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January 11, 2011 at 7:41 PM

The full transcript of the Schmid/Henderson pre-draft Q&A

superdraft small.jpgSounders FC coach Sigi Schmid and technical director Chris Henderson shared some time with the local media — and one national writer — in a teleconference late Tuesday afternoon. The team distributed some of the quotes, but I have the full transcript here:

* * *

(Q: On the strength of the draft class and about the international players)

Sigi Schmid: “When I compare it back to say the draft in 2009, I don’t think it’s necessarily as top-heavy as that draft was. I think there were a number of guys picked in the first round of that draft that were able to step in and do really well, like Steve Zakuani did for us. It went probably went 10 or 11 deep top-heavy-wise. I don’t know if this one’s as deep from a standpoint of those outstanding guys, but I also think it’s possibly a little deeper in terms of that next group of players. I think the next group of players is broader than it was maybe in some of the other drafts. And the international players, like all players, have had their ups and downs. It’s a little bit easier for us with the college players because we’ve seen them play in college as well as here so sometimes you throw out one or the other. With the internationals we’re only really seeing them here, but there are a couple that have stood out and done very well and look like they could definitely have a role in the future of MLS.”

(Q: Any plans to address goalkeeper situation in the draft?)

Chris Henderson: “We’ve known with Kasey’s age that we’ve had to have some goalkeepers on the radar. I think we’ve been actively looking. We got one of the best goalkeepers in the league still in Keller and Terry Boss is a very good backup. But every team is going to have to carry three goalies and goalkeeper is a position that we’re looking at. I think there are some decent goalies in this draft so it’s something that’s part of the discussion for our group. We also have to look and see what’s going to be best long-term for the club, what’s going to be best for the club when Kasey does retire.”

(Q: Are you willing to start a young goalkeeper after sitting a year)

Sigi Schmid: “Goalkeeper’s a unique position and they get better with more experience and more age. When I was coaching at UCLA, as an example going back to then, every goalkeeper that I had … redshirted at least a year. … So that was a very small scale but it was the same thing. When they could come in and observe for a year and learn for a year that was going to be a benefit for them. The other thing is goalkeepers sometimes develop later than other field players. So goalkeepers again are unique and you don’t look at who got selected for the under-17s and that must be the best goalkeeper in the land, because there’s a lot of goalkeepers that develop later and pass that person by. So we have to cognizant of looking at that. But a player’s going to play when he’s ready. But goalkeepers are unique and as they get older they’re sort of like good wine, they age well.”

Chris Henderson: “If you look at the coaches in this country, I think Sigi’s developed the best goalies in probably the history of American soccer. So we’re hoping he can do that in Seattle too.”

(Q: On the possibility of a young goalkeeper going out on loan)

Sigi Schmid: “You never say no on anything because there’s always something that maybe makes it work in that particular situation. With rosters going to 30 we need to have three goalkeepers. It’s something that’s in a way going to be required from the league. Who is that third goalkeeper? If we send him away on loan then we’re going to have to bring in another keeper. So you have to weight the benefits of, is he going to develop more with us, playing reserve games and training? Is he going to develop more by going away on a short-term loan on a long-term loan? Those are all situations that are going to be unique to the individual in that situation and not one that we could answer right now. It’s not like we have a hard and fast rule.”

(Q: You’ve said it’s easier for young defenders to play early. Are you leaving that way in the draft?)

Sigi Schmid: “If you look at the guys who have made our team in the drafts in the past, Steve Zakuani is certainly not a defender. Mike Fucito, who has stuck with us, is also not a defender. I think if you have talented attackers they can make it. In general it’s certainly easier to step on the field as a defender. There are some good defenders in this draft. There are also some good attackers in this draft. Whether they’re going to fall to number 11 and we have the opportunity to get a hold of one of those… If there’s a good attacker there we’re going to take him. We’re not going to say, ‘It’s going to be easier for a defender to adjust, so we’ll take a second-tier defender’ if there’s a first-quality attacker still on the board that we think can help us.”

(Q: Traditionally it’s been hard to find solid players beyond the first round, how do you gauge the importance of the draft and the combine?)

Sigi Schmid: “I think the best answer is the draft is an imperfect science. There have been some first-round picks that have been complete busts and then you look at a guy like Jeff Parke, who was the last player picked the year he came out in the draft. You look at Alejandro Moreno, who was a third-round pick when I was at the Galaxy. You look at Jonathan Bornstein, who was a deep third-round pick by Chivas. Those guys have done fairly well. It’s an imperfect science and a lot of times you can snag somebody in the second or third round (that you hope has) the mental characteristics that allow him to push himself, that allows him to adapt to the pro game, to not feel nerves, to learn and absorb and that kind of pushes them on. For me, in this draft in particular, there are some quality guys I think at the top of the draft that you sort of want to say are “no-brainers” that could make it for sure. But I think there is a pool of another 20 to 30 guys that you’re not quite sure which ones are going to make it, but you hope the guy you pick is the one that’s going to make it.”

(Q: Five picks seems like a lot for you with 27 guys on the roster, how open to you on talking trades?)

Chris Henderson: “It’s definitely a part of it. Things are going to start heating up a little bit as we get towards Thursday. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of talk between teams in Baltimore. We’re open to that if we feel there’s a situation that’s going to make our club stronger. We think we have a strong roster and a strong core of players. There are a few spots we’d like to add and hopefully the draft works our way that we can add some depth and add to our roster. We’re definitely going to be talking to some teams as well and seeing what’s open.”

(Q: Do you have an update on Hurtado’s condition?)

Sigi Schmid: “I think Jhon from the medical standpoint of his injury pretty much fully recovered. Obviously the doctors always have the final say, but he was doing a lot at the end of last season, could’ve probably been pushed a little bit more but we didn’t feel like that was in his best interest. Whenever a player has been out with an injury, like for him a six-month period of time, I think once you start training full into training it probably takes you two or three months to catch your game again. When you come back you have a really good spell, then you go into a little bit of a funk, then you go out of it and catch your game. His best soccer for us will probably happen in May or June, but he’s certainly somebody that we’re counting on, somebody’s that an important part to the future of our team and our franchise, and he’s fully recovered as far as we’re concerned.”

(Q: So you don’t expect that to affect the draft?)

Sigi Schmid: “No. Again, when we get to our pick there are some guys that we’ve identified that we think are quality players. If any of those guys are on the board, we’ll pick them. If there a (couple) of those guys on the board then we’ll look at what position makes the most sense for us.”

(Q: Who are some of the attacking players that impressed you at the combine?)

Sigi Schmid: “Obviously there’s a number of different guys that have come through. The one foreign player scored a couple goals and he’s the leading goal scorer of the tournament, (Joao) Plata, with three. He’s certainly opened some eyes. (Corey) Hertzog scored a lot of goals at Penn State, scored two very good goals in that game. Will Bruin showed that he was a strong forward that could hold people off and could definitely be physical up there, but was also a handful for any defense to have to mark. You have those guys. (Omar) Salgado is a very young player that’s with the under-20s right now, but is certainly somebody that drew a lot of interest from people because of his being left-footed, his ability, his body’s a good size, being tall he’s still going to fill out etcetera, and having a pretty good touch for a big guy. Those are the guys that pretty much all the coaches are aware of and guys that have done well enough to maintain their level at this combine.”

(Q: How about some midfielders, maybe of the attacking variety?)

Sigi Schmid: “It’s a little bit harder to tell because the situation is different for an attacking midfielder going into the combine. Sometimes they get played past. When they’re on their (college) team, the coach makes an emphasis that the ball has to go through this guy. And all of a sudden you get to the combine and the fullback is trying to play the ball to the forward. The deep midfielder is trying to play it up as well, so sometimes they get bypassed. Obviously the kid from Akron — whose name (Anthony Ampaipitakwong) I won’t try to slaughter saying it — he’s someone that did very well in college, so we have to look at those games and see how well he did there. He was hurt a little bit here so he probably didn’t do as well as he would’ve expected. Michael Farfan, who played at Fullerton and had a very good college career at UNC, is another player who has talent. We’ve seen him play enough in college that we can judge him a little bit more by his college game.”

(Q: What do you think of Akron’s loaded class?)

Chris Henderson: “Sigi will probably like this, I know UCLA has had a couple classes that have produced some players that have gone on to do well in the league. Virginia, Indiana, some of the traditional schools over the last 15 years have done that, but Akron this year, this is a really good class coming out. A lot of those guys are going to go pretty quick in the draft. Credit to Caleb (Porter) at Akron for producing these guys, but I think that having a winning college program and having a really competitive environment everyday is going to help these players adjust to the pro level pretty quick.”

Sigi Schmid: “I think Caleb Porter has done an outstanding job at Akron and he’s done a great job with his team in producing those players. I think when you look back at the history of college soccer and you look at Bruce Arena’s teams at Virginia. He had a few teams when there was no MLS that he probably would’ve had a few guys go pro at one time. I look back at UCLA, off my ’85 team we had five players called into the full national team after our season. Off the ’90 team that Chris Henderson was part of, seven guys off that team went on to start in professional soccer. There’s been some history for it in the past, but what Caleb has accomplished in a very short time at Akron definitely has to be praised and commended.”

(Q: Has Porter found the model to get college players into MLS?)

Sigi Schmid: “I wish there was a formula that I could say, ‘Yeah he’s found that formula.’ What the formula is, is hard work. Caleb works very hard. He works very had at his recruiting. He works very hard at making sure that his team has intense, professional-style training sessions. He’s very demanding of his players. They have as extensive a four-year program as they’re allowed by the NCAA rules. When you look at it as a college coach, it’s been a while ago now, you can find ways to make it work that allows you to develop your players, but the key to the whole thing is it takes hard work. You have to be willing to put in hard work and that’s what he’s done. He’s observing training sessions, staying current with what’s going on in the world of soccer — not just in U.S. soccer but being aware of what’s going on in the world and continuing to build upon the good players you have. So is his model unique or special? No. I just think right now, himself, and UNC — and there’s a few other programs, I don’t mean to skip anybody — they all do a good job of preparing their players an pushing their players. He right now has it down the best. I always think it’s work that gets it done. Unfortunately, I wish it was a magic formula. It’d be a lot easier.”

(Q: How do you think the homegrown player rule will affect college soccer and the draft?)

Chris Henderson: “I think there’s a lot of change in college soccer now with the homegrown players and every team having academy teams. The pathway to becoming an MLS player is changing a little bit. I think in the future years it’s going to affect the combine and the draft. A lot of players are going to come straight to the pro team through the homegrown list. There could be maybe some more foreign players that are added to the combine and the draft to strengthen the talent, which we had this year. Definitely with the homegrown players and the academies it’s going to change the development, I think that’s the challenge for all the college coaches too, to make sure they have a program that can be a reliable pathway to the pros.”

(Q: Will the colleges have to compete with the academies?)

Chris Henderson: “I think the successful colleges in the future are going to be the ones that find a way to work with the MLS academy teams, and that the MLS teams are able to work with local universities to get players who are not ready to go through there — who can grow up a little bit, mature a little bit off the field and give them time to develop. And they can be close enough that they can be monitored by the pro team, and maybe they’re ready to make the jump in a year or two instead of four years later.”

(Q: By having a strong core are you more likely to take a risk on a high-upside player?)

Sigi Schmid: “That’s like the age-old question: do you try to inject a soccer brain into an athlete or do you take a soccer player and try to make him a better athlete? I think it’s really a combination of both. I think you got to find somebody who has some soccer intelligence and also has some capabilities physically and bring some tools to it. That doesn’t mean he has to be 6-foot-2. That means he’s got to be quick or he’s got to be fast or he’s got to be strong or he’s got to be explosive, or he’s got to be technically really outstanding. From our standpoint, we don’t really lean one way or the other. If all things are equal, obviously a guy who has a few more physical tools is always preferred. But when you get into that discussion of here’s a smaller guy that’s exceptionally talented from soccer standpoint and here’s bigger guy who is big but isn’t as soccer talented sometimes, I definitely lean toward the soccer player.”

(Q: Are there certain positions you’d like to strengthen?)

Chris Henderson: “Unlike last year we don’t have three or four players injured in first few months. With everyone coming back healthy and looking at our roster, some positions where we could use some depth are wide. When you look at who we lost, losing Sanna (Nyassi) in the expansion draft. Some competition for right back. Some help in midfield. We have (Erik) Friberg coming in, so we have to see how we does. The trade for O’Brian White, we have to see how he does as well. I think if you look at the new players and you look at the core, it’s a pretty strong team, but we’ll see what falls to us at our picks and look at our roster and what’s going to help us.”

(Q: Who were some of the surprises to you at the combine?)

Sigi Schmid: “I wish I could answer that question. Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question because I think all the coaches are the same. Everybody is scouring everybody else’s website. Everybody is scouring the internet to see if there’s a clue or something out there that might give a person an idea of which way this team is leaning or what they are looking at. When you have to pick like we do at 27 and 29 you sit there and say, ‘Well, if the guy we want at 29, if we pick this other guy at 27, will he still be there? Are those guys going to grab him? Is that what they are looking for?’ Unfortunately, I can’t answer your question. In general to answer it though I think most of the guys pretty played at their level. I think that the two obvious top picks are Perry Kitchen and Darlington Nagbe. Nagbe wasn’t here but Kitchen played with the under-20s and he certainly played at his level. There are some guys who probably underperformed and there’s some people that would agree on that. And there’s some guys in the combine that were even additions after some players dropped out or were injured that certainly helped themselves and moved themselves up the chart. I hope you understand why I can’t really directly answer that.”

(Q: What did you think of John Rooney?)

Sigi Schmid: “He certainly was in the top two or three foreign players for sure. I thought he did well. Obviously got a goal, one game he didn’t play much. … , He always gives you work rate. That’s what we saw at practice. He gives you endeavor. He’s got some pretty good soccer to him as well. I think he did well.”

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