Julian Valentine’s Column: Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Looking Back & Looking Ahead

With the bye-week, there is no match to look back at.  We had a number of hard training sessions and tough fitness and weight work after training.  We definitely took full advantage of the preparation week and pushed ourselves to the limit.

Make sure to tune into ESPN 2 at 10:00 pm Eastern time for the third match of the Honda Superclassico.  LA Galaxy vs. Chivas USA.  Be there.

This Week

I’m sure that everyone’s read the reports out of LA this week.  Ruud and Alexi are no longer with the team and, needless to say, it’s been a crazy week.  Even with the media whirlwind out here, we have handled the situation like professionals and have continued business as usual.  Cobi and Trevor James have stepped right in and have done a fantastic job of preparing us for Chivas on Thursday, keeping everyone focused on the things that we can control.  They’ve also put together a number of solid training sessions.  The transition has been quite smooth actually.

With all that’s gone on this week, it’s been reinforced in my mind how much of a business professional sports really are.  This is ALL professional sports – soccer, basketball, baseball, hockey, football, everything.  We are in the business of winning games and putting fans in the stands.  Those two forces are reliant on each other.  When teams are dropping results and not performing up to expectations, people lose their jobs and they are sent on their way – there’s rarely patience with these kinds of things.  People read these types of changes all the time on ESPN bottom line ticker but it’s interesting being on the inside.

As a group of players we’ve really realized how much we need to come together, now more than ever.  So, this week, we went to the beach after training for a team barbecue.  Someone’s friend of a friend has a house literally right on the beach in Hermosa Beach and they allowed us to come over for a few hours and spend some time bonding on their back porch.  The veterans suggested that all the rookies put our heads together and plan the event for the whole group so we went to the store and bought the necessary meat, condiments, drinks, and side dishes.  Most of the team showed up and Grillmaster Josh Wicks kept the charcoal-kissed goods coming.  Besides the amazing location of the house, the barbecue was nothing special, actually quite low-key.  We just sort of sat around in the sun, watched the beach-goers come and go, told stories, and enjoyed some good banter within the group.

I also met Gordon Ramsey this week.  That was pretty cool.  He’s probably most famous for his TV show “Hell’s Kitchen” on Fox where he completely flips out and kills the spirits of aspiring chefs.  Ramsey is regarded as one of the top chefs in the world – #2 actually behind some French lady.

Around the World

I love the Olympics.  It’s definitely the only time that I ever watch MSNBC or CNBC…or even NBC for that fact.  Saying that, I have to admit that I haven’t done the best job of watching the Olympic soccer so far – it’s just been difficult with the time difference and my basic cable package.  It’s also impractical for me to stay up to 2:00 am to watch the games live with training the next day so I’ve been scrambling to watch as many games as I can after the fact.  Luckily the NBC Olympic website has comprehensive coverage of the Games and I’ve been able to catch up on a lot of games there.

In all the games that I’ve watched, I’ve been struck by how even the matches have been.  Almost all of the games that I’ve seen (expect for Brazil/China) have been extremely close matches that could have gone either way.  There have been a lot of draws, a lot of one goal wins, but even more telling is the way that these games are actually played.  Often times from what I’ve seen, it’s only a matter of one play on either end of the pitch that decides the entire match.  This was never more evident that the US-Japan game – a great result for the US but a result that easily could have gone either way.  Even though it was an up-hill battle (that we handled awesomely by the way) the US-Nigeria game is another example of that.  We could have ended with a point for us with some late chances.  These Olympic games seem result-oriented and a bit tense to me and critical plays have been amplified.

That’s all I have to today in “Around the World” because the next section will be a bit long…

Q & A

I got an email from Brian P. this week and he suggested that I talk a little bit about the Galaxy reserve games and the MLS reserve league in general.  

1/2.  Since you’re a regular starter on the reserve team, did you ever think about writing a quick synopsis about the weekly reserve match (when applicable)?  For instance, I had read that Ed Dominguez played goalkeeper the last 11 minutes to fill in for the injured Charles Alamo.  I think a player’s perspective on the match and little tid-bits like the aforementioned would be a cool addition to your blog.

1/2.  My question is, how are the reserve team games going? Can you give us an update on those, the level of competitiveness, how you feel like you’re performing in them, and whether or not any player stands out as being ready for the first team?

-Jay in Los Angeles

The reserve division is, well, a learning experience in a lot of ways.  I take these games very seriously.  Right now these are my only matches, my opportunity to improve outside of training, get 90 minutes of fitness and sharpness, and show the coaching staff what I can offer to the team.  Saying that, the games are frustrating many ways and there are a lot of difficult things to deal with.

First, the “reserve team” is basically whatever healthy players do not play substantial minutes in the first team game and the roster changes from week to week.  With a roster of 26 guys and the fact that there are often injured players, we typically have 8-10 field players available for these games from the Galaxy roster.  So, we have to bring in guest players to fill the gaps and field a team.  Unfortunately for me, we usually have to bring in backs as guest players so I’m usually playing next to guys who are not on our team, who I don’t know, and who only fly in the night before the match.  It’s hard to forge a good partnership this way.

The games are also usually at 10:00 am the day after the first team game, so it’s creates some challenges in getting a proper breakfast and pregame preparation.  It’s also very hot playing in LA or Dallas in July at 10:00.

The fixtures are also extremely sporadic.  We had a period earlier this year where we went about two and a half months without a game, so it’s just a difficult situation.  Sometimes the matches get cancelled because of lack of numbers or other reasons.  We’ll play two or three games in a row, have two months without a reserve match, and then have another couple matches.

The level of the games varies and it really depends on the depth of the teams involved.  Teams with more depth and experience on their roster naturally have better reserve teams but most teams use the reserve division as an opportunity to give their young players a run and look at guest players.  Overall, though, the level of the reserve games is significantly lower than the first team matches.  They’re not as fast, not as clean, and just lack the same quality.

Here are couple anecdotes to illustrate all of the aforementioned frustrations.  When we played the Salt Lake reserves earlier this year we drove an hour up the mountains from Salt Lake City to the Park City for a 10:00 am match.  We had flown in 4 guest players for the match because we were short-handed and there were no subs.  We had an injury at halftime so we had no other option but to put our third string goalkeeper up top for the second half.  Then we had another injury so we played a man down for the last 15 minutes, with our goalkeeper at forward, and four guest players – two of whom were defenders.  Needless to say, we lost 5-2.

Against San Jose our first team game was at noon in Oakland so we drove over an hour straight from Oakland to Santa Clara for the 4:30 reserve match kickoff.  We flew in three guest players who arrived the morning of the match who met us at the field.  Two of them started but at least we had a sub (which came in handy).  We had three injuries in the match, which included two goalkeepers going down.  So, we had to put our Argentinean centerback (who barely speaks English) in goal for the last 15 minutes of the match.  In this match, we lost 1-0 on a brilliant long-range goal from Kelly Gray but we actually played quite well, showing that everyone is learning to adjust to the reserve league conditions.

It’s easy to see why the games are frustrating – especially for someone like myself who cares so much about performing well these games and WINNING!

These problems are not exclusively Galaxy problems.  Ruud said publicly that he was shocked with the MLS reserve system, alluding specifically to a time when we had to get a ticket account manager from our front office to play so that we had enough numbers for a match.  Ruud came from a very different European reserve system where there is an organized league of “reserve” teams and “reserve” players.  Our reserve league seemed so amateur and bush-league to him.  No.  I don’t have the solutions but there needs to be some reform in the MLS reserve division in order to maximize its potential.

All that said, it’s something and I am thankful for the opportunity to play in the reserve matches.  I’m definitely glad that the reserve league exists.  There was no system at all in the past and I’m definitely grateful that there’s an opportunity for me to get some games.  16 games in a year, regardless of the conditions, are way better than zero games.

In conclusion, these games are not just a wash for me – I’m very competitive and hate losing.  I deal with all of the conditions and just get on with it.  I’m pretty happy with how I’ve played in the reserve matches so far this year.  I’ve gotten better every game and I think that the coaches are noticing my improvement, hard work, leadership, good play, and starting to see where I may fit in the team.  When it’s all said and done and I look back at my experience with the reserve league when I’m hopefully still playing at 30, I think that I’ll take away how it helped me to become a professional.  I’ve learned to focus on the things that I can control, forget about everything else, and just worry about going out and playing well.

  1. Hey Julian, were you at the Lieweke locker room meeting? If you were, what was it like? Was there a sense among the players that both Gullit and Lalas could be on the way out? Thanks!

-Steve K

Steve K – I was in the locker room that day, as was the rest of the team.  I think that everyone on the team knew that something was brewing in the club and that there was going to be a big decision coming soon.  Not that we were obsessing over it or anything but after the first meeting and the following loss to San Jose, we knew that something was inevitable.

I don’t really know how stuff like that ends up getting out to the media but everything that was said in those meetings has been reported by the media.  Mr. Lieweke basically came in and bluntly told the group that we were not performing up to expectations and that we needed to turn things around.  He said if we did not there would be serious consequences and after the second meeting, he told us that we are now responsible because there are no more distractions (as various outlets have reported).

The mood in the meetings was extremely serious and intense – almost scary.  It was definitely a new experience for me and hopefully we won’t have another one of these meetings ever again.

  1. Julian, now that Mr. Gullit has resigned, do you think your chances of playing in the first team have been helped or hindered? I was interested to know, I felt Ruud should have given you a run, especially with all of the Galaxy’s defensive woe’s so far this season. Either way good luck for the rest of the season!

-Melinda-Santa Barbara

Melinda – That’s a good question and something that I’ve asked myself lately.  It’s no secret that different coaches prefer different things in players and all it takes is a coaching change for a player to find himself inside or outside the team.  This is seen all over the world.  Do I think my chances for first team time have improved with Ruud’s departure?  Probably.

As I said earlier, with Cobi taking over the transition has been quite smooth.  There definitely won’t be any dramatic changes to the lineup but hopefully I’ll be able to crack the first team at some point this year.  It’s tough, though, because we don’t have another reserve game until September 7 so there’s no opportunity to prove myself in a match setting for a while.  Training is one thing but you need to prove yourself in match environments.

From the beginning of the year I’ve taken this approach: Work hard every single day and improve.  Learn as much as I can.  If I get playing time this year, it would be an added bonus, but I’m realistic in knowing that I have to learn a lot of things before being a regular starter in this league.  At the same rate, I know that I can do it and if I was given a chance for first team minutes this year, I know that I would take it and make the most of it.  I know that I could help out my team.

  1. Jules, if you could pick 5 coaches from anywhere in the world to take over the Galaxy (aside from Cobi Jones), who would it be and why? Can be any manager for any reason, thanks!

-Mike S, Florence

Mike S from Florence – I don’t necessarily think that the following guys would be the best for the job because there are lots of nuances to MLS which make it a difficult league to coach in.  But this is a sort of dream list.  These are in no particular order and I will stay away from all names being linked with the job for political purposes:

  1. Bob Bradley – The US National Team coach has an amazing soccer mind and he is an extremely committed coach.Coach Bradley’s vision, intensity, and commitment would be an asset to the club and he would make the Galaxy a contender immediately and in the future.
  2. Juergen Klinsmann – Obviously he has a new employer in Munich, but it would be awesome to play under the German legend.He did a good job with the 2006 German World Cup team and the former Huntington Beach resident could live back at home and commute to the HDC.
  3. Guus Hiddink – It’s been cool watching Guus coach in South Korea, Australia, Russia, Holland, and about half of the other counties in the world.He doesn’t just manage teams all around the world but he’s successful everywhere he goes – national teams, clubs, it doesn’t matter.  He has to be doing something right and I’m sure he could do it right for the Galaxy.
  4. Luciano Spalletti – I watched Roma a lot this past year and really like their style of play.I think Spalletti has put together a solid, well balanced, and entertaining team in Rome and would like to see how he would fair in our league.  I also vaguely remember a few years ago when Spalletti took Udinese to a miraculous top-5 finish in the Serie A.
  5. Harry Redknapp – I’ve said it before, I love Harry Redknapp as a manager.I think he’s done a fantastic job building Portsmouth into one of the top teams in England – he’s taken them from the bottom and they continue to improve every year under his guidance.  Check out this video as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaGo7JYXNlw.  Excuse the language (Harry says the “F” word in the video) but I feel like his players play hard for him and he seems like a real player’s coach.

That’s all that I have for today, folks.  I hope that you enjoyed today’s article and remember to send your questions, comments, and suggestions to Julian@americansoccerreader.com.  Take care and I’ll see you next week!

-jules

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