How is your quad and hand injury doing?
It’s good. The quad; I’m still working on it but the finger is good. It still hurts and I’m still doing some therapy but, as I told you two weeks before, it’s not an excuse. To play, I just put a band aid on it and it’s good.
Is your cast heavy when playing?
I mean, it’s not the most comfortable thing but it’s not that bad.
Is it hard not being able to use that hand when you jockey for the ball?
Sometimes when I fall down or when I try to have some contact with the defender it hurts but in the end it’s good protected and I prefer it like that.
What has the adjustment been like coming to Major League Soccer?
The most difficult thing has been the contact that the referees allow. It’s something that’s hard because sometimes in Venezuela, where I’m from, you have the same contact but you’ll win a foul and if you win a foul you’re getting something for the team. Here, you receive more (contact) and you don’t get anything from it. That’s the most difficult thing but for the rest, I think it’s a good league. The league is very offensive, almost all of the teams play very vertical, and it’s fast with a lot of rhythm.
How have you adjusted to the contact?
I’m a forward. The forwards are usually attacking midfielders and are the one’s who receive. You’re not hitting, you’re between the ball and the defender so if the referee allows the contact, the one that is going to win is the defender because usually they’re the one that is going to hit.
Do you have to prepare for that mentally before each game?
You just have to forget about it and know that it is something that is going to happen and continue. For sure, I have to improve. I have been talking a lot with the referees and there are some contacts that I receive here that are normally fouled and here I don’t receive it so I have to forget a little bit to get used to it. I think I’m doing better game after game and continue to keep going because it’s something that’s going to happen and I’m not going to change.
Is there anything that your teammates have told you on how to deal with the contact here?
He (Conor Casey) just reminds me that here, that’s not fouled and just to keep going. He’s played outside of the United States so he knows that it’s different here. I’m not saying that it’s better or worse but it’s just different and here you have to keep going because the referees will let the play continue.
Why has the team been able to play well and get results on the road?
We have played good games outside of here. We’re just waiting for the results and sometimes you cannot explain why you let the (home) advantage go and just try to concentrate on keeping the positive in the group because we’ve played a lot of good games. We’ve had an advantage in a lot of games and you have to give a little bit more. The victories will come because we’re almost there.
Is there a difference for you playing in different formations and do you have a preference?
In both formations I feel good. When I played 4-4-2 with Sebastien, the coach asked him to be a little bit behind me. If somebody has to go to the line it’s better if he goes to the line because he’s more technical then me. It’s not for the 2-3-1 but it’s almost 4-3-2-1 and I feel very good like that. Last game I played with Chaco, who’s the most technical player on the team, and it’s good to play with a player like him because you know that each ball that he has at his feet can be a good occasional goal for you. I’m still trying to know all of the players and the team better and learning to know where they like to put the ball and to help them know me because sometimes I’m not doing the movement correctly or they are not reading the movement that I’m trying to do. It’s normal because the season is just beginning but it’s time that we have to start creating more up there.
On playing with Chaco
As I said, I think he’s the most technical player that we have. He’s a player that every time he has the ball he can create something, or a pass, or a shoot. He sees things easier than us. If Chaco plays good then the team is going to play good.
How frustrating is it that you guys haven’t put it together yet even though you have been scoring?
It’s hard because we work very hard every day and the results aren’t there. We work for the result and I’m sure that everybody here wants to win a lot and it’s hard because in a few games we have been up in the score and we haven’t been able to keep it. As I said before, we have to keep going and keep the positive in our minds. The results are going to arrive because we’re so close.
Just to briefly touch on the last result against New England, I’ve watched the game back several times now. I actually think the first half was better than I maybe gave the guys credit for at halftime. We talked at halftime about getting the outside backs forward more and making Agudelo and Rowe have to defend us. There were good moments in the first half. I thought we actually created a lot more opportunities than it felt in the stadium live. That happens sometimes when you go back and really look at the tape.
The second half though was a poor start. They pinned us in for the first 15 minutes and had a lot of possession. They didn’t really have too many shots on goal and we didn’t give up a shot on target in the first half and carrying over they were poor with their final pass and final shot so they never really punished us much. It felt like at that stage we needed to make a change and get fresh legs on the field and the defender in Brian Carroll. Obviously with the timing of that, I’ll take the criticism. I understand the criticism because they scored a goal a minute later but if you think from the 45th minute to the 60th, we were absorbing a lot and not able to get out of our own end with possession.
I think we had one of our, technique wise and passing wise, best team on the field and for whatever reason we didn’t pass the ball well on the day. We did not keep possession. With Zach and Chaco out there, two attack-minded guys, they lost some balls in the first half. They still had some really good moments but probably lost too many balls to their standard. So again, we make the change with CJ, who told me at halftime that he’s probably only good for another 15-20 more minutes. With Chaco, it was his first start. Just to clear things up, you never go into a game with predetermined subs but you knew that those two were eventually going to need to come out. There weren’t specific “At this point Brian Carroll is going out” and “At this point Andrew Wenger is coming in”. I’ll take ownership of making the decision to put the two guys in and again, I don’t think that both Brian and Andrew were on the field for more than two minutes before we gave up the goal. It’s a little coincidentally but at the same time I don’t think it’s something that is on them at all. Again, Ray takes ownership but there are five or six guys that are at fault on the goals.
They’re things that we need to get better at and improve on. We talked all preseason and this season about closing out games and we failed at home. Again, it’s something that doesn’t just come instantly. You have to go through the moments and win a few before your confidence grows and you become a team that can do it like the Chelsea’s of the world that seem to do it in their sleep. Even when they’re absorbing tons of pressure they can still close out a game and keep a clean sheet. That’s what we’re striving for, especially at home. Again, we feel like we’ve let our fans down in this building, for whatever reason. When we give up a goal you can sense it throughout the stadium and on the field that there’s a “here we go again” mentality. Until we shake that, it’s on us and we’re going to have to deal with it when teams come in here. That’s my job to get corrected and move this team forward.
Are the fullbacks something that you want to see more of and does it play into the possession issue at all?
I think that IS the possession issue and if we’re a back four that just stays back and never gets advanced, most teams only have one that splits their center backs, then we’re never making the other team defend. It’s a lot of different things. Guys need to want the ball in tight spots in the midfield and guys need to be comfortable holding it up front. It’s a full team thing but it starts just by our team shape. There needs to be a real commitment for out backs to get forward and be that outline for Lahoud, Nogueira, or Pfeffer. Instead of just going forward, they can square it to an outside that’s moving into an advanced position. I really comes down to making other teams have to worry about us a little more than they do. On our home field, New England in the second half had the ball almost the entire time. And again, they’re a good team if you give them that much of the ball. Someone’s going to make a play and to Teal’s (Bunbury) credit, he completely changed the game and was a handful for us.
Was there another way to arrange the subs?
Yeah, we don’t have another attacking midfielder currently that was available for selection on the day. Could you have juggled it and maybe moved Zach off or just have taken Chaco off and played with Le Toux in there…there’s a million different ways you could discuss through it but at the same time, the idea was that up 1-0 at home, Brian has been very good at training. Andrew’s obviously played a ton of minutes and has an idea of what we want our system to look like. I didn’t think that they were too drastic of subs. Maybe we were a little defensive in hindsight, for sure, but at the same time, up a goal, I thought we could hold on. Because we were absorbing so much in an attacking option, I don’t know if that would have helped. Brian is a guy who’s clear and knows his role in there. He did a great job against Kansas City so that was the thinking there of having him come in and sit next to Michael, break plays up, and then connect our passes as we get out and to have Zach as the one in front of them that is dynamic enough and can run and cover a little more ground than Chaco can. That was the thought process. It didn’t work so this is why I get to answer the questions.
On the status of Andre Blake
When he was first coming back off of the knee injury, he had a few tough training sessions I would call them. Getting back into the mix and the speed of things is always drastic. It’s difficult. I think today was a very positive day for him. He was sharp and made some saves that he’s flying around in the box making the save that I call “the save that keeps you in the game” where even though it’s only small sided he bails you out. He’s special in that regard. He’s getting closer to being himself again and they guy that we saw in the beginning of preseason but he’s still not quite there yet. Obviously we would like to get him a game here but we’re not in a position where we can experiment with anything. We’ll see. He’s available for selection against Columbus and we’ll make a decision as the week goes along. It’s a possibility, though.
You’ve switched between 4-2-3-1 and the 4-4-2. Are you leaning toward any one formation?
I think if everyone’s healthy and everyone’s available, and Vincent is a big part of our team. He hasn’t been himself health wise this year yet. I like the idea of having the athletic ball winner. It was Lahoud or Mo for the beginning part to kind of do a lot of the dirty work. Vincent is kind of your connector with Chaco in front of them. That’s where I think we’re at out best and then Andrew or whether it’s Sebastien or CJ. A version of the 4-2-3-1 suits us the best. We played with two forwards in the first game because of different circumstances that came up but at the same time I think that if everyone’s 100 percent and everyone’s playing to their max potential it’s fine.
We just had a long discussion today before film. We own things and the coaches own some things. It was a healthy discussion. It’s hard talks but at the same time, the majority of they guys would agree that they’re not playing to their max potential as individuals. I think we have maybe 3 or 4 guys that are hitting that, and like I’ve told you guys before, we’re not elite enough to just go into games and have only 3 or 4 guys performing at their best. We have to have the entire group all in it and all together performing good. Not great. We don’t have to be great every game but if everyone is good we’re going to be good in games. If we have 4 to 5 bad performances it’s going to be a struggle. Everyone’s on the same page., everyone’s in it together and they’re all still a tight-knit group. They all want to fight and we’ve hit the point where our discussion ends and talk is cheap. We have to move on now and show it on the field with our actions.
On the status of Vincent
He’s nursing an ankle that’s still pretty swollen. It’s questionable whether he’ll be ready. The question that always becomes is if you want him to push through it with 60-70 percent and risk possibly losing him for 3 or 4 more games or do you want him to get this ankle right to where he’s the Vincent that we all know. Right now I think I lean towards trying to get him back to 100 percent before we put him back on the field because in New York, I don’t think we rushed it because it was still tender to him and he gets kicked. Unfortunately that happens a lot with injuries. The thing that’s hurt tends to get kicked the most or hit the most. It’s the same thing with CJ. The ball was bouncing off of his face four different times during the game.
What’s the plan with no Vincent and no Pfeffer?
We’ll evaluate things and see what’s best, whether it’s the 4-4-2 or the 4-2-3-1. Again, Brian has been good in training. Chaco is looking sharper and sharper so we have a tough decision. I think Lahoud has been playing very well. He’s one of the guys that I would say is performing at his top level. We have some things to look at but hopefully we’ll get a clearer picture of that by Friday.
Is Chaco close to being a 90 minute guy?
In the course of any game that he plays, he has highs and lows,, for sure, in terms of fitness wise and ground covered wise. A lot of special players do in that number 10 type role. They tend to pick their moments when they get on the ball and it’s obviously very special. The dirty running isn’t his favorite thing to do but he’s shown in the past that he can do a job defensively for us and we’ll ask him to do that if he’s healthy. We’ll ask Chaco to do the running to limit travel. He’s a guy that likes to drop between the center backs so that would be where Chaco is at in that regard. If you think back to last year, he was able to go 90 minutes so that’s what we’re looking to get him back to. That’s when we’re at our best; when he’s on the field. That is a certainty. He adds up to assist and this week he actually added up to a goal. It was a very good goal that we couldn’t hold up for us.
How similar is the challenge going to Columbus to RSL or Kansas City?
They’re a team that’s in good form. The tape with their last game is tricky because Orlando had the early red card. Columbus is, for me, one of the top possession teams in our league. I think Berhalter is one of the best coaches in our league. He is a guy that I text with and talk with and I respect him a great deal. He does a great job with what he has. He doesn’t have the luxury of three or four guys that make $5 million dollars so I really respect what he does as a coach. He does a really good job with what he has and he has very good players. They have a great team and a true system. They are a top possession team in the league for me. They build out of the back and that is no secret. They stick with it and there’s no change to their game plan. Justin Meram is well as any attacking player right now. Finlay is a guy who’s given us problems in the past with that slashing run so it’s something we’ll talk through this week. They’re a good team. Kel Kamara has a new dynamic this year where he can get on the end of a cross. They’re an opponent we respect a great deal. They’re a very good team and a team that we’ll have to have our best. Everyone needs to bring a good game in Columbus for us to have a shot at getting a result. Tomorrow we will deal with a lot of tactical stuff, trying to shut down Columbus, which is a tough task, especially in their building.
Any other injuries?
Fabinho is coming back. Raymond Lee is also coming back into the fold. Other than that, everybody is available for selection. The only is Vincent that is a little iffy.
On the health of CJ Sapong
He’s a guy who is pretty in tune with his body. He has a really good idea, fitness wise. He’s a fit guy by nature but he knows when something is a little bit off. He’s felt like himself more and more. Obviously it’s a pretty big set back with having to wear the mask with the fractured cheek bone and the concussion but he’s been able to get himself back in the mix and he’s done a good job staying fit as best you can after you have a serious injury like he did. I would say yes, he is inching closer to being that 90-minute guy that we know we traded him for.