and creating numbers advantages in the midfield. Lloyd Sam’s another underrated player that’s having a great year – that can come inside, that can beat you one-on-one out wide – but they have a tendency to outnumber you in midfield which is something we were working on today. Dealing with that extra number – it’s not so much man to man as it is guys looking around and cutting off passing lanes and occasionally dealing with two guys in a smart way. With their high-press, they put their defenders on islands and ask them to make tough one on one plays. Their back line has done a great job of making those individual efforts because they do press so high and put a lot into making you turn the ball over so it’s something we’ll have to be aware of and ready for. When we do get those one on one moments and we get isolated with the center back or outside back you really have to take your chances because they don’t give you a ton of looks.
Conor Casey is a player that typically heats up around this time of year. Why do you think that happens and do you think that trend can continue going into this game?
Curtin: Conor is a guy I believe in – that’s the reason I started him last game. He’s a guy that has always scored goals in his career. He’s a winner – if you go back and look through the games he’s given our national team, his career early on in Germany, and in MLS, he scores goals. And he does it in a way that not many American forwards have. He’s a guy who puts in a ton of effort – his legs aren’t the same as when they were 20, but at the same time I thought in this game he was a little bit of a throw-back, turn the clock around a little bit, really battling and fighting and giving us a lot of defensive work that really doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Bill Hamid robbed him I thought twice – he’s still disappointed he didn’t score and that’s his mentality. But he did so many little things that got us the victory in that game. You’re right he does tend to get hot and when he does you have to ride him, I can’t pinpoint exactly when that is, but part of that this year is I hadn’t put him in as a starter yet, and I’ve talked about it before but we’ve relied too much on just him - and I don’t want to do that this year. The hope was to have other guys come in and contributing – we’ve gone a little bit cold offensively and Conor stepped in in a big spot and got us – he didn’t score the goal but he was really a big part in all of our attacking plays – again I really can’t say enough about Conor. He’s a man, he’s a warrior, he fights for everything, and he’s a good person, too.
Are you starting to feel that you’re getting a handle for how some of these guys (young and veterans) respond in these types of situations?
Curtin: Yeah – it’s finding a balance – and finding the right balance of when you need the veterans and part of that was the team we were playing. DC is an experienced team that’s exemplified in their coach – they compete for everything, they fight for everything, and they have guys that have won in the league. Some of them have been cast off in some ways but are still incredible players. They had a little chip on their shoulder, so I thought the game needed a bit of the veteran savvy, if you will, I did factor in the fact that they would have some tired legs having played Orlando midweek and we wanted to throw some younger guys at them late – I had talked with Ayuk and Pfeffer in the pre-game practice and told them that I’m not choosing them this week, but as a staff we’re still very high on them. They’ve gotten great experience, given us everything that they had, and they are going to play a big role for us in this game – and Zach came up in a big spot for us and did well to get us a goal. But it is finding that balance of old and young. The fact Ayuk got thrown into things much earlier than we had planned for him is a great way to learn – it’s not a great way to learn for 34 games as you’ll have your highs and your lows throughout the season, Zach same thing. They are young players that have shown very well and be a big part of this thing moving forward. They will get starts but when they’re called up from the bench it’s just as important to give us big minutes.
Goalkeeping Situation? How’s John feeling?
Curtin: It’s a tough situation. You guys have heard me say it before – when we get the shutout, I don’t like to make a lot of changes, but John is coming off an injury where it’s his first week back at training. Both goalkeepers looked sharp today at training and made good saves. It’ll be up to me to pick the right guy – but again I wouldn’t like to change anything after a 1-0 win but I’m forced to with a couple guys going down with some knocks and with Maurice missing out due to yellow card suspension in the last minute of the game.
Where do you guys stand in terms of injuries at right back?
Curtin: Steven is just getting back jogging – I’ll never rule a guy out but he’s doubtful for the weekend. I’ll put Ray as questionable for the week – I say that because he is a guy who even when he got killed in the game wanted to stay out there. He’s a tough kid, knows his body well, a quick healer, he is kind of one solid muscle so he bounces back very quickly from injury and he’s doing everything he can in his power to have himself ready – he knows its Red Bull, it’s a big rival game, and he’s motivated by that. He didn’t want to come out of the game against DC, he tried to run on it for about three or four minutes, and he just came over and said “I can do it, but it’s not me, I’m not myself.” The last thing I wanted to do is have it become something that instead of a week or game out, is six or seven or longer and I didn’t think it was fair to keep him out there injured when he wasn’t himself.
Any updated timeline on Lahoud?
Curtin: Michael had a pretty serious issue with his hip flexor – there was a little tear. Another quick healer because he’s a muscle – but he’ll unfortunately be out a few more weeks so we’re missing some bodies, we only had 14 guys available to train today, Maurice makes the 15th but he’s not eligible. It’s difficult but you look through the league and everyone is going through their own injury struggles. We should have word on Fernando on Friday as to where he stands. He would be in the picture as a reserve (if he is able to be selected) because he’s been away from the team for so long, but because we are so thin it would be a heck of a nice luxury to throw in in the last 20 minutes of a game a guy we know very well who’s just been gone a little bit.
Who wears the captain’s armband and who fills that void?
Curtin: Brian Carroll has been our captain in the past – he’s coming off a quiet, strong performance so that’ll be a seamless one but Mo will be missed – not only for his on the field, but off the field. He’s become a real leader in the locker room – he’s taken on a much bigger role. He has always been able to do it on the field, that’s come natural to him since he’s such a good player and athlete, but one of the hardest things is to lead in times when you’re losing and he’s been really good with that. He’s been really good with our young players, as well, it’s good to watch his maturing and his ability to keep the group together in tough times. Because you can do it as a coach, but you always need someone in the locker room doing that as well and he’s done a hell of a job in that regard this year. Credit to him again – it kills me that our record isn’t better, we all want the same thing and to be in the playoff picture but a lot of good things are being overlooked because of our poor record and Mo would be someone who is having as good a season as anyone in our league.
You seem adamant about Sheanon and Fabinho being the guys on the left. What do you do going back and forth with Sheanon and being forced to have him play at right back?
Curtin: Shay is a guy that’s very comfortable there and has done it – and for me has played his best game of the year against DC. Made a lot of plays, a lot of blocks even at the end of the game when he slid to the right it was pretty flawless. And Fabinho did a good job in that game – he gets the cross in the end that gets us the goal. With him, he has great moments and the biggest thing with him is not having that moment during the game where a good 89 minutes gets thrown out of the window because of a silly mistake. And he’s aware of that – he’s had a few of them this year – and that’s the goal to eliminate them. I have no problem with Sheanon on the right side and he’s even done a lot of extra work after training getting himself in better shape and taking that step upon himself to do the extra work and it showed and paid off against DC I thought. That’s the outside back whether on the right or left that I know in Sheanon – I’ve talked to him a million times about how he has the ability to be a top outside back in our league and I think he showed that against DC. Now the key is to put multiple games back to back to back together and it’s something that he’s done in his career and something we need in this time.
Red Bull Arena has been a pretty hard place for you guys to go in the past – how do you change the course?
Curtin: They’ve had some good teams – that’s obviously a factor in it. We haven’t won there – it’s no secret it’s tough to win on the road in this league and they are a big rival. They don’t like us and we don’t like them. It’s Philly – New York and that’s the way you’re kind of raised in this area and that’s part of what a rivalry is. They have a good team right now, very talented, and it’s a tough place to play. It’s a nice stadium and a nice field, but until we win there we can’t say much about it. We have to go there and get a result – talk becomes cheap.
There was a play in the first half with Andrew where he looked like he lost his concentration and the ball rolled out. Have you spoken to him about it and what do you think?
Curtin: Well, first and foremost, he made Deadspin, which is something that’s pretty good for soccer – to be on dead spin. The guys have given him a tough time about that play – it’s a head scratcher, I’m not going to lie, and he said the same thing. A tough moment, but again, Andrew’s given us a lot of the defensive work and a lot in the attack – he just hasn’t gotten a break. He has so much talent that if we’re going to be a successful team, we have to have him break out of it. And I know he will.