Jay Bell…is….on….fire. Jay peppers the Crew’s backline.
This interview recorded a few weeks ago.
Andy Iro has emerged as one of the better centerbacks in Major League Soccer and is one half one of the best defensive pairings in the league. Well, that was until the season actually started. Iro went from captaining the Columbus Crew in their two leg series against Real Salt Lake in the Champions League to an unused substitute for Columbus’ first two regular season MLS matches.
Iro is in uncharted territory for his career. Iro arrived stateside and became a mainstay for the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos who were one of the best teams in NCAA soccer during Iro’s collegiate career. He was drafted by the Columbus Crew in 2008. During that time, Columbus went on to have the best three year stretch in the club’s history. Now Iro is not playing during what looks like a rebuilding process for the Crew.
Prior to this misfortune we were able to speak with a light-hearted, proud and very honest Andy Iro about MLS, England and his hopes for being capped at the international level:
TSG: How did the offseason been going for you?
Andy Iro (AI): It was difficult. Every preseason usually is, just from a physical and mental standpoint. We just had to prepare for Real Salt Lake only four weeks into our preseason. We’ve basically had to speed everything up. Its been difficult. We have asked more of our bodies than we probably normally would. We were required to stay extra long periods at some places just so we could get quality training sessions in because of the weather in Columbus.
Its been a drain, but the last [preseason] game was last night. Preseason is officially over for us. Its time to start getting ready for the real stuff which is what we’re all waiting for.
TSG: How do you feel about the changes the team has made this year?
AI: I think a few months ago it looks all doom and gloom. Now we have gelled in the preseason. You see the character of players and you also see the quality of players. I think our comfort is growing with each other. The team is gelling nicely. I think when you bring in a lot of new guys, you don’t know how it will work. I think usually it takes a lot of time to adjust, but I think we have adjusted fairly quickly because we have good guys who are willing to listen and work and buy into what we are doing.
TSG: Does the team play with a different style now?
AI: Yeah, I think so. I think last year we played to a certain style given the players we had. We definitely tried to get the ball to Guillermo a lot, but now that he is gone I think we share the ball a little bit more throughout all of the attacking players. We play to our players’ strengths.
So I think we are a better possession team than we have been in the past which is what I think coach wants. The league will see a completely different style of soccer from what they’re used to seeing from the Columbus Crew.
TSG: Did you feel like you were taking on a leadership role last season?
AI: Last season we had a lot of guys who were experienced veterans, even if they were old by soccer standards, it was definitely a good team in the league for a number of years. So losing those types of guys and bringing in 12 to 15 new guys, some of the guys have been asked or required to step up. I believe and try to think that I am one of those guys.
TSG: How did you feel about wearing the captain’s armband during the Champions League games?
AI: It was a proud moment. I hadn’t worn the captain’s armband since college. It was definitely a proud moment for me. Any time you wear the captain’s armband, it is a proud moment. Being that it was my first professional game [as captain] it was definitely something special for me. Even if I am not to be captain throughout the season, it will still be something that I remember.
TSG: You’ve had a lot of success in American soccer. You were on some good UC Santa Barbara teams and Columbus has been very successful during your time. Do you think that has prepared you for a leadership role?
AI: Yeah. I think one of the things about being a leader is I think they would have had to have a taste of success. I don’t think you can be unsuccessful and be a great leader, right? I think just being around winning teams, a winning mentality and players that have those characteristics, I think I have been able to learn a lot from watching these guys and what they do.
I came into a good situation in college where the team was trying to be successful and then obviously after 4 years we definitely were. And then the same with the Columbus Crew. I came into a team that was definitely out to prove something. Fortunately in my first year we ended up winning the whole thing.
TSG: How did you and the team feel about losing out to Salt Lake in the Champions League?
AI: We were disappointed, obviously. We want to win every game. We were disappointed with the game that we played compared to the first leg of the Salt Lake series where we believe that we could have won and should have won. So then we go and give up goals in Salt Lake early on and put us in a hole. I think we were disappointed with that, but I think that is a good sign. It is a lot to build from. When you’re disappointed about losing away at Salt Lake, a team that hasn’t lost in 33 games at home, then the expectations are high. So I think that is a good thing.
TSG: How are you feeling as the MLS regular season gets closer?
AI: I’m anxious. I want to start. I want to get it done. It has been a long preseason. We do all of the hard work in the preseason to prepare for the regular season. I am anxious and I want to get it underway. I want to get it underway, basically.
TSG: Who are some teams you will be looking out for in the Eastern Conference?
AI: I think New York is going to be a very strong team given the designated players that they have and also a couple of other guys that they have brought in. I think Houston classifies as an Eastern Conference team; I think they are going to be strong as well.
I think we are pretty prime to do well in the Eastern Conference again. We have the previous three seasons. I definitely think that, looking at it, not too many of the teams have been as successful as us. I think we are just trying to do what we have grown accustomed to doing the past few seasons.
TSG:: Do you think not having Champions League games in the second half of the season will give the team an edge down the stretch of the regular season?
AI: Definitely. If you look at the previous few years since the Champions League has been introduced, a lot of the teams who had Champions League commitment were strong earlier on in the year and then fell off in the second half just because of travel. You come into trouble with the amount of games. I think that you are asking a lot of 22 or 24 players on the roster. I think it is definitely going to help us and I think that it will be a blessing in disguise.
TSG: What are your expectations and what are the team’s expectations for this season?
AI: To win. We have been accustomed to winning. We are a little bit disappointed with how we faded off at the end of last season after having a commanding lead in the Eastern Conference. We have stressed to win our first game next Saturday against DC and then go from there and just keep up the tradition we have had in the previous few years: just being successful, going on the road and being successful, have a solid home record and do well in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Just to keep winning.
TSG: How do people back home react to you playing in MLS? Is it a positive reaction or do they have negative connotations of the league?
AI: I wouldn’t say it was negative, but somewhat skeptical because the league did not have the hype and it did not have the notoriety that it has become accustomed to. So I think that there was a little bit of skepticism as to why I was leaving and doing whatever I was doing, but now we see the influx of American players in the Premier League. We see the US doing well and holding their own at the World Cup. I definitely think that there is a newfound respect. So now I definitely think that rewarded for being here. Furthermore I think there are a lot of English guys out there trying to come here and play.
TSG: Do you aspire for international football?
AI: Yeah, I think anyone who plays professionally aspires to play on the international stage. Its the biggest stage and thats where the most opportunities lie. I think any player aspires to do that. Fortunately for me I am eligible to play for England or Nigeria. Hopefully in the next few years I may have the opportunity for one or the other.
TSG: Do you have a country that you favor at this moment?
AI: No. Like I said, just aspire to play international soccer is a big enough dream. At this point I am not going to be too picky. I was born and raised in England so I hold that very close to my heart, but my family and heritage is definitely in Nigeria. It would be a very proud moment to play for them as well. Whichever opportunity comes up first..
TSG: Do you think that playing in MLS hurts your chances of getting a national team callup, even if not for Nigeria, for England?
AI: Probably, but for me at this point, three years after college, its more about establishing consistent playing time and consistent performances. If its meant to be and its supposed to happen, then it will happen. For right now my focus is on being as consistent as I can be and performing well. If there are opportunities to go elsewhere which could lead to more exposure on the international stage, then so be it. I will deal with that when it happens.
TSG: Do you feel like you deserve a chance?
AI: No. I don’t think I have done anything to prove that yet. Like I said, all in good time. I am on a personal plan to be where I need to be as a professional player. Right now I am following that plan pretty closely and its working well for me. Right now I think no; definitely a lot of guys that perform at a higher level on a more regular basis, but it would be nice to eventually one day have that opportunity.
TSG: We always like to end on a lighter note. First, I’d like to ask a couple questions I asked Steven Lenhart when he was there last year.
TSG: Your team has a lot of big guys. Who is the strongest guy on the team?
AI: (laughs) I would say . . . I have to be up there. Even when Steven was here I was still stronger than him. Steven Lenhart doesn’t come into the equation. (laughs)
[BOOM, Should be interesting if those two guys meet on the field this season. To be fair, last season Lenhart answered "Emilio Renteria. He’s.. a bowling ball, dude. You can’t really move him. He’s got huge legs. But yeah, there’s a lot of strong guys."]
TSG: Who is the best header of the ball on the team?
AI: Chad Marshall is a pretty consistent header of the ball. He hangs well in the air and he times his jumping really well. And he’s got a huge head.
[Same answer as Steven, who said "Chad. Chad is. Chad or…yeah, no. Yeah, for sure Chad. He’s so good, man. He’s so good."]
TSG: Alright, you’re from Liverpool, right?
TSG: And you still keep up with the English Premier League?
AI: Yeah, of course. That’s the league I grew up with for years. So, yeah.
TSG: Did you choose a side from the Liverpool teams?
AI: Actually, I’m a Newcastle fan. I decided to rebel against what was going on in Liverpool so I decided to follow Newcastle. We had a couple of rough years a couple of years ago, but now we are back doing our thing. So hopefully we have a good future in the next couple of years.
TSG: Who is your pick to win the league this year?
AI: I think Man United will win it.
TSG: Thanks for talking with us. Is there anything else you would like to add?
AI: Yeah, follow me on Twitter at @andyiro4.