Julian Valentin’s Column, Friday, September 19th, 2008

Looking Back & Looking Ahead

I’m going to reserve the right to not talk about this past weekend’s game against Kansas City.  I just don’t feel like writing about it and I have full autonomy here so I’m not going to.  Everyone knows that we haven’t won in a while so it’s not worth beating a dead horse…

But I will look ahead to this weekend.  We host DC United in a must-win match for us.  Even through our slump, our fans have been fantastic and we owe them a win, especially on our home turf.  Last time against DC, it was a bad game and we hope to do a 180 from the last time.  They are a good team, who move the ball well and are dangerous in the attack, but we’re confident that we can take this one if we play to our full potential.

This Week

This week has been an intense one on the pitch.  With another loss, it’s now do or die for our season.  Training has reflected this truth.  We’ve been going at it, busting our butts, getting stuck in, running, lifting, watching film, and doing everything that we can on the practice pitch to make sure that we get a result on Saturday.  Training has been very tough and result oriented in everything that we do.  I’m confident that we’ll put on a good performance for our fans with Saturday.

People always ask me “what do you do on your days off?”  So, today I thought I would share with you what I did on my Monday off.  We usually have one day a week off but we’re in every other day so I make sure to get everything done on that one day so I have no obligations other days of the week.

  1. I slept in really late and woke up at 9:45.Before eating anything I went for a 5.5 mile run – I traveled and dressed for the Kansas City game but did not play, so I went for a run to make sure that I was staying fit and sharp.  I ran right next to the San Gabriel River, which runs to the Ocean.  I also ran by the water in Seal Beach, where I live.
  2. Then I came home, ate a giant bowl of cereal while I was cooling off, showered, brushed my teeth and sat on the couch to check my emails, read the world news, and go through my daily blog roll of soccer websites (which, of course, includes American Soccer Reader).
  3. Then I transformed into Billy English and played a little bit of Football Manager. He resigned from Tottenham and now he’s with Villareal – he needed a new challenge.  He already turned us into a Champions League squad.
  4. Then I had some errands to run.First I went to the bank.  Then I went to drop some stuff off at the dry cleaners.  Then I went to the post office.  Then I went to Goodwill to drop off some old clothes.   Then I went to Costco!  Many of you may remember my debut article about my trip to Costco.  Well, all of the meat that I bought that day lasted until now – so I bought about the same amount of chicken, salmon, ground beef, steaks, vegetables, and snacks so I’ll be set for the rest of the year.  Then I came home, put all my meat in plastic bags, put in a bunch of different marinades and threw it in the freezer.  It’s full.  Packed to the gills.
  5. Then we actually had an appearance.We had a bowling outing with our corporate partners.  The team was split up into groups of four and corporate partners were also split up.  We bowled about 10 minutes at each station and then rotated to bowl with the next set of partners.  It was a really cool, fun appearance – a good team bonding activity and also good to get to meet some of the companies that are a big part of our organization.  I was on absolute fire.  We weren’t keeping score but I was amazing – two separate times I had 4 strikes in a row.  I usually suck but I was in the zone.
  6. After the appearance I came home and just sort of relaxed.Watched the rest of the Eagles game and some other choice shows.  I am a HUGE HUGE HUGE Eagles fan and actually made some of the Galaxy people put up the game on one of the big screens while we were bowling.  I would usually be devastated with the loss (especially to my most hated Cowboys) but the game was very encouraging and I know that we’re real contenders this year – and it was a great, entertaining game.  GO BIRDS!
  7. Then I brushed my teeth, washed my face and went to bed at around 11:00.

Around the World

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP STAGE TIME.  Probably my favorite time of the year, except for Christmas.  My Tuesdays and Wednesdays are just amazing now.  This year, the tables are particularly interesting and the quality of teams is as good as any year I can remember.

Group A seems pretty open and closed.  A deep Chelsea squad will rummage through the competition and a good Roma side will take second.  Bordeaux will fight hard but not advance and even though CFR Cluj-Napoca shocked Roma on Matchday 1, don’t expect much more from the Romanian team.

Group B is another one that is already done in my mind.  Trophy contenders Inter are the class of the group and I’ve always been a fan of Werder Bremen.  I think Bremen has what it takes to go through and Panathinaikos of Greece and minnows Anorthosis Famagusta from Cyprus will fall by the wayside.

Group C is intriguing to me.  Barca are the clear frontrunners but the race for 2nd is open in my mind.  Shaktar is a good Ukrainian side who, year in and year out, produce good Champions League performances – like their Matchday 2 victory.  Basle is a good, organized side that I’ve watched a couple times on SopCast and they can surprise some people and get results.  On paper, the other knockout round qualifier will be Sporting with Joao Mountinho, Yannick Djalo, Fabio Rochembeck, and others but they’re not good enough to coast through to the next round.  We’ll see…

Liverpool has to be mad about their group – what I’d consider the Group of Death.  No team is safe in Group D.  Athletico is a good, good team that has reloaded in the past couple years with Kun Aguero, Tomas Ujfaulsi, John Heitinga, Maniche, Forlan, Coupet and the list goes on.  This is a solid side that can contend for multiple trophies this year.  Even though they’re minus Samir Nasri, Marseille is still a good side with lots of firepower.  Their opening day result is not a reflection of what to expect from this team.  Perennial Dutch powers PSV will be a dangerous team in this group and Liverpool is Liverpool.  Can’t wait to watch these games over the next few months.

Group E’s another tough one with 3 strong sides.  Man U look to defend their title but an up-an-coming Villareal side hope to sneak into the knockout rounds over Celtic.  The Yellow Submarine and The Bhoys will battle it out.  And Aalborg is out of the question…

Group F is another tough one.  Bayern Munich is back where it belongs, in the Champions League, and they look to go through.  They’ll face still competition, however, in a strong Lyon side and a strengthened Fioentina side.  Even Juan Carlos Toja’s Steaua Bucharesti are a team not to be taken lightly.

Group G has Arsenal as the class team and Porto as the immediate second choice but don’t sleep on Dynamo Kiev or Fenerbache.  The Turks made it to last year’s knockout round and Dani Guiza will give them more firepower up top.  Dynamo are a good team as well and this group could have some surprising results.

Group H rounds out he competition with another interesting trio of teams.  Juve is back in Champions League play after serving match-fixing jail time.  They hope to make a push in the tournament against clear favorites Real Madrid.  Keep Zenit St. Petersburg in mind, though.  They were a joy to watch during last year’s UEFA Cup and hope to continue that success.  I’ve never heard of BATE Borisov…

It’s all there and it’s shaping up to be a great Christmas…I mean…Champions League season.

Q & A

  1. When you know you will be on the bench for a match, what is your typical day of game routine?

– Zack, Diamond Bar, CA

Zack – Good question.  Usually we don’t know if we’re on the dress list until we arrive at the stadium on gameday.  Saying that, I always prepare the same way, as if I’m going to dress and as if I’m going to play.  Even if we did find out the day before I would still prepare the same, in serious manner…

For a 7:30 pm match, I’ll usually sleep in late, to 9:00 or 9:30 am.  Then I’ll have a breakfast of cereal, a bagel, granola, eggs, and stuff along those lines.  I don’t like to sit around all day or lay in bed like some people so I’ll do little errands like go to the grocery store or the dry cleaners or get a carwash or stuff like that – only low key things, but I like to get out and about a bit.  Often times, I’ll go in the hot tub for a few minutes to loosen up in the hours after breakfast.  Then I’ll eat a light lunch, usually pasta and fruit.  After lunch, I usually lie around and watch TV a bit.  Then right before I change and get ready to take off for the game, I cook myself a pregame meal of, usually, chicken, rice, vegetables and stuff like that.  I cook all my own meals all the time and only eat good, healthy things – not just on gameday but all the time.  I hydrate with water and Gatorade all day long.  I leave my house at about 4:55 to make sure that I’m at the stadium nice and early to prepare for the match.

Game days are filled with lots of anticipation!

  1. How do you feel about Gabe Ferrari (I believe he was on the US MNT with you), playing pro in Italy??  He just got loaned out from a Serie A team (Sampadoria) to a Serie C team (Perugia).  Do you think he is better off just coming back and playing in the US or sticking it out with Italy???  Do you think he has the potential to be a big star in Europe, like Guiseppe Rossi?

-Jaclin in NY

Jaclin – I know Gabe well and I think that the loan is a good thing.  Being loaned out to a lower league is very common in Europe for young players and something that can be beneficial.  It’s a really good option to get competitive matches and play on a regular basis.  If a player isn’t going to get regular minutes with the first team, they have to play for the reserve team and in many cases it’s better to go on loan and play in important games for another club rather than reserve matches.  On top of all that, Perugia is a club with a really good tradition – players like Nakata and Gattuso have played there and I think there’s more big time players who have also played there.

One thing that would benefit MLS youngsters would be a more open loan system.  Bryan Jordan from our team is a good example of this.  BJ went on loan to Portland for a few months, played regular, competitive games, and when we needed him, he came back and did well for the Galaxy.  He scored and assisted against Real Salt Lake and started against Kansas City.

I think that Gabe is in good shape and will be a good player in Europe.  He’s explosive, hard-working, and has all the physical and technical tools to be successful in Italy.

  1. In training, I would imagine that there are some defense v. offense related drills that take place.  If my assumption is correct, who would you say is the hardest/toughest to mark or matchup against as far as forwards are concerned?  How do you think this improves your overall play and skill set?

– B.P., Los Angeles

B.P. – You are correct.  We usually end training with some sort of small sided game or 18-18 scrimmage so there’s a lot of offense vs. defense.

I’d have to say that playing against Landon is difficult and a good challenge every day.  Not only is his pace a huge threat but he’s also creative, tricky, makes really good runs, and lethal in front of goal.  When playing against him, any mistake gets punished so you have to be on top of your game the whole time.

Playing against him has really helped me to read the game better – making good decision on when to step, drop, stand him up, etc.  Because he’ll burn me if there’s balls played over top, I have to anticipate things in order to sniff out that danger before it comes.  He also often drifts to deeper in the midfield and so that I have to step into the midfield space so he can’t turn and run at the backs.  I also try to play to my strengths when playing against him, being physical, stepping to him, blocking shots, and standing him up in 1 v. 1 situations.

  1. First, congratulations on getting named to the game-day roster in the last several matches. All the training must be paying off. Hopefully we’ll get to see your league debut soon. Second, the run of tough results is obviously discouraging and I’m sure you’re sick of talking about it, so my question is, do you see yourself as a writer 20 years from now when your career is over? Have you considered being some sort of a sports-writer, or even a different kind of writer? How about coaching? What do you see for your future after your playing career?

– Jay in Los Angeles

Jay in LA – Writing is something that I’ve always like and have always thought about doing after soccer.  I’ve always been interested in sports journalism and that is something that I would definitely consider doing after soccer.

I would also really like to do some sort of TV commentary, whether it’s in-game commentary or Fox Football Phone-In or something like that.  I’ve always considered myself a good public speaker and I would enjoy that.

Coaching is also something that I would be interested in.  I’m not sure at what level (our country is lame about requiring licenses and stuff like that) but I feel that I would be a good coach.  I’ve been fortunate to have learned from a lot of great coaches and grown up with good “soccer people” and feel that I would make a good coach.

Other than that, I’m not sure.  But I do know that I want to be a good father and a good husband.  Please excuse the mushy moment…

I hope that you enjoyed my article for the day!  Make sure to keep your questions coming to Julian@americansoccerreader.com and I will see you next Thursday.  Thanks!

-jules

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