Julian Valentin’s Column: Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Looking Back & Looking Ahead

This past weekend at the Home Depot Center, a capacity crowd was on hand to watch a “goalfest” between the Galaxy and the Columbus Crew. Columbus is having a good campaign so far sitting second place in the East and we’re currently first in the West so it was a big match for both sides.

We scored early when Landon finished a loose ball inside the box that was muffed by the keeper and then we doubled that up later in the half when Eddie Buddle continued his great form with another clinical strike. Then after the half, Columbus was able to get one back and then soon were awarded a penalty to tie it up at 2-2. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, we were given a penalty in the 83rd minute and Landon buried it for his 11th goal of the year. Then, in the dying moments of the match, Columbus got another one and we settled for a 3-3 tie. It was a wild match – a good one for neutral fans to watch but a tough and stressful match for both teams involved.

We feel that we gave away a couple points in the last game and we’ve been training hard this week to make sure that we finish off these types of matches and get three points in the future. Hopefully our hard work will pay off this week when we make the trip to the East Coast to play a hot DC United team. DC started off the year slowly but has quickly gained momentum as of late and looks to be in striking distance of Columbus and Toronto in the East. Luciano Emilio has found his goal scoring form from last year and it looks like Marcello Gallardo has settled into the team quite well. Supposedly something like 40,000 tickets have been sold already so it should be a good atmosphere!

This Week

This week has been pretty typical. We’ve been training hard in the HOT California sun. The heat is seriously out of control these days – like a George Foreman Grill clamping down on everyone. On the training pitch, we got a lot of work done getting ready for the DC game.

I’m writing this on Wednesday morning and I’m really enjoying my day off so far after sleeping in a bit. We typically have a double session on Tuesday, with weights and speed work in the morning and training in the afternoon – and if all goes well on Tuesday we’ll have Wednesday off. I don’t really have any big plans today but I think I may cruise down to the beach later on.

I did make a trip to Costco the other day with my roommate, Alvaro Pires, and Brandon McDonald – that was pretty exciting. I usually cook every night so I needed to go there and get some meat and stuff for dinner.

I got 10 lbs of ground beef, 10 lbs of chicken breasts, 10 steaks, and a giant salmon that I cut up into about 12 individual servings. Luckily I also bought 500 ziplock bags, condensed everything into the bags, and then somehow shoved it all into the freezer. The only thing is that now I have 458 ziplock bags that I don’t know what to do with.

I also bought a 7 lb bag of mixed vegetables, along with 36 rolls of toilet paper, 24 rolls of paper towels, 10 lbs of trail mix, and a giant cube of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. Alvaro bought, among other things, 60 eggs, 10 lbs of bacon, and about 50 Hot Pockets. My favorite purchase of the day came from my Brazilian roommate Alvaro who decided that we would need 20 grapefruit-sized onions in our apartment. He bought a bag of them and we now have an orchard of giant white onions in the house, enough to last a lifetime. Now we’re good on food for a while but suddenly have a storage crisis in the apartment. Trips to Costco…the glamorous life of a pro soccer player…

Around the League

Okay, so I’ve decided to eliminate this portion of my column before it even started. First reason: I sort of cover it in the previous section when I talk about our fixtures and such. Second reason: I don’t want the column to run too long and I don’t want to be redundant with things. Third: if there are any miscellaneous items from our league to talk about, I’ll just talk about it in “This Week.”

Around the World

Right now is one of the most exciting times of the year for soccer. Not only is the European Championship going on – which is amazing – but the European transfer window is open.

I’ve been posted up on my couch every day watching the Euro matches and marveling at the speed of play. It sort of consumes my life, to be honest. This tournament has been particularly captivating with two “surprise packages” in Turkey and Russia in the semifinals as well as countless other subplots along the way.

I know that they were hailed as the favorites from day one but I picked Germany from the start and I still think that they are going to win it all. I really like their balance. They have the foundation of Mertesacker and Metzelder in the middle of the back, Ballack pulling the strings in midfield, Klose as a target man to play off of, and Podolski and Schweinstieger have found their top form just in time for the big event. They also have depth that only Spain, Holland, and, well, France can compete with. Germany actually kicks off in a bit and I’m calling 3-0 for Germany against a shorthanded and burnt out Turkish side.

Along with the European Championships, the European transfer window is open now. For those who don’t know, it’s one of two times each year where European clubs can buy and sell players. It’s always a sort of soap opera as multiple clubs chase the same players and I love to track the daily buzz and rumors. Everybody is well aware of the Christiano Ronaldo saga but I’m getting really tired of all the shenanigans going on here.

I’ve been most interested in Inter Milan/Jose Mourinho vs. Chelsea/Scolari. For starters, these two men are both Portuguese and take over after somewhat controversial firings by their current employer. To add another wrinkle, former Portugal boss Scolari takes over at Mourinho’s old stomping grounds in London and he looks keen to revamp his squad with new players. At the same time, it looks like a few of his current stars, some of whom were brought to Chelsea by Mourinho are looking to get out including Didier Drogba, Steve Sidwell, and Frank Lampard. With a Russian billionaire owner, Chelsea is always fun to watch in the transfer market and anything is possible.

At the same time in Italy, Mourinho gets ready to construct his squad and he’s already reportedly done a fair amount of housecleaning. The outspoken Mourinho is a winner and knows how to navigate through the transfer process in order to get what he wants. We’ll see what happens with Mourinho’s Inter but count on a new look squad for the upcoming campaign. The wildcard in this battle is Portuguese stud Deco who is in limbo between these two. It will be really interesting to see who he chooses: his former national team boss or his former manager at Porto.

Q & A

Now it’s Q & A time. I had some fantastic questions this week so let’s get right to them:

1. Can you talk us through what it is like going from stage to stage of your soccer carrer? We all know that at young ages, you were probably superstar. And just continued on that path – even leading Wake Forrest to their first national championship as Captain.

Now – you’re forced to training hard with a great group of professionals, but you’re learning to deal with playing less.

Can you share any advice for other players of all ages who might have reached a plateau and how they work hard to make it to next level!

-Mickey

Good question, Mickey, and I’ll try to answer without going on too long. To a certain extent you’re correct but “superstar” is definitely not the right word…

I started playing intramural soccer at an early age, then got more serious and joined a local travel team. Then one of the best coaches in the area started a new Club team called Leeds United (like the English club) and that team started playing in more serious tournaments. I was also involved in the Eastern Pennsylvania Olympic Development Program (ODP) during my time with Leeds. While playing on the State ODP team, I also made the Region 1 ODP team, and also was fortunate enough to make some youth national teams because of my club and ODP exposure.

When I was 15, I was invited to the U-17 National Team Residency Program in Bradenton, Florida so I packed up and moved away from my home. I spent 2 years playing for the U-17 National Team in Florida, traveling, and playing in some great tournaments around the world. When I was 17, I graduated early from high school in Florida and went to college at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

I played 4 seasons at Wake, and graduated in 3.5 years. During my time in college I grew immensely as a player and as a person and, as you said, helped Wake win its first National Championship last December. All throughout my time in college, I was also a member of the U-20 Men’s National Team, going to various camps and tournaments around the world. I was fortunate enough to play in the Under-20 World Cup in Canada this past summer and it was the most amazing experience in my soccer career. Being able to represent my country in such a way was amazing and I hope to have more National Team experiences in the future, as well!

Now, I’m at a different point in my career, as a professional, experiencing some different challenges. It’s different being at the bottom of the group and having to work your way up. I’ve always considered myself a hard working player and I need that work ethic now more than ever because I’m playing with some world-class players every day – and playing with guys who were 12 or 14 when I was born. The game gets faster at every level and the biggest jump has definitely been from college to the MLS. Also, consistency is key at this level. I’ve learned that you need to show up every day and play well. Sure you can have an off-day every once in a while but it’s crucial to string together a number of good training sessions and matches. Luckily, I’m playing for a great club with the Galaxy that has lots of veterans who have helped with the transition and a coaching staff who is extremely knowledgeable.

To explicitly answer your question, I would say that there’s always going to be some difficulties and new challenges as you continue playing at higher levels. But you can always control your work ethic and your attitude. Set realistic goals and work hard to achieve them…

2. I’m on a soccer team where the moral is not great; therefore we don’t always work as a team and we fail to work hard for each other. How does L.A. Galaxy or the National Team strengthen team moral and bond with one another? At age 16 is it the responsibility of the coach to encourage effort, or is it up to the players to self-motivate? Where is the balance for you?

-Sallie O

Winston-Salem, NC

Sallie – I think that team chemistry and genuinely caring for teammates is extremely important for success. I also think that it’s a combination of the coaches and the players who are responsible for this and that both must work to make team chemistry effective.

I think that coaches have a responsibility to select their team based on creating a good team environment. Sometimes it’s better to “sacrifice” a player with more ability for a slightly weaker player who will fit in better with the team and work hard. It only takes one or two players to completely kill the group with selfishness and slacking off. There’s more than just “players” on a team, there are “people” and it’s the coach’s job to put the right pieces together.

Saying that, I think that it’s the player’s responsibility to be committed and everyone must make an effort to fit in together and form a strong squad. It’s my personal belief that players must work hard every day and it is the players who should hold each other accountable if someone drops off.

Soccer is a game, more than others, where cohesiveness and teamwork can make or break success. It’s vitally important to have confidence that the person next to you is going to give 100% for you and for the team. At all levels, team cohesiveness and team spirit can win games and medals – look at Turkey and Russia from this year’s European championship and Greece from ’04. Spirit, attitude, and a little bit of luck are the X-factors that have complimented their natural strengths and made these teams successful.

I hope that helps and good luck with your own squad!

3. Julian, if you weren’t a professional soccer player what do you think you’d be doing? And other than Home Improvement what other shows do you enjoy? I’m going to guess and say you’re a Full House fan, good luck this season!

-Carey J

Eugene, Oregon

Carey – If I weren’t a pro soccer player, I’d actually like to be a journalist. I majored in English in college and writing is something that I really enjoy. (That’s why this gig is so nice!) I’d also like to be TV broadcaster or something – I think that would be a cool job.

Speaking of TV, you’ve got me there. I do like Full House. It slips into my TV Top 10:

1. South Park

2. Home Improvement

3. Seinfeld

4. How It’s Made…and anything else Discovery Channel

5. Anything History Channel

6. Anything National Geographic Channel

7. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm

9. Entourage

10. Full House

4. Heya Jules! I’m a Wake Forest alum and Galaxy fan so i was so happy when you were drafted by my Galaxy! I was wondering, who’s the biggest jokester in the locker room on the team? And how much time does Abel spend on his hair? its fierce! Best of luck rest of the season, Galaxy to MLS Cup!!

-Anne H

Anne – I’d have to say that Pete Vagenas is the biggest jokester on our team. He’s hilarious and he’s always up to something – pushing someone’s buttons.

Abel is one of the nicest guys that I know, a really really great guy – and yes, he does spend a fair amount of time on his hair. He’s often seen prepping in the locker room mirror but you have to admit that he always looks sharp! All in all, I’d say it probably takes him 10 minutes after training to fix the hair up but that’s only what I can attest to – I’m sure it’s more throughout the day.

5. Mr. Valentin, what player(s) on the team do you spend the most time with off the field? Any favorite activities around LA? FORZA GALAXY!!

-Antoine S

Antoine – Most of the rookies on the Galaxy live together in the same apartment complex so we spend a lot of time together. I’d have to say that I spend most of my time with Alvaro and Brandon (ie. our Costco excursion) but I also hang out with Josh Wicks, Michael Gavin, and Ely Allen.

We play lots of cards (Texas Hold ‘Em, 22, 31), watch TV, and go to the beach. We only live a couple blocks from the beach so we’re always down there hanging out. It’s really nice to be able to walk to the beach – a lot different than the cornfields where I come from in Pennsylvania!

Thank you very much for all of your questions – they were great. Keep them coming toJulian@americansoccerreader.com! Until next week, thank you very much for reading today and I’ll see you next Thursday!

-jules

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