Just got this scoop in from Daily News soccer beat writer Kerith Gabriel:
Perhaps in search of warmer climates, given the snowy conditions of their current home in Greensboro, N.C. the Daily News has learned the Union will take the second phase of their inaugural training camp to Guadalajara, Mexico. Team sources estimated the one-week session is slated to begin the week after their Feb. 17 return from Greensboro.
The team is currently in preparation for a full-sided scrimmage against the University of North Carolina at Bryan Park this Saturday. Following the Mexico trip – which could coincide with a scrimmage against a team yet to be determined according to team officials – the Union will finish out training camp for 2 more weeks in Florida in advance of their regular season opener against Seattle at Qwest Field on March 25.
And now this from me. Union head coach Peter Nowak and assistants John Hackworth and Rob Vartughian held a conference call with reporters to give an update from the team’s training camp in Greensboro, N.C.
I transcribed as much as I could, though the phone line was a bit patchy at times. Here’s what I was able to get:
On how preseason training has gone so far
First of all, the weather down here is better for us because there’s a little bit more snow… That’s the funny part. From our perspective, as we’ve said from the beginning and as we’ve told our players, the first couple of weeks are going to be laying out foundations for future work for the next training camps we will have.
There’s going to be more soccer-specific training and practices, with tactics, with the overall system – we’re going to try to find out what the best way is to play… It’s going to be a little bit unusual for these guys, going to places where it’s warm and there are nice grass fields and everything is all peachy and rosy…
I think the group has adjusted very well and it looks like we’re going to have a lot of fun together.
On who among the group has been the biggest surprise
I think mostly we knew, and maybe John can add a little bit – when we went into the expansion draft, we always looked for guys who were going to fit the characteristics not only of this city but what kind of team we wanted to build…
We tried to look very consciously at what kinds of players we wanted to add to this team. From this perspective, there’s no big surprise in terms of us being surprised with anything we see. It was good that we have Danny Califf as a veteran, and Stefani Miglioranzi, and Alejandro Moreno, and it’s also good to have Fred with us because he’s a little different than the other group.
So we have enough veteran quality, and now this group of veterans will be given the job to come together, take the young players under their wings and show them the ropes. It’s not easy for these youngsters, every day they are getting more tired… and then they have to go outside and show their skills.
So they try to monitor as well, and Rob and John with me, we try to monitor things as well… I’m very happy with the group work ethic, I’m very happy with how they’ve enjoyed themselves and how they’ve enjoyed being together.
Some days are a little bit tougher than they expected, but they’ve come together pretty well.
I think the group’s been good, and like Peter said, I think Fred’s been a pleasant surprise for us. We all knew the qualities he has as a soccer player, but in the last few weeks we’ve had the chance to really get to know him and his personality. He’s fit in really well with our whole group and he’s providing a lot of leadership on and off the field, and I think that’s excellent.
On how the younger players are fitting in and adjusting to life in the pros
Our younger players have a lot of national team experience, for the most part too, aside from Danny Mwanga. With that international experience, playing in different national team camps, being on the road for extremely long periods of time, those are the things that young players struggle with.
And then I think young players struggle when coaches don’t clearly define rules or expectations, and I think that our young players don’t have that problem right now. I think veteran leadership is a key to that – the older guys have been tremendous. We knew that coming in, as Peter said earlier. That kind of transition, that kind of relationship, between both the staff and the older guys and the younger guys has been key for us so far.
On whether the players in camp now are the final roster, or whether the team might bring in more players, and whether anyone from the team’s open tryouts has gotten further consideration by the team
Yes, we had a couple of guys from the tryouts with us. We continue to see what we can do. As we’ve said, it’s not easy, not only for our youngsters, but also for these guys – the transition is pretty big for them…
Maybe there’s going to be somebody who comes at the last minute. Back in 1998 when I was in Chicago, the biggest signings were Lubos Kubik and Jerzy Podbrozny. So you never know who the whole thing will play out… If we’re going to make a decision like that, then we will add something that we don’t have in this group.
On Michael Orozco and how he has settled in and adjusted to playing in the United States
We’ve been very fortunate to get him here to our team. It was a couple of months ago that we started to talk about bringing Michael to the Union… Michael was in the preseason with San Luis, he had a very good last season though didn’t play at the end of the season because of a change in the coaching staff and [team] president.
What happened in the meantime, the negotiations went for so long that we couldn’t get him until our preseason… We’re trying to catch up right now, not only with the fitness part but also the tactical part so that when he enters the national team camp [later this month], he’ll be really prepared for the challenge expectation from coach [Bob] Bradley and his coaching staff.
[The U.S. national team plays El Salvador on February 24 in Tampa. It’s one of the last games before the World Cup roster is finalized. – J.T.]
It’s a very important game for him – not only for him but a lot of guys who I know and John knows who we’ve managed in national team camps. There are not going to be too many chances before the announcement of the World Cup squad. So as I said, I know Michael is smart, and he wants, like any other player, to be in the World Cup squad…
The games he will play are not going to be that good, and there’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing coach Bradley can do….
He [Orozco] is very good as a utility man because he can play on the backline at any position. He played left back with the Olympic team [in 2008], he also played center back in Olympic qualifiers with me, and he can play right back as well. So he can play a bunch of positions, and at the end of the day, the national team might need that.
I think Michael’s done well, because he does have a lot of experience. He helps like a veteran, and although he’s coming from the Mexican league, he’s been with the national team long enough to know some of his teammates like Chris Seitz. So he’s fit in extremely well there, and it’s great to have him.
He’s still a young kid. We’re looking for veteran leadership, and [Orozco] being 24 years old and having all this experience with older players on different national teams, I believe that we can have success with Michael and he’ll have a successful year as a player.
On whether the team might benefit if none of its players go to the World Cup
Everybody’s dream is to play in the World Cup… What we’re trying to do is give them the best chance to play and to try and to the best work they can do. From my perspective I would say: Would we benefit? No, because it’s an honor to play for the national team, regardless of the national team.
We will have no problem releasing players for friendlies. We’ve released Shavar, we’ve released Alejandro, and we will do so in the future. Because we believe, all of us who have been on the other side with national team coaches, that you always want to have the best team possible. And we will honor requests from the U.S. national team or any other federation.
I think it’s great for our players that they can play for their national teams, regardless of their national teams.
On the mentality of working with an entirely new team in training camp
There’s different methods to do that. We mostly know the old players here, and we’ve been working before camp with them, interacting with them and talking to them. So the contact has been very good from day one.
Now we have to encourage them and lay down the principles and values and what we expect from them, the rules, all this stuff that little by little we expect them to follow. And we expect from the whole group that they will give us some suggestions.
Because we are all together as a group. The coaching staff is a new group. And we have to establish all together how we are going to work. The guidelines and the rules must be very clear for all of the, but they can give us suggestions as well.
So that’s more trust. It’s about developing trust and a belief that as a group, we can be stronger. That’s what the first two weeks have been all about, and as we go forward with the next training camp, we will learn some more in that regard. And we’ll get more into the game, not only tactical and technical as I said, but also the mentality, the spirit. Every little aspect of the game must be there.
So little by little, we have another six weeks to establish that, and we are very happy where we are right now.
The only thing I would add to that is look at who we selected. We’ve put a lot of thought in, and we’re trying to be very careful about the players we’ve brought in to this team. There’s a ton of work to be done right now. I think we did a lot of work in our selection, andI think that’s very important
You look at the guys we have on our roster right now, from the younger guys to the older guys, and you can kind of tell the type of characters, the type of players and the type of people that we want to represent this team.
On the benefits of training out of town together
We don’t want to keep this team under a bubble, but we need to get to know each other… We believe that keeping us quiet, and having this kind of situation like we’re in here in North Carolina, is going to give us the time to establish all these aspects of who we are and what kind of identity we’re finding as a team.
The shared moments, the fears and doubts, what is going to happen this season, who is going to stay, who is going to go. Talking to this group, you can clearly find all these little aspects of being away.
You are not in Florida, you are not in Phoenix or L.A. where the grass is green and the weather is great and you have friends around. Now they are pulling together, they play cards together, they have fun together. And with our help, we try to establish the soccer part, which at the end of the day will be very important to us.
On what the hardest part of preseason training has been so far
The hardest thing so far has been to work with John and Rob [laughter].
That’s not because I want to be different. We believe – and I’ve discussed this with Rob and John – where we’re going to go, what kind of environment we want to create, and what would be the best possible angle to tackle this kind of challenge, having a new team and new players.
We have a lot of youngsters. We knew there was going to be a mix of veterans and youngsters who were going to be new to the professional game. We discussed a lot of aspects that make us feel like it could be possible that we could go to North Carolina, where it’s not that easy to be, and spend time not only on fitness but also to go forward with the soccer part.
I believe, as do John and Rob, that the players are going to create the system that we play. Then we’ll see how it’s going to be. We can correct it as coaches, and with our experience and our knowledge we will correct it if something goes wrong.
But as I said, we’re going to find the players, and that is the system we will play. We believe that in selecting the players that we did, it’s going to give us a lot of flexibility, and also give us opportunity to let them on their own.
Not only because Nowak is a hard-nosed guy or whatever the characteristic is, and John is a ‘good cop’ and Rob is a ‘good cop’ as well – we don’t work this way. We’re trying to do what the team needs, and also have as the other side what they expect from the game.
So we need to hear them first, what kind of game they want to play, to get our ideas on paper and give it to them so they will understand not only what kind of group we have, but also the roles, what kind identity we have, what kind of team we are going to be, and what kind of environment we will have as a franchise, as a club going forward.
Not only for this year, but two years, five years, ten years from now. That’s more of a project than only winning the next game.
On the team’s young players
These kids have something. We believe that now we’re going to add experience, then watch and discuss – not only watch, but discuss – the soccer part. We want to have players that will adjust to the game. Not looking to the bench at John and Rob and myself and asking, ‘Coach, what should I do at this point in the game?’
So we have to establish this stuff and say, ‘Okay, that’s your game.’ We’re going to give you everything on paper, you’re going to have a playbook, you’re going to have this, you’re going to have that. But then, this is the game you play. This is the game you establish, and this is the game you believe. As soon as this happens, we’ll have a lot of fun.
But there’s a lot of work ahead of us, and we don’t want to waste any minute, any hour on the practice field. This environment here in North Carolina has given us the time to talk to them about that.