Read Part One, here.
Q: How much of a positive is it to have Hurtado and Evans back from injury and Nkufo and Fernandez around for a full camp?
A: It’s definitely a positive. Any time you increase the level of competition, it’s going to be better. Having people around from preseason rather than coming in during the middle of the season is also a plus. No matter how good a player you are, you can struggle when you come on in the middle of the season. Schelotto came in in 2007 and did alright, but in 2008 he had an MVP year because he was there from the beginning. I think that’s important. It adds to the continuity and they are around the guys in preseason and integrate more with the rest of the team.
Q: How much is this third year going to be a proving ground for young players like Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani who have an opportunity to go play in Europe at some point?
A: It’s an important year for Steve Zakuani. Like I’ve said before, there aren’t many wingers in this league that have scored ten goals in a season. I don’t know if anybody has ever done that. Now he’s going to become a marked man. How is he going to deal with that? How is he going to handle the additional intensity of marking that he’s going to be facing? Is he going to be able to dish of for more assists? Is he still going to score goals through that? I feel he’s very capable of accomplishing that. For Fredy Montero, he dropped off a little last year, but not a ton. The question now for him is if he can step it up over what he did last year and maybe what he did the first year. He knows what the league’s all about. He’s older. He’s stronger. He’s fitter. When guys are gearing towards him and marking him, can he still find space and room to make things happen? Wednesday’s game was a good example. With Nkufo playing 60 minutes and then O’Brian coming in, and O’Brian continuing to challenge and bang bodies, that opened up space for Fredy because he was playing with someone who was able to draw some of the attention away from him. It’s important for him to continue to grow and develop. For me, it’s always about helping players get to the next level. There are a lot of players on our team that would like to get to Europe some day and if I can help them get to that level, that’s going to be good for them, but as they accomplish that, it’s going to be really good for the club. It means they are playing well and if they are playing well it means we will have more success and I think that is what we all want.
Q: Looking at Kasey Keller’s career, what do you remember about him going to Europe in 1992?
A: We had just played Kasey the year before and we had a penalty kick shootout between Portland and UCLA and had Keller in one goal and Brad Freidel in the other. It’s pretty amazing when you think about the two best goalkeepers in US Soccer going against each other in a college game that goes to 11 PKs. He was always a quality goalkeeper. You knew that from early on when he was playing on those youth teams in 1989 with Chris Henderson. It’s been a long time, but his career has been outstanding. Timmy Howard is a talented goalkeeper that I think a lot of because I had him with my Under 20 team. I feel very privileged because - and I throw Timmy into this as the third - I got the chance to coach all of the top three goalkeepers in US history.
Q: When you first came to Seattle and you knew Kasey was going to be your goalie, how did it feel to know there was one position on the field that you would never have to worry about?
A: I was very pleased because I knew I had a quality backbone there. When I played at UCLA, I remember walking on the field as a freshman for the NCAA championship game at the Orange Bowl in Miami and I was right behind our goalkeeper. He turned to me and told me, “With my contacts in, I don’t see so well at night.” I was like, “Don’t tell me that.” He gave up two bad goals and we lost 4-2. Then we went through a number of goalkeepers, so I went through good and bad goalkeepers at UCLA and as an assistant we had that same merry-go-round. When I became a head coach, the first player I recruited was a goalkeeper from Washington named Martin Lemon. Then I also brought in my club goalkeeper. I told myself that as long as I was coaching there, I would always have good goalkeepers because I knew what it was like to play without good goalkeepers. So when I came here and I knew that Keller was going to be the goalkeeper, I said, “Good. First objective met. Now we can move on to the other objectives.”
Q: What has he meant to the team for the last three years, in a leadership role, on the field and off the field?
A: He’s meant a lot to the team in terms of the validity of the team. He’s a recognizable name not just in this area and in the state of Washington, but also in the world of soccer. So it’s given validity to our team. It’s certainly a great story that he’s able to come and play where he’s from, so it also gave us name recognition with our fan base. That’s been important. The attitude he displays every day and his professionalism when it comes to training - when we get the field players together we look over and tell them to be thankful they’re not goalkeepers. Every field player has a lot of respect for goalkeepers. I couldn’t think of diving around like they do. They know that he works every day. Here’s a guy who’s played a lot of places, played in World Cups, who could easily be pontificating or doing color commentary for ESPN or doing something else, but he’s coming out every day and putting it on the line every day. That’s not something you say to people, it’s something people just see and pick up on. That’s been invaluable for our team. Guys, when they have issues come up, know they can go to him and seek advice and talk to him and get feedback. That’s been very helpful.
Q: What has you excited for the 2011 season?
A: I want to see us score more goals and that’s what I’m excited about because I think we have the capability to score more goals. People are going to wonder how I can be excited about that because to them I may have the same cast of characters, but for me, it’s not the same cast of characters. To me, Jaqua last year was only around about 15 or 20 percent of the time. The year before he had his best statistical season ever and I thought we’d be able to build on it. Sometimes as you get older your positioning gets better and you’re calmer in key moments and that’s important for a forward. I thought Jaqua was just growing into that state, so having him around for 90 percent of the time is going to be a big plus and has me excited. Seeing Montero improve physically also has me excited. As a result of that, he’ll put himself in position more often to score goals. And if he puts himself in position, he’s capable of scoring more goals because he has the quality to finish those. I’m excited to see how Zakuani takes his success of last year and builds off of it because that can result in more goals. I’m excited because Brad Evans is one of the few midfielders in this league and Erik Friberg has the same capabilities who is goal dangerous. There aren’t many teams in the league that play two midfielders who, one of their two central midfielders is goal dangerous. Brad can score a goal every fifth or sixth game. Shalrie Joseph scores a fair share of goals as a box-to-box midfielder, but other than that, there aren’t many box-to-box midfielders that score a ton of goals. Then having Fernandez here from the start - can he score more goals for us? I’m excited to see us with the potential to score more goals. Now we just have to make that potential a reality.