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February 23, 2011 at 12:55 PM

Schmid talks roster, Nkufo’s last year, RB depth and more

schmid mug.jpgThis afternoon Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid held a teleconference with a group of mostly local reporters. Here is the full transcipt.

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(On how the defense is looking) “I think defensively obviously we still have some things that we have to work through. Jhon Kennedy is getting back to game fitness and match fitness. Jeff Parke had toe surgery in the offseason, so he’s still rounding into form as well. Patrick Ianni has been injured as of late, so that has taken one more player away. But overall I think it’s be OK. We still need to work on defending set pieces. That’s something we haven’t focused or concentrated on but they’re going to get a steady diet of that as we move forward here because that’s one of the things that we were not good at last year was defending those sort of set pieces. Just our cohesion today. Today we worked for the first time on just how to collect the ball, play it out of the back four and we’ll get into our defending aspect of that as well. But we have an idea, we’ve talked about what we want to do in terms of where we want to force the opponent on what parts of the field.”

(On Hurtado coming back into the first unit) “He’s at a good point. We’ve been trying to get him minutes obviously with the first group and also some minutes with the other group. But the main thing is just to get more and more game time for him. I think the game against Houston the other day was good for him, to go against a guy like Ching for a little bit, go up against Cam Weaver, who are just physical players. Those were positives for him. I think he’s probably 80-percent of the way there. The rest, the other 20-percent comes from more and more games. But his fitness is good. He’s had no issues with coming back from his injury.”

(On how training changes as you get closer to the season) “At this stage obviously we’ve done a lot of hard work in terms of our fitness and trying to establish our base there. Now the shift for us is trying to work more on the technical side of things: executing our final passes, finishing on goal, those technical areas, our tactical decision-making, how we do is relationship to certain situations, when balls get played in behind us, how do we recover? … This is a group that has played together, so now how does this group function best? Are we better off playing a 4-4-2? Are we better off playing in a 4-2-3-1? Maybe a lopsided 4-4-2? Those are the things we’re working on now.”

(Is this the time those changes happen?) “It’s all started to happen now. We’ve shifted our practice today already. Through the rest of our time here it will be shifted in that direction.”

(On the competition at forward aside Montero) “I think all our forwards are competing. Competition is good within the team and don’t think anybody has a spot locked up. If they feel they have it locked up that’s the moment they start to lose a grip on it. For us right now, Nkufo was coming off his injury. We wanted to be a little careful with him but we expect him to play 45 minutes on Saturday against Chicago. We played him with our other group against Dallas. We wanted him just to push a little bit and see where he was at physically. Jaqua is still a little bit away from being able to play. Obviously O’Brian White is another guy who’s competing there. Fucito’s competing. Montero. We have different options. Lamar Neagle and Estrada have had their best minutes up front as well. It’s been a lot of different options that way and all that group is competing against each other. The quality that they show in the games is where those decisions are going to be made.”

(On having too many options at forward, looking at trades) “Well you never know. You can never say never in those kind of situations. We’re in a situation where we’ve got two players that we pretty much know are in their last year, one is Kasey Keller and the other one is Blaise Nkufo. From that standpoint as well you don’t necessarily want to move somebody when you’re going to need that person a year from now. Or now you move somebody because maybe you don’t need them right away this instant, and so then next offseason you’re looking for that type of guy. That’s what we’re trying to balance right now and what we’re thinking about.”

(On where the roster will end up, 28? 30?) “Somewhere between 28 and 30. I’m operating off the premise that we’re going to initiate somewhere around 28 probably is our initial number that we’ll look at. It depends because sometimes the rules change. Not all the ramifications of that rule change are understood. Sometimes you have to ask questions and say, ‘If we do this, how does this work? If we do it like this and this, how does that work?’ We’re also looking for some clarity because the roster size this year is new as to how it’s been in the last couple of years. We want to make sure we don’t lose somebody when we could hold onto somebody that we think has value down in the future. Right now we’re operating off the thoughts of, ‘Let’s start with 28.’ ”

(Anyone a lot better than you thought he was?) “There’s always guys that you look at and have that feeling about. Unfortunately sometimes it changes from day to day, especially with the young guys. For sure, I think Lamar Neagle. The year of playing in Charleston helped him and his play is a lot more consistent than it was at the time he was training with us and playing with us, for sure, out of college. He’s a good example of that. Miguel Montano is a player who on any given day will knock your socks off and then the next day it’s not quite the same. That sort of depends on the day. Certainly Friberg, I’ve been happy with him when he’s trained. I think he’s been solid. Alonso continues to, not surprise me, I guess he continues to amaze me in the sense that I just think he’s so good. He’s probably one of the more underappreciated players in this league. He’s shown a solid quality. I think the resurgence of Jhon Kennedy, how quickly I think he’s come back and found his form for us has been a surprise to me as well. I thought it might take him a little bit longer but he’s just rolled into it and has settled a lot quicker than most guys do after that sort of a long-term injury.”

(Any concerns with depth at right back?) “It’s becoming less of a concern because we’ve looked a different people there so we have a better idea of who can perform there. I think in the games we’ve asked Roger Levesque to play there he’s done a very commendable job and has gotten stronger each game. Zach Scott has shown that he can play there as well at times. We continue to look at players. It’s obviously less of a concern and probably a big part of that is just because Roger I think has taken well to that position much quicker. Whenever I change the position of a player one of things I do — and this can be good or bad — is just throw them out there without a lot of instructions, because if you don’t have some innate understandings or some things that come naturally, if you learning from ground zero, you’re never going to make it. That’s what I sort of did with Roger and his innate understanding was pretty good. Now we’re working on details and one-on-one defending, timing of runs forward, but his “go out there and so what you can do” was pretty good. Every time he goes out there he gets a little better at it.”

(Any way you can keep both rookie goalkeepers?) “That one is a tremendous battle. They’re both great kids and I think they both have great futures in goal. Any ideas you can think of on how we can keep both of them, let me know. We’ll see if we can run it by the league and see how that works. We’re looking at different options for sure because we like them both and we know that Kasey is gone after this season. You don’t know what’s going to be there down the line, so you’d rather take what you have now. Both of them have been very good. They’ve been great trainers, they’ve been good individuals within the team and each of them have had some great moments at times. Josh Ford made a save today at practice that reminded me why I’d never want to be a goalkeeper when he took a full volley from five yards away off the chest. On the same token, Meredith pulled one out of the upper-V the other day and you’re like, ‘Wow! How’d he get to that one?’ Each of them have done very well and I couldn’t be more pleased with both of them.”

(On improving goal scoring) “I think we just have to become better at our finishing. … I think what we have to do is we have to convert a higher percentage of our chances. Part of that is just repetition at training. Part of that is calmness and coolness in front of goal. Part of that is making sure we get shots on frame. I was very happy with the crossing and finishing and shooting that we did today because we forced a lot of good saves from the goalkeepers. The goalkeepers had to come up with saves and I think they’ll tell you it was much higher than they normally have to do. That means we’re putting stuff on frame and as long as we continue to do that I think the goals will follow. We have to continue to create the chances but we have to become much more decisive in terms of what we do with those chances.”

(On who brings intangibles to what can take you over the top, Alonso?) “It’s tough for me to pinpoint an individual as much as it is for me to pinpoint that we as a team have to take that next step in maturity. By that I mean, there are situations that occur in every game where the game is not going your way. Now you got to survive those moments and regain control of the game. Sometimes that’s not necessarily a pretty thing. What I mean by that is it’s not necessarily done only through skill, sometimes it’s through work rate. When you watch a Barcelona play, every time you watch Barcelona play it’s such great offense but watch when they lose the ball. They’re on you like a bunch of gnats. They force you to turnover the ball. So when they face a bad moment, they get the ball back again. When they don’t do a good job of it, like what Arsenal did to them in the second half, then they’re chasing the ball and they look very vulnerable as well. For us, the key is in those moments, we as a team have to be mature enough to determine, ‘Do I need to roll up my sleeves right now at fight, battle, scratch and claw? Or do I now need to be a little more patient? Do I need to now be a little more direct with my play? Do I need to now play with more possession?’ We have to mature to find the right answer to that in the game. Some individuals play a role there. … As a team and as a group, we just have to mature in that aspect of the game.”

(On Nkufo, family still in Vancouver?) “I believe his family still is in Vancouver. That’s the current situation, I think it has to relate to the school year. I don’t know if that’s going to change down the line. Obviously Blaise gave us that guy in the middle of the field who could hold onto the ball and allow the rest of the team to join into the attack, which is an important aspect for any team. What I’ve seen from him right now, obviously he’s been injured a bit, so we haven’t seen as much from him as we would’ve liked. But I thought he did a good job in the Dallas game, especially with a more inexperienced group. He did a good job of holding the ball up for us, in staying in that central position so that we could find him. We need to do better with that and make sure we run off of him as well. In part this goes back to the question earlier of scoring more goals, the other thing for us to score more goals as it relates to Blaise and to Montero and to all our attacking players, is we need to get players into the box at key moments. We want to score the goal but we don’t necessarily want to get in the box. All of our players have to have the mentality of wanting to get into the 18-yard box when we get to the end line. When people are ready to hit early crosses we got to be more prepared to get in there.”

(Do roster spots 29 and 30 have to be homegrown players?) “No, they don’t have to be academy players. They can be $32,000 players.”

(On Alvaro Fernandez) “I think he’s a player that hasn’t had the opportunity yet to show what he can bring to the team offensively. I think he’s got good pace, which is something that the fans maybe haven’t seen as much of. He’s good in the air, which we got an early snapshot on when he scored the goal in El Salvador. He’s also a good crosser of the ball, which again we haven’t seen enough of because he didn’t get in that position often enough last year. For him, we expect him to really contribute in the offensive part of our game. Also to be somebody who can tuck in from his position to help control the middle of midfield when we play against teams that have their wide guys tuck in a lot. A more consistent impact than last year because of everything that he went through and so forth. He was more in and out of games where he’d have a good spell and then sit there for a while and then have a good spell. I expect that to be an awful lot more consistent. As Blaise, who had a long year last year, they need to work a little bit more right now in preseason because they’re catching up a little bit. They took a longer break than other guys, and deservedly so, now it’s a matter of them catching up in all the physical aspect as well.”

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