—— Can you tell us a little bit about this relatively new women’s soccer league, how it got started and some of the other nuts and bolts?
I think the impetus for this league (the WUSA) was the phenomenal success of the U.S. National Team in the ‘99 Women’s World Cup, which basically turned the whole country into women’s soccer fans. It was one of those events that was so dramatic and so exciting that it brought the whole country together, and our league was a natural out-growth of that success. Heading into our third year, the league consists of eight teams; Atlanta, Boston, Carolina, New York, Philadelphia, San Jose, Washington and of course the San Diego Spirit all of which play a 21 game schedule. Add to this the fact that 2003 is another Women’s World Cup year and I think the anticipation and excitement of that will bring even more attention and notoriety to our league.
—— This being your first year here, how do you like San Diego?
I’m very happy to be here in San Diego. Obviously it’s a great place to live and I think there are a lot of great things we can do as a team. Throughout the league San Diego is known as probably the best place to play. We’ve got a great organization, stadium, and facilities, and we take pride in the fact that our fans are the best! Wherever you go around town, when people see me wearing my Spirit-jacket they show their support. They really know who we are and it’s great to see. For me, it’s really the first time I’ve ever experienced that in professional soccer. The town is really behind us and as a team we really appreciate it and feed off that energy in a game. Of course San Diego’s got the Chargers and the Padres, but with a little luck I think we could be the next big thing.
—— What changes have you made as a team entering this season?
Well, I felt coming in and looking at the team from last year that we had a lot of players that were very similar, mostly center mid-fielders, and we weren’t very versatile. We didn’t have the pace or the speed we needed. Fortunately, through some of the trades we’ve made and the draft, we were able to address some of our more pressing needs. As a result I think we’re a lot faster as a team, more athletic and more capable. The past couple of years we weren’t able to get in behind defenses because up front we weren’t very fast, but now we’ve got Kemp, Sullivan, Mac, Fleeting and Latham. Anyone of these players can create problems for other teams. It’s going to take time for them to develop but I feel we’ve become a team that’s a little more aggressive in our style of play, especially defensively. That was something I felt we needed, to add some toughness defensively in the middle. Before we had technical players that had a nice style of play but not so much toughness. You look around the league at some of the better teams, like Atlanta, and they have a midfield that really fights! We didn’t have that fight in us, so that’s why we brought in a Daniela. That’s one of the things she brings to our team, some bite and grit ... Kerry Connors, same thing. We feel overall we’ve improved the team ... we’re not there yet, but we’re working on it everyday.
—— Do you have a particular coaching philosophy or style of play you want to see implemented?
This is a very competitive league so to win consistently, and we talk about it all the time, you need to do the little things. Whether it’s winning a tackle or the second balls, it’s a numbers game and over the course of a game or a season all those little things add up and are going to make the difference between winning and losing. It’s an area where I think we’re getting better and that’s what I like about this team... in each successive game we’re giving ourselves better opportunities. My style is for us to play a good build-up possession game, to be aggressive going to the goal, but at the same time to get people in behind the ball on defense and make it tough for teams get anything going. I like players with technical skills, I was always a technical player, and I like to see a combination of technical skills and athleticism... and that’s what we’re establishing here. For me it’s unacceptable to think that a team is playing not to lose. I think you’ve got to go out there and want to win and expect to win! In order to do that, you’ve got to be prepared both mentally and physically.
As far as discipline goes, I respect our players and give them the freedom within certain limits to do whatever they want to do. One of the first things I told them when I first got here was “I’m not your dad, I’m not your mom... I’m not going to tell you not to go out and do this or that. If you feel you need to do something, then go ahead and do it, but when you come to practice you’ve got to be ready!” If I feel what their doing or not doing is hurting their performance THEN we’re going to address it. We’ve created an atmosphere here that everyday we come in to practice it’s intense. It’s 100% intensity and people are fighting for spots. There’s no walking through practices here, so when it comes to game time, games are almost easier than practices and that’s what I like to see. If you want to be a professional team you can’t just go through the motions all week and then expect come Sunday to turn it on. You’ve got to practice like you play. So far this season we’ve had some good results, but it seems like we need to have our backs against the wall before we start playing. That’s been our Achilles heel.
—— Do you go into a game with a conscious desire or plan to set the tone?
Absolutely! We’re always talking about just that whenever we meet as a team. We want to play in such a way that other teams know that when you play San Diego, you’re in for a hard game from beginning to end. We’re not going to give anybody anything and we’re going to fight and scrap for everything! We want other teams to know they’re going to have to earn everything they get. We want them to be thinking about us, thinking they’re coming... they’re in you your shorts, they’re in your jersey, they’re everywhere! We want to keep them on their heels. If we can project that kind of mentality we’ll have the edge before we even take the field.
—— It seems the Spirit and the league in general has an international flavor, how do you find these players and what do they bring to the table?
Soccer has always been a bigger draw abroad and has a long history in Europe and other parts of the world. Naturally, teams here want to take advantage of that talent pool and so we scout players from all over and can request up to two foreign players a season. As a result, we’ve got players in the WUSA from all-around the world; Pichon (France) Katia (Brazil) Melanie Hoffman (Germany) Scansa (Czech Republic) Smith (U.K.) and Sawa (Japan). Each team has their international flavor and so do we, like Julie Fleeting (Scotland) who’s been so great for us, is the typical British center- forward and great at getting everyone involved. Her ability heading or finishing makes her one of the best in the league. We’ve also got Zhang Ouying (China) who technically has the skills needed to beat the first defender and give us numbers, as well as, another talented player Christine Latham (Canada).
—— Being a former player and coach in the MISL, what are some of the differences you’ve noticed coaching in this league?
One of the best attributes of this team is, that during the game, they will give you everything thing they’ve got, every once of energy, all of their attention... they’re really there; men don’t always give you that. It’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed and appreciate as a coach. For example, one of our players Aly Wagner, probably one of the best players in the world, was just asking me what she needed to work on, men rarely do that, but that’s typical of this team. They’re really willing to work and sacrifice
for the good of the team. That’s why year by year you’re seeing a better game from women. They’re more athletic, faster, with better skills and a better understanding of the game. Even in the short time the WUSA has been around the level of play has improved dramatically.
One key difference is that women really want a lot of feedback. With men, if someone isn’t starting, they’re upset but they don’t really come after you to find out why. They kind of let it ride and if they get some playing time later fine. Women are totally different ̶ as soon as one of them isn’t playing, they’re right at my door wanting to know why and how they can improve. They’re always looking for constructive feedback and it’s an area where I still need to be more assertive as far as communicating to each individual player.
As for the game itself, since the women’s game is a little slower, it’s more like a game of chess and as a coach that gives you more control. One move, like a change in formation or a substitution can make a huge difference. For example, at Boston recently we made an adjustment in positioning and personnel, and just that one move turned the game in our favor... and that’s been the case almost every single game. In the men’s game it’s so fast that the finer strategies don’t have the same impact.
—— This year the Founders Cup is being held in San Diego at Torero Stadium, does this give the players any extra motivation?
I think everybody recognizes it and is excited about it! It gives our players even more motivation to go out and play hard and to put themselves in a position to do something special. We’ve already come a long way, but there’s still more to do and if the players keep working hard and believe in the system you’ll see a lot good things from us this season.
—— How far do you think this team can go?
It’s too early to tell just now, because so many things can happen during the course of a season. I think we’re heading in the right direction, but a lot of things have to happen for us to be in a good position to make the playoffs. If we can do that then we’re only one game away from the Founder’s Cup, and this team knows that on any given day we can beat anybody, even now. Looking at the league and looking at our team, I believe that we can be one of the top teams, but we have a lot of work to do to mold this team into a winner. We know we’re improving and where that takes us depends on how much we can improve. We’re getting some good results now, but we need to get even stronger because it’s going to be how we finish the season that’s going make all the difference.
(06-01-2003 issue, Interviewed by Terry Nicholas)）