Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Are You Ready For Some Football?

Spurs on their warmup jog. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

On October 31st of this year, the San Francisco 49ers will play the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL’s global outreach football program.

Last Wednesday evening, Tottenham Hotspur landed at San Francisco airport, and Thursday morning had an open practice for fans at the Earthquakes’ training facility.

Tom Huddlestone's hiked up shorts were quite the distraction...and not in a good way. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

People in the two teams’ marketing departments must have realized at some point that they could form a partnership that would be entertaining to fans from both teams. So the 49ers sent quarterback Alex Smith, offensive tackle Joe Staley and kicker Joe Nedney to the Spurs’ practice to meet some of the players, try some kicking and get a view of the “other” football practice.

I have a friend who works for the production company that does 49ers Total Access, a TV show that tends to follow all things Niners. He called me up as they knew nothing about soccer and asked me if I knew anything about “the TottenHAM Hotspur.” I said, “A little, their manager is named Harry –” “You’re hired,” said my friend.

I assumed I would be there as a liaison of sorts – pointing out certain players to the cameramen, giving them a bit of history and facts so that the interviewers would come off as knowledgeable, etc. Turns out it was just me and one cameraman – I was the interviewer AND and I had to come up with my own questions! What follows are my notes about the whole affair which lasted over two practices.

The practice itself

Keanos' still got it.

About half of Spurs’ starting eleven were not there as they were still on post-World Cup holiday. So sadly no Crouch (yes, I would have asked him to do the robot). Defoe, Gomes, King, Lennon, etc. were also absent. Still, Spurs are a talented team and many of their superstars were on show. Some bullet points:
- Luka Modrić is tiny and looks like a 10 year old schoolboy. He was also the best player on the pitch by far and his ball control is spectacular.

- Tom Huddlestone is a big boy. He also likes “hiking” his shorts up to uncomfortable levels.

- Younes Kaboul is bigger still, but he looks in shape.

- Robbie Keane really does bark and yap, and is still a very skillful player.

- Gareth Bale has simian-like features.

- Cudicini ALWAYS has a scowl on his face.

- Roman Pavlyuchenko is known as “Pav.”

- Hutton never shuts up and is really funny (if you can understand him).

- There was a definite distinction in skill between Modrić, Bale, Pav and a few others versus the rest of the squad.

The 49ers arrive

Joe Staley and Alex Smith of the 49ers get their Earthquake jersey's. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

The first day Alex Smith and Joe Staley showed up midway through practice. The obvious thing one notices is how big they are, especially in relation to the Spurs players (yes, even Huddlestone). Even Joe Nedney, the kicker, was bigger than most of the soccer players.

I talked first to Joe Staley, the gregarious tackle. Both he and Alex Smith were surprisingly knowledgeable about soccer. They both not only avidly followed the USMNT, but they watched most of the other World Cup games as well, and both gave perfect descriptions of what offside meant in soccer. Most surprising to me was that they also knew all about the significance of Wembley Stadium and its importance as a national venue, and were incredibly excited to play there.

I asked Staley what he thought of the soccer practice and he mentioned that the biggest difference is that there is a lot more scrimmaging between the entire team. In football, the players tend to work on their positions more and there isn’t nearly as much running.

When posed the question whether “any of these players could make it as a NFL football player,” Joe quickly shook his head and said, “No”…until he saw Huddlestone and said, “Well, he could!”

Clive Allen.

Alex Smith was a little more serious. His views on instant replay in soccer were very well thought out, and, in my opinion, spot-on. He said that it should be in use for goals and major incidents in the penalty area, but for everything else, just let the game flow.

The US athletes were much more comfortable talking to me and the camera than the English ones were. 49er All Access wanted me to interview the English players as opposed to Modrić, Ćorluka, etc. Although polite and obliging, the soccer players answered the questions quickly and without any embellishment. They also knew nothing about American football (though a couple of them do watch it occasionally). The one exception was Clive Allen, one of the Spurs coaches.

Clive Allen is a Spurs and QPR legend who played with many teams throughout his successful career. A gifted striker, he also, as I found out, was the kicker for the London Monarchs in NFL Europe. He was fantastic to interview.

Completely engaging and very knowledgeable about both sports, he too was a big advocate for goal line technology and instant replay. He also still had the ability to kick the hell out of a football (pigskin) when Nedney challenged him to a kicking competition.

Athletes are athletes
At the end of the first practice, there was a shooting practice on the Spurs’ keepers. Staley and Alex Smith were encouraged to join in with Keane, Bale, Pav, Kranjčar, Huddlestone and a couple of others.

Joe Staley scoring off a volley. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

Clive Allen would stand at the byline of the penalty box and whip in balls either in the air or on the ground for the players to either trap and shoot or one-time towards the net. Keeping in mind that the Americans hadn’t played organized soccer since they were 5, they acquitted themselves pretty well. They both trapped the ball on the chest as if they had been playing for years. Admittedly Staley’s chest is pretty huge, but their ball control was good.

Staley even scored a goal which was followed by an equally impressive goal celebration (based on the Bafana Bafana World Cup goal celebration dance). Both Bale and Modrić were incredible during this drill and slammed the ball in the back of the net with deadly precision.

After this it was the NFL players’ turns to throw American footballs with the Spurs squad. Surprisingly no one aside from their 49 year old coach (Clive Allen) could run AND catch the football. Some notes:
- Huddlestone has great hands. The boys were challenging Alex Smith to whip it at him, and though he would cower a bit, he caught every single one of them.

- Bale has an arm, a cannon even. He kicks with his left, but throws with his right.

- Jenas should never be a wide receiver.

- Whenever he has a free moment, Redknapp is ALWAYS on the phone.

- Hutton never shuts up and is really funny (I was finally beginning to understand him).

Gareth Bale - Back up QB. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

During the second practice, Nedney challenged Clive Allen and the two young keepers (Cudicini didn’t seem to be in the mood) to a kicking competition with the American football. The keepers, after a couple of miss-hits, really could hammer the ball. They need to work on their aim (their shots would hook to the left), but if it doesn’t work out with Spurs, I’m sure an NFL team could pick them up.

Equally impressive was Nedney’s distance and accuracy on goal kicks, and shots on goal with a soccer ball. On penalty kicks, Nedney buried half of them in the top corner. The rest were well saved by the keepers (who were also adept spot kick takers). However, neither could hold a candle to Allen, who never missed.

At the end, both the players of the two sports left with a mutual admiration for what the other does.

All told it was an entertaining two days. I got to watch a professional Champions League-bound team practice and be put through their paces, as well talk to some NFL players who were funny, intelligent and knowledgeable.

One note to leave you with: in the interchange of trying out the different sports and positions, taking penalty kicks or passing the ball, the one area that the NFL players could not get and failed at – keeper!

Chad Marshall, Still On The Mend, Talks To TSG

Marshall could be manning the back line for the USMNT come June 12.

Upon listening to the recording of TSG’s interview with Chad Marshall, a voice can be heard at its conclusion in the background.

“That’s more than you normally get.”

This is followed by another voice saying, “C’mon Chad, one-word answers.”

Marshall may let his play primarily do the talking en route to 2 MLS Defender of the Year awards and 1 MLS Cup, but he did have a few interesting things to say to TSG last week at USMNT training camp at the Home Depot Center.

The defensive stalwart for the Crew is still recovering from a September knee injury that sidelined him for the last round of World Cup qualifying and the European friendlies in November, but is happy with his progress.

“I wouldn’t say it’s 100%,” said Marshall last Wednesday following practice, “but I am able to train. It was rough being out for so long, so getting things back, it’s been a process. But I’m getting through training, so it’s alright.”

Unfortunately for the #2 overall pick in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, this isn’t his first time dealing with injuries. Marshall had a run of concussions earlier in his MLS career that nearly forced him off the pitch for good.

Coming back from the brink of forced retirement changed Marshall’s outlook on the game.

Said Marshall, “You definitely appreciate the game more…It sucks being up in the box watching games.” This mentality has helped Marshall get through training on his way back to fitness which at times has been “daunting.”

Marshall’s deeper appreciation for soccer has led to tremendous success on the pitch, but the winner of  back-to-back Defender of the Year awards in MLS (as well as a shout-out from President Obama on the Crew’s trip to the White House) is all about the team.

Chad Marshall's 2008 included scoring the eventual game winner in the MLS Cup.

When asked about his goals for 2010 outside of the World Cup, Marshall said, “The main goal always…going into every season is to make the playoffs and make a run for MLS Cup. 2008…was the best year of my career and it all came down…to as a team winning it. The individual awards…are great and stuff, you know, tell the grandkids later on in life, but…it’s nice having those rings.”

If it was up to Marshall team success would extend beyond the Crew and USMNT. Despite a tryout with FSV Mainz 05 in Bundesliga 2 at the end of 2008, Marshall signed a multi-year deal to return to Columbus. However, he still harbors aspirations of heading over to Europe.

“I’d like to go over there, you know, for at least for a contract…to experience that,” said Marshall, “I think MLS has come a long way, but…the best football in the world obviously is still over there….if, you know, I don’t get a chance to go over there I won’t be mad that I spent my whole career in MLS.”

One thing about the 6’4″ central defenders game that surprises people is his quickness; something this writer knows little about. Marshall attributes his unique size-to-speed ratio to combination of natural talent and training. Said Marshall, “I think it is something that our trainers in Columbus have done a really good job helping guys with quickness, working on…different forms of running. It’s a credit to them, but…I kind of got blessed with it, I guess.”

As one of the Best XI in MLS the past two seasons, Marshall is clearly at the top of the American club game. His ability to bolster his resume for a potential European contract by playing meaningful minutes in South Africa hinges on the health of Oguchi Onyewu. Whether that happens or not, expect Marshall to continue to let his feet do the talking en route to a long career with the US National Team.

An Audience With King Jonathan Of Honduras

Since the US faces Honduras on January 23rd, TSG spent a few minutes with international hero Jonathan Bornstein at USMNT training camp yesterday. It was Johnny B’s header in the dying moments versus Costa Rica in the final World Cup qualifier that stunned the Ticos, capped an emotional come-from-behind draw for the US and propelled Honduras into the World Cup finals.

TSG was curious whether Bornstein thought he would get any special treatment from the Hondurans should he take the field versus Los Catrachos. Say, might they let him walk one into the goal at the start for all he did for their country?

After a chuckle the US defender said, “I don’t think so. There will be a positive reception but they are not going to give anything away in terms of on-the-field stuff. It will be more positive off-the-field.”

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Camp Interview: Sacha Kljestan Unexpected

Kljestan: Airborne in practice, down to earth in the interview....

As TSG’s first day of camp drew to a close, Mark and I decided to split up interviews.

With the players fatigued from a two-hour practice in what suddenly became a hazy, sunny day, drinking some gatorade and taking a break was the first thing on their mind, not two guys that looked like twins holding electronics equipment and asking them to give thoughful answers.

Conor Casey was up first and Mark had the research there. Let me add that Mark is just about the same size as Conor Casey…for some reason I think that’s important, like he could actually defend him or something….anyway…

Sacha Kljestan, who I had hoped would be my last interview after some warming up, turned out to be the first.

Much dialogue has occurred on TSG in regards to Kljestan’s enigmatic play and personality. There is, of course, the infamous poll and debates that went on after Kljestan lashed out at refs continually during his last MLS performance of the year.  There was Sacha’s three goals to start off 2009 on the right foot that seemed to stamp him as a perennial contender for a spot in Bob Bradley’s starting midfield…and of course there was the middle of the year where a brooding Kljestan, unable to secure a Celtic contract, disappeared from the headlines and seemingly from the pitch altogether. There was even the Die Hipster Brewing guys asking me to query Kljestan on what he thought of their name; and the cheeky TSG commentators asking about Victoria’s Secret.

It seems Kljestan is a polarizing figure in more ways than one. The talent undeniable; the attitude, the desire and maturity: puzzling.

Defensive...application....

Would have been nice to get a few softball questions going with just about anyone first, even Jesse the equipment manager, before talking to Kljestan who seemed taller in person. However that was not to be.

What follows is TSG’s post-practice conversation with the Chivas star. Our Flip Video was having difficulty and gave us fits, but we only had a garbley-guck answer on one question–likely, nay definitely, because I had my finger over the mic.

You make the call on Kljestan’s sincerity, but we’ll let you in that it seems, less from perhaps his words, but more from his delivery of them–especially his final two answers–that Kljestan acknowledges his 2009 volatility and that is an awareness he is carrying into 2010. It seems like that will be a very good thing for his club Chivas and country.

I’ve also added a little bit of color on the interview for your……enjoyment.

TSG: Sacha, good practice. How was the New Year’s Eve Party? We heard Charlie was there how’s he doing?

Sacha: Charlie’s doing great. He looks great. He’s up on his feet doing a little touching with the soccer ball.

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So…How Was Your First Day At Camp?

In a word…Scrumtrulescent.

TSG had a fine day at camp with the USMNT in what was the team’s longest practice of the camp so far. Bob Bradley kept the intensity level high as the team went through warm-ups, drills and conditioning before finishing with a scrimmage.

Some observations before we file some longer pieces on our experience later this week. (One quick note: Remember one of our favorite sayings at TSG, “You can’t look at one observation in isolation, you have to look at the whole body of work.”)

  • So, what do the USMNTers drive to practice? Caddy? Escalade? Benz? Charter coach? Nope, US players drive themselves in certified soccer mom-mobiles. That’s right, they pile out of minivans just like they presumably did when they were seven.
  • Two things that stand-out when you are at field level just feet away from players…Size and the pace on their shots. Boombosa is right!
  • Marcus Tracy, Kevin Alston, Robbie Rogers and Chris Pontius were absent for today’s practice. Alston came out and ran laps…so much so that I wondered if it was punishment.
  • Zach Thornton is….MASSIVE.
  • Long-time readers will be happy to know that Matthew’s head did NOT explode when Benny Feilhaber buried one in the back of the net during the scrimmage nor during his interview with the Benny! at the conclusion of practice.
  • Any San Jose Quakes fans out there? An auburn-cleated Brandon McDonald played exclusively at right back today, acquitted himself well and received counsel from Bob Bradley in the center of the pitch post-practice. Beyond losing the ball on a forward run during the 2nd half of scrimmage, TSG came away very impressed with McDonald’s play today who also netted a goal off a corner kick.

Peter Vermes Doesn’t Mess Around

If you’re interviewing Peter Vermes after you read this, let me tell you one thing. Cut to the chase, be efficient with his time, and let him get out of there quickly because all he wants to do is his job and do it well.

Vermes: Live and in color

Vermes: Live and with color

If you’re a KC Wizards fan, that’s a good thing.

TSG had the opportunity to interview KC Wizards coach Peter Vermes this morning and he did not disappoint. Just like he showed us in his playing career, Vermes is a straight shooter, aimed at hitting goals and having success.

While we tried to banter a bit with Peter and get him engage in a little bit of one-two conversation, Vermes was all business and his answers as you will read were matter of fact. A number of times, the KC coach led his answers with, “Look…” as if to say, “This is what’s important and get the story right.”

In the spirit of Peter’s brevity, we’ll keep his answers on the Wizards, Landon Donovan, Jimmy Conrad Twitter escapades, playing in the Azteca, and everything else curt and to the point.

Thanks Peter for the interview….and away we go.

Hey Peter, you could have gone anywhere, why KC?

Look, I’ve been involved in the biz side of the business for awhile and then became technical director at Kansas City. I had the choice of a number of jobs, but I like the technical job. In terms of the KC coaching vacancy, we needed someone who could step in right away and provide some cover until we found the right candidate. We didn’t want to rush into a new coach.

Peter, what are some of your goals or success metrics through the end of the year?

Look we have to be very realistic. We’re in 13th place. We’re a long shot to make the playoffs. You have to look where you are and where you want to get to and then figure out how to get there. For us, it starts with the basics. Number one we have to improve our performance, on a practice-to-practice basis and week-to-week basis. We can’t be rolling the dice on what we’re doing. Each player has to be committed to a better performance.

Look, we’re not magicians, we know where we are in the standings, but if we’re committed to better performance the results will come

Okay, great, but what are some specific things you are looking for?

All players have to raise their intensity.

We need to create more offensive chances.

Kevin Hartman’s having a good year and we still need to keep more clean sheets.

Intensity is the key ingredient though. If I see more intensity, then I know the results will come.

click here for Peter Vermes’ thoughts on US Soccer, US-MEX, U-20 up-and-comers, and Landon Donovan

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