From the halls of Foxboro Stadium…

Fine, Aged Vintages May Soothe All Woes, Or Not. Plus An Interview with Ryan Cochrane

Posted by tonybiscaia on March 18, 2011


If Sir Alex Ferguson sat down with a fine malt scotch, Jose Mourinho poured a tawny port, Carlo Ancelotti cracked open some cold asti spumanti and our Stevie hoisted a pint of Tennants lager and they all started grousing about the ones who got away, even these biggest of the big boys would lament transfer deals gone sour and last minute machinations that put paid to acquiring just the right player to solve all problems and maybe win the league.

The difference between these tyros of world football and the head coach of the New England Revolution is that they have the resources to execute Plan B, should Plan A escape to Barcelona, or if Plan B signs with Inter Milan then move to C and should the object of C decide to stay at Arsenal, etc. they have the staff and support behind them to go get D, E, F or however down the grocery list the need go, no matter how long it takes.

There isn’t any question that the management team in Revland had and may yet have, a short list of strikers and attacking midfielders to pursue. While the names may not be of the luminescence of Christiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, those that have slipped out are of quality but the FO haven’t been able to multi-task with the big boys or, in this case, even some of the larger fish in the MLS pond. Bringing in players is one thing, bringing in a larger staff to be able to woo and sign them and react to the daily fluctuations of the world market in players is something that could possibly be solved with the stroke of a pen. Signing people to do the signings might be money well spent.

A recent sign of the maturity of the Revolution brand were Frank Dell’Apa’s daily pieces from Florida training camp. Another was the NECN news ticker streaming the fact that Shalrie and Kevin “Alson” had been sent home from the very same sessions for off field transgressions. Further evidence is that team advertising making more of an appearance on some streets around town. Signing up ManU to come to town, if rumors are true, is pretty ambitious, albeit a possible hiding in waiting. Finally, there is the open admission by the powers that be from the coach to the GM as well as the head of personnel that new players need to be added to advance the cause and play a more attractive style. But with the days until the season start having dwindled down to less than even a precious two, despite rumors of failed attempts to sign players of the quality of Alex, there has been no offensive joy in the contract department.

Over the last decade teams like A.C. Milan have made extraordinary strides in prolonging the careers of aging stars like Gattuso, Inzaghi, Pirlo and back in the day, Beckham. In fact the Rossoneri have put millions into research and programs to extend the productive abilities of their multi-millions of dollars worth of prime footballers who actuarial tables might say are past their prime. As an aside, one has to wonder if the team’s owner, the randy prime minister, Berlusconi, might have partaken of some of the invigorating waters or whatever is on offer in the special research center in the depths of the Milanello.

But while it is clear that with a combination of good luck and carefully designed and monitored fitness programs, some greybeards can play at the highest level well into their mid-30’s, the jury is out as to whether such is the case in Foxboro, particularly with the unforgiving carpet on which the team plays their matches. The current condition of skillful but thirty-something newcomers Dabo and Domi may not be a terminal combination of turf and time but recent Revolution experience with older players gives pause for thought.

On the subject of newcomers, the backline has seen three new players come into the team, Ryan Cochrane, Didier Domi and the rookie AJ Soares. I spoke with both veterans after recent training sessions at Gillette Stadium; first Cochrane, next week Domi…

JIM: Two things: first of all, you come from a team that traditionally has been a great rival. After all, you beat the Revs twice for the MLS Cup, where winning one of those might have changed things for this club and, in turn, New England beat Houston to win the Superliga in 2008. In other parts of the world if you moved between recent rivals where the stakes had been that high, one set of fans or the other would be keying your car, making threats, etc…

RYAN: Yes, for sure…

JIM: To what degree does that affect players in this league, thinking of rivalries and shifting around?

RYAN: Not a whole lot, really. To be honest you end up, and I’ve told other people this, because it is a small league you end up knowing and having friends on a lot of the teams around the league, so in terms of moving from team to team, it’s not really that big of a deal really. I know in the fans eyes, though and I’ve heard it from some of the Houston fans already that they plan on giving me a bunch of grief when I go back. So I’m kind of going with a disguise, with the moustache so maybe they don’t notice me out there.

JIM: Well, the moustache is very Texan, fits right in.

RYAN: Yeah, it is very Texan, but it’s not too bad (the rivalries) from a player’s point of view. I’ve had this when I played against San Jose, after (their) getting another team and then going back (to play) Houston. I don’t want to say (that) you tend to get a little more fired up for that game but there is definitely a little extra something when you are going in on tackles and stuff like that. You kind of want to prove a point, kind of let those other coaches and that team know that they made a mistake on you.

JIM: Do you think it has reached a point here where different teams in MLS have different cultures? In the sense that one team might play a certain style but also behave a certain way on the field. Say like Arsenal is like the university of soccer style, in a sense where Birmingham might push straight ahead, and so forth.

RYAN: Yes, I think that comes from the top down, I think a team is really a reflection of your coaching staff and the front office and I think from being on three different teams, the personalities of the teams, the way the locker room interacts, the way practices are run, it is all different form team to team… but I think it is a major reflection of the coaching staffs, really.

JIM: Switching to my second question; you guys all have contracts with the league and nobody really ever talks about whether there are actually appearance and incentive bonuses built in, either by the league or the individual clubs, so besides personal pride, the desire to be on the starting team and to win games, are there any other kinds of motivational spurs to try even harder once you’ve made the team and have a contract in hand?

For example, in Germany there are appearance bonuses, as well as ones for goals, wins, etc. These often add up to quite a bit over the base contract and put a definite edge to every training session and match.

RYAN: There are slight bonuses for games played and if you are on the field and the team wins and those come at the end of the year. They’re not major bonuses, so really it is kind of a pride thing and all about success of the team but in terms of incentives for being on the field and being in the first team there’s not really anything significant where that would drive your desire to be on the field.

JIM: Do you think that having such as system would improve the intensity of competition over the season, if there were a bonus system in place?

RYAN: You know, I don’t really know, I haven’t really thought about it like that before. I imagine (it would), I think so, I guess so, honestly, I haven’t really thought about it.

JIM: Of course anybody who has lasted in professional sports for more than a couple of months is going to be a pretty competitive person…

RYAN: Yes, exactly…

JIM: So you don’t really turn it on and off but in many parts of the world there is this incessant pressure, whereas here, it seems, that once you have established yourself as a player of a certain level of quality, other than any personal pressure one might apply to one’s self and from your colleagues, there isn’t an imperative to improve.

RYAN: I’ve certainly heard that from a couple of the guys who have played overseas, one in particular, Bobby Convey, who played over in England, said it’s almost a cutthroat thing, even in practice when you are competing for a spot in the first team with those guys because a lot of their pay comes from appearances on game day, so I think it is just a bit of a different culture overseas and in other parts but I think if that kind of a system was applied in MLS in the US it would probably have the same effect.

JIM: Again, thinking as a professional athlete moving forward through your career, at a certain point you want to sign a short term contract, so you can have leverage for an improved one if you do well, then at another point you want a longer term contract but yet once you are locked into that if you have a great season, what happens?

RYAN: there’s always the ability to negotiate a deal with the team when you are not in a contract year, I know there are a lot of guys who do that but I think that the life span of a soccer player is so short that you just want to have a contract, period, you know. I would say for more high profile players, that is what they are worried about is the length of the contract and the number of years on it but I would say for the majority of MLS players, the average player on the median salary, I think that isn’t a huge concern.

JIM: Planning for the season ahead, you are going into the latter part of preseason, you’ve done the fitness base, you guys are all getting to know one another and are establishing your style viz a viz one another, is there a certain temptation now to hold back so you don’t get clattered in the short time before meaningful matches?

RYAN: Well, it does go through our head but I actually think it’s funny, it’s kind of a double-edged sword, I feel that the second you try and take it easy is the time you end up getting hurt. I had an example the other day in practice myself and Steve McCarthy were about to go in for a 50/50 ball and we both pulled out, we managed to clip each other still and he got a bit of a knock from it, so it is always in the back of your mind but I think it is more in the back of he minds of the guys who are a little bit older and have been around the block a few times and know that it is really most important to be healthy for the season. I’ve had my share of pre-season injuries in the past, like the past two years, including this year, but nothing so far, which is good. I think it has a lot to do with the offseason preparation, in my earlier years I probably wouldn’t have done a lot of offseason work but the last, I would say, two or three years the offseason is really where I do a lot of conditioning, probably more conditioning than I do when we first get here.

JIM: And the off-season in this league is quite long.

RYAN: Yes, very long, so if you are not doing anything you are going to gain a couple of extra lbs. around the holidays and you can’t be doing that.

JIM: Finally, this is a team that has had a basic culture of being a team made up primarily of U.S. players, much like the Dynamo when both teams were at the top. Now, it is conceivable that there could be seven foreign players starting, counting players like Joseph whose game was developed here but originated in Grenada. To me this represents a big shift, not only in the team but in the league as a whole as well. Initially MLS was started with the idea of developing players for the national team, it seems as if there has been a conscious shift, do you sense that?

RYAN: I don’t know if it is conscious shift but I know that it is definitely a shift. I think there are a lot of opportunities now for foreign players to come into the league, I think now that MLS is more respected around the world that it has opened up the doors and opened up the eyes of a lot of really solid, good foreign players to come here and play. And now you are seeing that you are only getting top quality U.S. players in the league and the lesser guys are falling to the wayside because the competition is getting better, year after year.

I think it is probably (a matter) of the respect that the league has been gaining over the past five to ten years. I think that really is what has made the shift.

JIM: And stylistically, does that mean a shift for you as a player as well? Because foreign players often, particularly in countries like Argentina and so forth, you are expected to hold the ball no matter what. They give you the ball and if you lose it, or don’t get it back to them, you don’t see it again.

RYAN: Well, it doesn’t really change the style for me, per se, since I’m not on the ball a whole lot, I’m really all about tackling and passing out of the back, so I would think it would be a bigger shift or change of style for midfielders and forwards than it would for a defender.

JIM: Although, again, this team seems now to try to play very much more of a kind of whirl style, with people interchanging positions and so forth.

RYAN: Yes, I think we (try to) play a fun style, and like you said I think that just the culture change around the league over the last couple of years has probably really pushed that forward.

JIM: Finally, how do you like it up here in the cold, cold north?

RYAN: I love it; I’m from the cold, well not as cold north, in Portland Oregon, so…

JIM: Oh man, that’s tropical!

RYAN: Well, it is tropical compared to here but we do get seasons up there too, which is nice and I love having seasons, I came from Houston which is (a place where) I won’t ever go back, with just one season all year long. I could never live there; I could never live there for the long haul. But no, I love it up here.

JIM: How did you guys with the Dynamo survive playing up-tempo, MLS-style soccer in the summer in Houston?
RYAN: It was pretty difficult, I mean we moved the training up, we would start at 8:00 AM instead of the normal 10:00 and it really didn’t help at all. I mean it was a good 90 degrees, plus 100% humidity in the mornings and you really didn’t have any energy after practice to do anything. So it was go to practice for an hour and a half, practices were usually pretty short, go home, and sit in the AC and down some water…

JIM: Hydrate!

RYAN: Exactly, that was basically it.

JIM: And then the games, you are playing 15 games or more at home and of those games you must be playing 10 or more of them in terrible conditions.

RYAN: Oh yeah, we’d be cursing the league when we had a midday game during the summer, that is for sure but I actually think, I won’t say you get used to it, because you never really feel like you get used to that kind of heat but we definitely had a good home field advantage with that, with teams coming in I know that they struggled with it a lot. Being a little bit more used to it, having trained down there, I think that was a good advantage. You see that in Colorado with the altitude and they are a couple of home field advantages around the league.

JIM: And this is a long season, at least time wise and the traveling is crazy but if you go from here to Houston and you have a midweek game…

RYAN: Yes but the great thing actually about being on the East Coast, like here in New England, is that when we go out to the West Coast we go out a day early, you get yourself settled, and train. When we were in Houston we would fly out just the day before everywhere, so we’d get there in the evening, have dinner, go to bed and wake up and play the next day. I think being on the East Coast, I like that because we fly to the other coast we’ve got a couple of days to get settled, rested, etc, that’s great.

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