Julian Valentin’s Column: Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Welcome back everyone!  Sorry for the technical difficulties last week but my computer charger only arrived from IBM Thinkpad headquarters yesterday and I was able to piece this installment together quite quickly.

Looking Back & Looking Ahead

Today’s “Looking Back” will be mainly about the changes over the past couple weeks.

As everyone in the US soccer world knows by now, we now have a new coach and GM in Bruce Arena.  Coach Arena is a familiar face in the soccer community with an amazing reputation for managing winning teams and developing players.  He’s perfect for the job because of his knowledge of what it takes to be successful in this league, his eye for talent, and management of teams.  I’m really excited to be learning from him and I can already tell that he has earned his reputation for a good reason.

Also added to the staff as the “Associate Head Coach” is former Chicago Fire head coach Dave Sarachan, who had recently been working with the US Soccer Development Academy.  Coach Sarachan is another quality, winning coach who is passionate about the game and good at working with players.  He brings great experience and knowledge in the game and what I like is that he really stresses the details of the game.  Both new coaches are great teachers and have stepped right into our team in a seamless fashion.  The rest of the staff has stayed the same with Cobi and Trevor James as assistant coaches and Ian Feuer as goalkeeper coach.

As I said, the transition has been smooth and we’re definitely improving already.  We’ve gotten back to the basics, working on lots of technical work, possession play, defensive shape and movement, and we’ve been really competitive in training.  The mentality has been one of “serious fun” which is the best way to have it – we’re serious about working hard, competing, and WINNING games again but we’ve also remembered that we need to enjoy ourselves at the same time.  What’s most important, I think, is that it’s clear that the new coaches have come in with a definite game plan and know what it will take to make out team serious contenders this year.  They’ve addressed all of our major issues and we’re working hard to improve under new guidance.

Today we leave for New England, which is a huge game for us.  New England is still in the top tier of the league and it goes without saying that we need a win.  Saying that, the beauty of our league (or fault, depending on how you look at it) is that a win could put us in 2nd place in the West.  Which is pretty unbelievable when you think about it.  We’re expecting a tough game against a good New England team who beat us 2-0 last match, but we’re confident that if we play well and work hard for 90 minutes we can come out on top.

This Week

As I said, this week we’ve been training hard, focused, knowing that we need to win.  We’ve had a number of meetings also which is an important part of our new training regime.  We’ve been watching video from our last match, talking about New England, and just overall preparing mentally, physically, tactically, and technically for the match.

Off the field it has been awesome.  My girlfriend, Kristen, came to visit in LA and just left today.  She is currently in doctorate school for physical therapy at Regis University in Denver and was able to make it down here for about 10 days.  Of course it’s great just spending time together and we like to walk around on the beach, eat frozen yogurt, and go to the movies, which we did this week.

But we were also able to make it down to San Diego for a couple days this past weekend.  A good friend of mine, Jeff Skeen (who is also founder/owner of the Full90 headgear company, which I proudly wear), had a birthday party and we went down to wish him a happy birthday.  Kristen and I also went to La Jolla and saw some seals on the beach there, ate at the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, and went to Sea World.

After dinner at a Mexican restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter we stopped by a little piano bar called The Shout House.  If you’ve never been to a piano bar, I highly recommend it – it’s a great time.  It was my first time and we sort of just impulsively decided to go in.  Basically everyone sits down in the restaurant/bar and there are 2 pianos on stage.  The audience members write their song requests on a piece of paper, lay them on the piano, and the pianists (who know like EVERY song somehow) play the songs.  Everyone sings along.  It’s a really unique experience and tons of fun.  Kristen and I requested “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield which got played before long.  Sea World was also amazing, as I’m sure you can imagine.  There’s so much to do there and we made a day out of seeing the whole park!

Around the World

Even though there’s a ton going on in the football world right now with the start of the new seasons and such, I’m going to opt out of this segment for the week.  I wanted to really focus on the other three sections.  I’m also trying to write this whole article in like an hour because my charger only came earlier today and we leave for New England early tomorrow.  “Around the World” will make its heroic return next week!

Q & A

These questions are from last week, but all still apply this week:

  1. Have you had a chance to speak with “The Bruce” yet? If so what are your first impressions, did he say anything in particular?

– Roberto, Orange County

I have to say that I was really excited to meet coach Arena.  I was a DC United fan growing up (being from PA) and obviously I had watched his teams for years with the national team.  I had also heard so many good things about him from players and other coaches.

My first impression is that he is really humble – just a regular, down to earth guy.  He seemed pretty blue collar, approachable, and up front.  All of these have held true.  In a lot of ways, he’s the opposite of our last manager.  There aren’t a whole lot of east coast/ACC guys on our team so we talked about that connection that we have.

  1. My questions are: 
  2. a) Does he [Bruce Arena] seem to be up and current on the MLS this year,
  3. b) Does he seem to know all the players already from watching games, and 
  4. c) How do you feel you’d fit into the kind of backline formation that he likes to use? Arena has a system that he has used everywhere he’s coached—do you think that format will suit the players the Galaxy have in the backline and midfield?

– Jay in Los Angeles

Thanks again to one of my favorite readers, Jay in LA, for these great questions.  First, Bruce and Dave are definitely “up and current” on the MLS this year.  They are two fantastic coaches who have a tremendous track record in the league and clearly were deeply engrained in the league, even in their time away from coaching.  It is important that in preparations for matches that we know specifics about player tendencies, formations, and tactics of other teams.  That’s something that we had been lacking before due to the fact that our manager was not familiar with the league and its players.  Our preparation for the Chicago game was sharp and focused (as it was when Cobi prepared us for the Chivas game) and specific in what we could expect from the opposition.  So yes, very “up and current.”

Second, it was also clear very early that our new coaches had been watching our games all year and knew what our major issues were.  They knew all of the players names and a lot about each player on day one and I believe, also, that they have a pretty good idea of each player’s niche on the team.  Of course this will evolve throughout the rest of the year but they definitely “did their homework,” as you asked.  Keep in mind also that we have a number of players who have played for Bruce on past national teams and Dave has been a coach in our league for years.

Finally, I’ve said it before but I know that I still have a lot to learn.  Saying that, I know that I can help the team if called upon.  The backline formation that coach Arena likes to use isn’t really any different.  We’ve just really gotten back to the basics of team defending which is what we really needed.  We’ve been working on shifting, pressure/cover/balance, clearances, and everything else.  I feel that I fit in well and many of the things that he’s been stressing are things that I feel I do well – it’s just all about getting the details right and doing it for 90 minutes under pressure.

  1. With Bruce Arena now at the helm of the Galaxy, how have the training sessions, player’s attitudes, and overall feel of the team changed?  What are the major differences?

Do you feel that your chances to crack the starting 11 have decreased or increased with the management change?

– B.P. in Los Angeles, CA

B.P. – What’s up?  The training sessions have been great.  One thing is that there’s a lot more variety.  We’ve done different exercises that are designed to train our areas of need.  The change has broken up some of the repetition of before and replaced it with a bit of freshness.

One thing that we’ve really been working on in training, is training our mentality.  This means defensive mentality, sustaining concentration, fine-tuning technique, and things like that.  This has been a good thing for the team and for me in particular – I hope to continue to improve in these ways.  Coach Arena stresses that we win Saturday games on Monday – Friday and it’s critical to train well.

Have my chances of cracking the first team improved?  Sure, I’d probably say they have.

  1. Hey Julian, were the players informed of the guys being interviewed to fill the managers spot? Or was it a decision made totally by the front office, just curious, thanks!

– Cindy, Santa Monica

Cindy – Good question.  We didn’t really know what was going on with the coaching change to be honest.  I preferred it this way and I think that the rest of the team did as well.  It could have been a distraction for the team if we were on the inside so we just went about business as usual and found out one day that there had been a hiring.  Of course the media always circulates rumors and people read those, but other than that, we didn’t know about anything specific going on up in the front office.

Great questions everyone – they always are.  My new computer charger and I will be back next week and I hope that you will be as well.  Take care and I’ll talk to you next Thursday.


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