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December 30, 2011 at 2:25 PM

Henderson on new signings, offseason priorities and more

henderson mug.jpgAs I mentioned in a previous post, Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson was also available to reporters this afternoon on a conference call. He talked about new signing Adam Johansson and a handful of other offseason topics. Here is the transcript of that conversation:

* * *

(When did you first come across Johansson and how did he end up coming to Seattle?) “The first time I saw him play live was at the end of ’09. We were looking at other players off of that club, and so we’ve kind of followed him along. Knowing his contract and that he was going to become free, we just followed him. To have a guy who was a captain of his team become available, and he’s at a good age coming into the prime of his career, he’s a player that we followed. When we’d take trips to Sweden that was one of the teams that we would watch play, whether it was focusing on that team or whether they were playing a team and we were looking at their players.”

(He described his style of play earlier [Ed note: see previous post], how would you describe him as a player and how does it compare to what he said?) “That’s exactly what we saw. He’s a player who’s tactically very smart. He’s versatile. He’s a leader in the back. He has a good engine, crosses well. His timing of overlaps, his timing of getting deep crosses in the box is good. He’s a solid player who tackles well and competes well every time he plays.”

(This signing appears to satisfy perhaps the last pressing need, what are your priorities for the rest of the offseason leading into the draft and the start of camp?) “We’re working on things. As you guys know, this is the busiest time for myself and Adrian (Hanauer) and Kurt (Schmid). I think it’s a good time for the coaches to take a break, but it gets very busy as players become available. We want to make sure that we continue to attack like we did in the past year with the goals we scored. Obviously, getting O’Brian White and Zakuani healthy again to add to that, that will almost feel like two new players if we can get them back this season. But there are a few things that we’re trying to tie up before we completely focus on the college draft. In a few days we all leave for the combine and then the big focus is making sure we try and get some draft picks who can compete to make our team.”

(Fredy Montero spoke the other day about offers from other clubs and there was a report today saying an Italian team is interested in Alvaro Fernandez. How much do potential subtractions weigh into the moves you make and players you pursue at this time?) “That’s something that we always have on our mind. I think there are one or two other guys who have had interest, as well, from our club. So you know those are guys who get the most interest. We always have to have players that we’re looking at, that if the club decides to move a player, then we have a plan in place to replace them. Because we always want to make sure that there’s a transition that’s really smooth and doesn’t affect the style of play that we have and the production of our attack. So it’s something that we always keep in mind, and that’s a decision for the club and ownership in which direction that we want to move. But we want to make sure that the players who are within our club and in their contract keep performing better every single year, and Fredy’s one that we expect to have a very good year for us, as well as Fernandez.”

(A local product, Kelyn Rowe, has signed a Generation adidas contract with MLS. Is he someone the team would be interested in?) “Kelyn’s a great player. He played at Crossfire, grew up here, played at other Washington clubs, went to UCLA. I think he’s really come on strong in the last 18 months to a year — he’s just really stepped up his game. You look at where our pick is (at No. 15), and I have a feeling he’ll be a guy who goes in the top five spots in the draft. At the moment we’re outside of that, but those will all be discussions the staff has down in Florida and what our tactics are going to be and positional needs we have. But as a player who’s from Washington state, it’s always great to have players you know want to be living at home, want to be playing for the hometown team. That’s always a positive.”

(Does the signing of Johansson end the pursuit of other right-back options you were connected with?) “Yeah, we look at Adam as a guy who’s a solid starter, who’s going to be the main guy. I think now looking at depth at that position is the next step. But (in terms of) the top players we were looking at at that position, I think Johansson is that guy right now. Yeah, I think depth at that position (is something we’ll look at), but we’re now also moving on to other positions.”

(With the two big additions, Gspurning and Johansson, filling a couple holes in the lineup, do you think the team improved or regressed with these moves?) “Kasey Keller in goal was one of the best this country has ever had. I think we are happy with (Michael) Gspurning, and I think he’s going to be a solid, experienced, composed player for us in the nets. So we’re happy with that, but as I said, Kasey Keller was in the nets, and we all know what Kasey can do. But we’re very excited to have Michael come and play in the nets for us. I think with our right back, losing James Riley, a seasoned veteran in our league, it’s tough to lose James. But I think Adam with his international experience, I think he can push that position even further with the amount of touches that our outside backs get. I feel very confident in having Adam come and help start our attack and defend and shut players down. He’s a good all-around player, so I think that’s an improvement there. Other positions: we are always looking to improve. How can we improve our attack? So those are things that we’re looking at too, and can players move around to different positions so we can find room for Zakuani on the flank? And can Fernandez be versatile and play inside? There are always things that our staff is talking about and thinking about.”

(You’ve brought in many trialists into camp in the past and this year there appears to be fewer open positions on the roster. Does that mean you’ll have fewer players invited to training camp in Arizona and Florida?) “Fewer maybe by two or three I would say. But we’re still going to come in with a pretty good group of players. There are players who still are going to be competing for spots and if we find there’s a position that we think another player who’s new to the group could come in and replace one of these players, then we’re going to consider that. So maybe smaller, but not by very much.”

(With Nate Jaqua gone and O’Brian White recovering, what do you think about the team’s group of forwards and potentially adding someone?) “That’s always a position you look at when you’re scouting, so we always keep a depth chart, a list of players that we follow. But you look at the competition for spots: Fredy Montero’s up top, Ochoa, Mike Fucito, Rosales has shown he can play there, hopefully Steve Zakuani comes back — he can play on the wing or up top. So we do have some very good options up there and the production was excellent last year with the absence of Zakuani and O’Brian White. So we hope O’Brian comes along, but the striker position is something we always continue to look at, and in scouting it has a lot to do with the timing of players — players in and out of contracts, being able to talk to the right players at the right time – so that’s something that we will continue to do. But we feel we have a very strong core of strikers to work with and continue on the scoring we did last year.”

(Can you talk about what you hope to accomplish with the combine coming up in Trinidad?) “We were approached by a group of people that have been in the game a long time that we’ve known and have a good history with who were willing to put on a combine down in Trinidad. They know the players well and the type of players that they think would do well in Major League Soccer. (Assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson) was going to be down in that area, so we’re sending Ezra down there. I have the list of players who are going to be down there, but they’re just names at this point. We haven’t seen much of the Trinidad league, so this might give us a chance to take a chance on a flier player. With the history of some of the young players who have come in to MLS from Trinidad – Stern John is probably the biggest example, but Evans Wise and other players have come in and performed in MLS — they’re worth looking at and doing more research on. We’re happy we’re able to do it. These are things we’re considering doing more often. As you saw in the Las Vegas combine, we had some foreign players come in. This is something we may do in years to come, where we look at other places in the world for players who can come in. Like I said, the scouting and timing is very important, and you have to be on the ball if you’re going to get the type of player who is going to come in and make an impact.”

(Reports have linked you to signing young Trinidadian Cordell Cato, can you address where the team stands in potentially signing him?) “Cordell is a player that we had in here and looked at him in the summer. He’s a player that we’ve been in discussions with. Nothing is finalized with him, but he is a player that we’re talking with and looking to see if there’s a possibility to get him into our group.”

(How much did Johansson’s knee injury a couple years ago affect the team’s interest in him? Has tracking him over the past couple years alleviated any doubts?) “I think with injuries and players as they go through their careers, there’s always that discussion. We had the same thing with Mauro Rosales; there was a lot of skepticism before he came with his injuries, but I think he was pretty durable for us. Following Johansson, I think in 2010 he ended up starting 26 out of 27 games and has been a pretty consistent player. It looks like his game has been steady and I didn’t notice any drop off in his quality of play with any of the injuries that I’ve seen him have. So we feel confident about that. Like we said earlier, Zakuani and O’Brian White, you could have never predicted those. So things happen in the game, but we feel pretty confident. He’s a player who takes care of himself and takes care of his body. He said he’s concerned about the travel, but he will do everything possible to take care of himself, and then there are just some things with injuries that you can’t avoid.”

(Can you give an update on how White and Zakuani are doing and the team’s expectations for them for 2012?) “I probably am not the right one to answer just because it’s more of a medical question for the training staff and the coaching staff. I don’t want to give you an answer that’s just on my own hope. I know they’ve both been working very hard. We see them in training and they follow the programs pretty closely. From what I can see, it looks very encouraging. That’s about all I can answer on that.”

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