Peter Nowak talked with reporters Wednesday afternoon about new signing Lionard Pajoy, and how the Union's preseason training has gone so far.
Here's a transcript.
On whether the scoring burden will be more spread around the Union’s corps of forwards this season, instead of having it mostly on one player as has been the case in the past:
The more, the better. I always express that we need to have options, we need to have competition. So we mix it up. We have a guy [in Pajoy] who has experience, who has played not only in his domestic tournament, but also in the Copa Libertadores. So we’re going to have a striker that people will learn from, and we can mix things up.
Of course, we’re looking at the fact that some of them will miss games because of commitments with the national team, so he’s going to be a good option for us.
On the team’s goalkeeper situation:
We have Zac MacMath, Chase Harrison and Chris Konopka. So we’re looking to evaluate the situation, and we’ll see if Chris will make it at the end or not. He’s another goalkeeper who was already with MLS teams a couple of times, but also was in Europe. So he has enough experience to be the second or third keeper.
The situation right now is that he’s training with us. He’s a very good guy. We’ll see where he is at the end of this camp.
On whether the Union are looking to bring in a veteran goalkeeper:
Why do I need to bring in a veteran? I don’t think it’s necessary right now to think about that.
On what his starting forward line would be at this point, or whether it’s still open for competition:
It’s an open competition. We have more than four weeks until the first game, and Jack [McInerney] will miss a big part of the preseason because the next [U.S. Olympic team] camp is in 10 days. Then the qualifiers will start and there will be another camp.
Talking to coach [Caleb] Porter, he expressed that during the MLS season he would like to have a couple of camps for preparation for the Olympic Games if the team qualifies. So we have to make sure that everything is in place, and that we have options to put guys up front.
Being youngsters, they always have a couple of good games and then they hit a wall. We’ve got to make sure that everyone is on the same page, so we have to have options.
But people are going on too many times about statistics. It’s not about statistics, it’s about how they will come together as a tandem. Whether it’s Josué with Lionard, or Lionard with Danny Mwanga, or Josué with Jack McInerney, I cannot say that. But what I can say is that we have a very strong group.
Even the youngsters, they already have experience. They’ve already scored goals in Major League Soccer, and they’ve presented themselves as the future of this team. We want to add some experience, but also give them the opportunity to learn as well. So it’s a win-win situation, and we’re going to see where we stand at the end of the Costa Rica camp in three weeks.
On what qualities he sees Pajoy bringing to the team as a striker:
We saw him many times and talked to him many times in Colombia. He’s a guy who brings not only character but also a mentality to the game. He’s very physical, and very fast as well. He can change the game, because he’s a different option.
He’s not just a pure box player, he’s not just a poacher. He’s all over the place. He’s very mobile, and he can always create something for whoever he’s going to play with up top.
On whether the Union lacked a ‘killer instinct’ finishing in the box last season, and whether Pajoy brings that to the team:
No. It’s not like we missed something, because we still scored a lot of goals, and I believe we played well offensively. Sometimes there was a missing part – Carlos Ruiz always was there when the ball was around the goalkeeper, or in the box.
Maybe we got accustomed to that, and as the season progressed, we missed Carlos. Nobody really filled those shoes. I think that at the end of the season, we were still pretty good, and still trying to find options in the attack and fill that spot [he left].
But with Lionard, Josué, Jack and Danny, we have good tandems and a lot of options. And with Chandler Hoffman being with us, that’s a good situation as well.
On whether he’s nervous that players will go too hard in preseason training as they fight for playing time and roster spots:
Not really. There’s competition during training that is very positive.
I’m very impressed how they have developed during the past few difficult weeks, how they’ve trained, what their mentality has been - in terms of hitting each other, but also helping each other up from the ground and patting each other on the shoulders. Going away from a good tackle with a smile on the face.
That’s very healthy. Competition is nothing to worry about in terms of fighting for a spot. It’s good to have it. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue of them thinking they aren’t going to have minutes. They sense right now that it’s a chance for them to be in a good spot, and be considered for the starting lineup.
On whether Josué Martinez will play on the front line or be withdrawn somewhat:
He can play there, but in all the games we’ve played in training he’s been up front. He’s a guy who can change a system to 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. He can come from the second line because of his speed. We can use him in different fashions.
But as of now, we aren’t trying too many things at once. We’re trying to give him a structure first, a playbook, and make sure he understands what his role is. And also to connect with the guys up front, to understand and have a partner.
So he’s not ready yet for any kind of improvement in that kind of way, or much more information. We’ll try to give that to him during our second camp in Costa Rica later this month.
On whether one particular player has stood out or surprised in preseason training:
No, I think it’s just healthy competition. It’s a good group. The [trades] are behind us. I think they’ve adjusted very well. It’s a matter of connecting the dots together. This camp is more to get to know each other better, because there are a couple of new faces.
I would disagree that there are too many new faces, though there are some things we couldn’t predict with Faryd [Mondragón] and Velkjo [Paunović]. But [otherwise] it’s just four guys who have changed from last year, other than the rookies.
The new faces, they will bring a different look to us, and also experience. With Josué, it’s still a learning process, but he’s got help. He speaks English, Porfirio Lopez speaks English. Gaby Gavilán [Gomez] has been all over the place, so he has enough experience to know how to adapt to a new system and new guys. He’s pushing very hard.
I think it’s a great combination that we have, and it’s a very healthy competition. I’m very happy with what we have in the group, and Lionard Pajoy is going to be another piece who will help us through the season and to bring more experience.
On having Keon Daniel back with the team after he was away for so long:
We tried to speed up the process [of bringing him back], but some of the stuff is out of our hands. We had to make sure that we stayed patient and close to him, and support him, to bring him back at some point. He’s in great physical condition, and is pushing even harder, doing extra work after training.
So we’re looking forward to having him during the season. I think he recognized that he was an important piece of our team last season, and he will be even more important this season.
On the team’s class of draft picks:
I must say I’ve been very impressed with them. Greg Jordan and Chandler Hoffman, Krystian Witkowski and also Antoine Hoppenot are doing very well. There’s always learning, and a process that you’ve got to accustomed to. You have to get accustomed to the speed of play, and to guys who are already almost in full swing.
But I’ve been impressed how fast they’ve picked up slow, how they recognize when to play slower or faster. I think that’s going to be very beneficial for us, and I think those guys will stick with us for the season.
Chandler Hoffman, of course, the contract is done, but those three guys we’re going to see what their status will be. We’d like to keep them for a longer period of time, and give them a chance to develop in the right way.
But so far, so good, and I’ve really liked the work they’ve put together. They get trusted with the ball, they really fit very well in the team, and with the positions they play there’s always a need for that. With Greg and also with Chandler, it’s a different look. They’ve got to learn along the way, but they’re learning pretty fast right now.
On how Chris Konopka has looked in camp:
He looks very well. He’s been in Europe, he has a good pedigree in Major League Soccer. So we’re looking to see where we are with him. Right now he’s with us, but I believe that at the end of this camp we’ll have to make a decision because of the roster compliance deadline on March 1. We’ve got to make sure that we have a good corps of goalkeepers.
On whether Lionard Pajoy will act as a mentor to the team’s younger players:
Not really. He’s a different type of player that can help us. We’re always looking at what we have, but also what can help us in terms of experience and different styles. Experience, I believe, is at the end of this list. Everybody is freaking out right now about how young we are, but is forgetting that most of them already played one or two seasons in Major League Soccer.
Michael Farfan is young, but he already has great playing experience. Zac MacMath and Jack McInerney [also], and Danny Mwanga has already scored goals in Major League Soccer. They know what to expect.
It’s just a different kind of player that we might need during games. So I think [Pajoy] is another element to add to our game. The same goes for Porfirio Lopez, Gabriel Gomez and Josué Martinez.
So we try to have pieces that we can mold, that we can use in different fashions, and then play to their strengths, not just to fit players to a system. That’s not what I was thinking. I was thinking to fit a system to the players’ strengths, not the other way around.