First week's training has finally concluded. It was a good week and I hope you guys enjoyed our coverage of it. We really tried to get to as many trainings as possible and, I believe, we only missed one so we were able to cover most bases. Heading into next week we'll try something similar, but I'm not sure if we'll be able to keep up the same pace.
In any case, today's training went really well for those there in attendance. Jack Jewsbury was still absent for the obvious reason of having a new born child added into the family. Big congratulations to him, once again. Jose Adolfo Valencia was absent as well, but that should come as no surprise. The FO is still just as evasive about his issues so we really don't have an update on that today. Two other notables missing was Brent Richards and Diego Chara. Richards stayed out due to his quad tweak from earlier this week. Chara, however, was left out due to some lower back soreness. My guess is that head coach John Spencer and the training staff really didn't want to agitate anything one week in. We did see him come out for a bit to watch and he looked fine from a distance.
Everybody else was really on the ball (pun!) today with their training regiment. Franck Songo'o, in particular, really impressed me, but more on that below.
As usual toward the latter half of the training session the team gathered for their 8v8 matches. This is always the most telling of any of the training systems because we actually get to see them play in realistic matches, albeit on a field half the size.
I was paying attention to two players mostly today: Franck Songo'o and Hanyer Mosquera as I wanted to see how each was fitting into the team. The results were mixed and a bit unexpected.
I'll start with Songo'o. He was great today, to put in succinctly. In fact, I'd argue that, based on today's performance, he could battle for a starting position spot on any given game day. During the 8v8 matches he had the kind of control and vision on the wings that we rarely saw last year. On more than a couple occasions he was the primary feeder to a goal for his team as he always seemed to find himself in great positions. Of course this probably shouldn't be much of a surprise considering he was trained under FC Barcelona's youth system. Position should come naturally.
He's also seemed to gel with the team much faster than most trialists do. If you didn't know any better you could walk out to the training field and easily confuse him for being a member of the squad already.
It's a bit early to say whether he's going to get signed not, but it's clear that everybody has been impressed with him this first week. Now it's just a matter of maintaining that level of quality...
Unfortunately, Hanyer Mosquera did not look as good as I was hoping. Granted there's a lot of nerves for him right now and he's still working his way into the system so I'd caution against judging him too harshly, but he did seem a little off beat today. Every time he got the ball he seemed to want to take one too many touches and his vision for where to put that ball wasn't quite where I'd want it to be for a starting center back. It will take time, however, to fully see where he lands. After all, Diego Chara had a similar problem slotting into the midfield for the first half of the season.
On bringing on Cameron Knowles as an assistant coach
I just think that it's very, very important to try and keep with the history of the club. I think it's important that you have guys around who have played for the club whether it be involved with the academy, PDL, or reserves because they know what the city is about, what it's like to play here and play in front of fans that are full of passion and desire so for us we're going to try and keep that connection from the NASL days way back in the 70s with the new jersey and just bringing guys are part of the history of the club ... He [Knowles] was always one of them guys, like Tony McManis, that we'd have back here in a heart beat and the door was always open for him to come into practice and obviously we had a situation arise where we needed another assistant coach. I thought he was just tailor made to come in and help us out.
On the learning curve for Andrew Jean-Baptiste
Just the same as any other young player joining in from the college ranks. It's a big, big change. The pace of the game has changed. ... I don't think soccer is as cut out as the NBA when it comes to drafts. A first round guy doesn't necessarily mean they're gonna stick with the team. I think the NBA and [American] football are a little more cut and dry that way but soccer is a different game. Bright Dike went to Columbus a couple years ago as a first round pick, I think, and he ended up getting cut by Spring training. So there's no guarantees. We feel that he (Jean-Baptiste) has all the physical attributes and can play the professional game but it's down to how quick he learns.
On Darlington Nagbe playing as a striker
I've said to him on numerous occasions ... you only get into that position by getting goals. That's the name of the game. You can talk about potential all day long over any young player, but the thing the coaches look for is that yes you're young and the potential is there but you've got to produce. That's what keeps you on the team. He definitely has potential and he has the potential to produce week in, week out. So it's up to him to really take the reigns and say "you know I want to play as a striker." ... I'm looking for good things from him this year.
On Franck Songo'o fitting in with the team
I think he's done well. We brought him in, he's got a very good resume and he's played at some decent clubs. We're looking to add another quality player in that position. Everybody says we need strength and depth and we know that. But you can't just go and get anybody. The players you're bringing in have got to be better than the ones you've got here or ones that you can find in this country and if they're not then you can't sign them. What I've seen over the last 4 or 5 days has pleased us but you tend to see that with guys you bring on for trials for their first week and that's why you can't be too hasty to make a decision. We'll wait to get down to LA and give em games down there and if he performs the way he has in the last couple days in training then we'll sit down and see if we can get something organized with him and get something signed.
On fitness levels after the first week of training
It's good! A lot of us came back from the off season pretty fit and we've been fortunate enough that the coaches have been pleased with where our fitness levels are that we can get out and play. We know that when we are doing these kinds of games it's still fitness oriented and you're all pushing each other to work as hard as we can to get that max fitness.
On being the primary center back in 2012
It's always a goal to be the number one center back and be consistent and build off what happened last year.
(side note: loved his confidence when answering this questions)
On the addition of Hanyer Mosquera
He's only been here a week so there's probably some adjustment for him, but as far as I can tell he's fitting in and he's getting his roots settled in understanding how we play. I think it's going to take a little bit of time for him to just understand our playing style. You also have to factor in the language barrier that's probably tough for him, but he has a good attitude.
On fitness levels after the first week of training
Great! Yeah I took care of myself during the offseason so it was good start. I think just overall getting back on the ball, double days, and weights and stuff. It takes a little bit off your body, but I feel great. It's a good group. The last two days were pretty impressive. A lot of good football, high energy, intensity was up there.
On off season recreation and training
I traveled a little. Got to go to Hawaii, play some golf and relax. Traveled down to California to see my family. Went to Paris for the New Year. It was a good time. I had a good off season [training] plan in place though. Did my travels to give myself a break, but I had a good 6 week program to give myself the best chance to have a good season.
On adjusting to the team with a brand new season post-Houston
I've noticed a big difference just with the comaraderie with the guys. It's tough in any situation to go into a team especially the timing in which I did come last season. It means a lot when you go into the pre-season with a group of guys. The double days, the work everybody's on the same page. This is my seventh season and along the way I've picked up a few things. Not that I'm entitled to be able yell at somebody, but just to be able to lead by example. More importantly though just to be on the same page as the group and be able to have a full season together is pretty important.
On the defensive back line heading into 2012
Competitive! It's great. I think there is competition in every spot. I think that'll push our defense. I think it'll make us a better squad. Obviously starting with Troy Perkins and then going into the centerbacks and heading out wide. I think it's gonna be an exciting pre-season. Every game is gonna be important for the guys to show well and play well and make sure you're gonna secure your spot. Nobody is guaranteed anything. You gotta make sure you go out there and prove while you should be on the field.