On Tuesday, Chris Henderson talked about the 2012 MLS season. Today we look ahead to the 2013 season in Part 2 of our Q&A with the Sounders FC technical director.
Question: Where do you see this team needing to improve for next season?
Chris Henderson: “I thought we did a good job of scoring goals last year. I don’t think there were many games where we didn’t create a few opportunities to score. If you’re playing well and creating chances, that’s going to pay off in the end, so you have to keep creating. I thought defensively, we were strong. Gspurning was a great pickup for us and I thought our defense was pretty solid. We’ll look at adding some pieces to help improve that. You look at the playoff series and sometimes when big players come to play, that can help a team. We have to make sure that we are able to try and stay healthy and get players who, within the culture of the club that we keep building, realize the importance of big moments during the year and step up and perform. I think the coaching staff does a great job of building that culture and management does a great job. We have to be really sure that the players we bring in continue to carry that culture through the whole locker room.”
Q: You won’t have those four CCL group stage games next summer. Is there a fair balance that you will be able to rest the players against the negative of not being in the Champions League next year?
Henderson: “If we go far in this year’s Champions League, I think we’ll all be satisfied, and if we can represent MLS in the FIFA Club World Cup. It’s disappointing not to be participating because I think we know that tournament well and we know how to perform in that tournament. The positive side is that any national team players we have are going to have qualifying this year. The CONCACAF players will have Gold Cup. So you’re going to have players who will have extra games that they didn’t have last year. But you can also take advantage of moments in the league season where you will have full selection, hopefully. The travel is definitely thousands of miles less, but we always want to compete to get into that tournament and our goal now is to do everything we can to advance.”
Q: Having been in Champions League the last three years, is it nice that, while you aren’t in the tournament, you won’t have to worry as much about fatigue late in the season when you would be running into that schedule congestion?
Henderson: “Yeah. We’re out of the tournament and that’s the reality. In looking at it that way, we’ll have less games, less travel and we’ll probably have more players available for selection because of injuries and fatigue. That’s going to make our group stronger. Now without those games late in the year, maybe that’s the 10-percent that can push us in the playoffs to advance.”
Q: You’ve seen Eddie Johnson from many different perspectives. Talk about what he has been able to achieve this year as the Comeback Player of the Year.
Henderson: “Congratulations to him for being able to put it all together coming back to MLS. The year he left, he had a great year in Kansas City and he was able to put it together this year. He was determined to score goals. You look at some of the chances that he had during the year and he maybe could have had 10-12 more goals. That’s exciting. He scored that many goals this year and he could have expanded on that. Mauro got 13 assists and many of those were to Eddie’s head. I’m really excited for him. I know he has a goal to play on the World Cup team in 2014 and he got himself back with the US National Team. He came back to the league really betting on himself and I think he proved to a lot of people that he still has it. He can help our club. He can help our country. I think he still has that drive and being able to be consistent and keep it going is something that he should keep as a goal. That’s what you’re judged on in the end – can you continue to do it? And also, can you win some things? I’m happy for him.”
Q: Ozzie Alonso made the Best XI this year. How has he grown this year into a Best XI player?
Henderson: “He’s always been the talk of the league since we brought him in, but it’s taken some time for people to really see his value. He’s competing with some other good central holding midfielders. I think now it’s obvious that this year he was the best holding midfielder. He’s been so valuable to our franchise. You can tell that he’s proud to wear the jersey. He’s been an incredible player for us, winning balls, keeping possession, setting the tone for our team. He’s good in the locker room and I’m really happy for him. He loves the game and has that passion, but sometimes when those awards and accolades follow that, it’s good to see. It’s well-deserved. I’d love to see him wearing a USA jersey at some point, so hopefully FIFA will be nice to him and let him play for the US.”
Q: Speaking of passion for the jersey, a lot of those players who have exhibited that – Taylor Graham, Roger Levesque, Kasey Keller – are gone from this team. How do you keep that passion for that logo going forward when there is so much change involved?
Henderson: “That’s club culture. I think it’s important that staff and management and everyone around the team keeps this culture high, the expectations high, the professionalism high. Creating an environment every day that’s competitive, that’s hard-working. There are many things that I think we need to improve on and it’s constant work that we strive for and we expect the players to follow that as well – to be hard-working, to be proud of what you’re playing for, to have passion for your team, to be students of the game. There’s so much that goes into it. You’re losing players that bled for the Sounders logo and did everything for this club. I think when other players hear about past players and stories about past experiences that this club has gone through, that resonates within the group. The people who have been here can help spread that too and there’s nothing more to a player when you hear it from a teammate. You’re always going to hear it from a coach, but to hear it from a teammate means a lot and it goes a long way. To hear it as these players leave our club and talk good about the Sounders when they’re at other clubs, that goes a long way too.”