The full text of Gary Smith and Matt LaGrassa’s time with the media Tuesday afternoon.
What you learned in Florida
“There were a lot of things to come out of it: two really good games were probably the pinnacle of it. Plenty of structural work, great environment, wonderful facilities – climate also plays into it where you have more opportunity to really be more guiding and thoughtful about the work that you’re doing rather than sometimes out in the freezing cold and pouring rain in Nashville. It’s just a wonderful environment. There’s the work that goes on on the field, and then there’s the team-building and the spirit that you hope is being formed, living in the same accommodation, which is very very nice down there. It was a terrific week, and I think at this time of the year, it fits in great with the way that the conditions can be sometimes in Nashville.”
Standouts in the games
“I think all of the new guys are fitting in great. At this stage of preseason, you tend to find that individuals’ consistency and form is what they’re searching for, and we’ve got a month left of our buildup, so I suspect that there’ll be a lot of players that have shown some encouraging signs and some individual quality. But finding it regularly, and getting to that point where maybe we’ve seen them before and expect them to be, is part and parcel of the timeframe we’re in.
“I genuinely though that Alan had a very decent couple of periods – you have to bear in mind that these guys are working from maybe 45 minutes to an hour, maybe slightly longer. So it’s not a full 90 minutes at the moment. Some of them are coming off the line as well, which is not always ideal to get into a game. It was lovely to see Cameron out there, 30 minutes in the last game. I think we’ve seen some of the qualities that Kharlton Belmar has: his athleticism and pace. Whilst he didn’t actually get on the scoresheet himself, he made two or three really good moments when he went up front against Montreal. And he was a big part of the first goal against Louisville. He did ever-so-well as he cut inside, hit the target with a great strike, and from there on out, Alan and Tucker did the rest. I genuinely think that everyone has shown something, but certainly not to the level or the consistency as we might have seen last year.”
Daniel Ríos and Cameron Lancaster being saved for the home fans?
“They’ve both been carrying little injuries: nothing crazy. Daniel I think had a bit of a real downtime in the offseason: he had an injury towards the end of last year, and I think he wanted to make sure everything was in the right place health-wise. That meant he was a little bit behind the vast majority of the group athletically [in conditioning], and when he joined in, he saw quickly – which is normal, when you’ve not done a bundle. Then to try and force him into games having not got the right physical base is always a little bit concerning, because you can pick up something a bit more substantial. Cameron’s had a tight quad. He’s jumped in and out of work, and he’s looked great when he’s been in it, but he’s just had a little bit of a problem there that has played on his mind a bit. We just want to be ultra-cautious.”
Is Vinnie Vermeer a guy who could be signed down the road?
“He is. Vinnie is a very good technician. He looks like he’s been schooled ever-so-well. Really bright and intelligent football mind, and he brings with him some very good education from the Dutch League. He offers us something that’s a slightly different dimension in that central midfield area, and he’s of a really good age: he’s 22, he’s still learning the game. He’s got plenty of future in front of him. There is a possibility that he could be part of the group, but we’ll see how things involve. Of course, the games down at IMG were the very best time to see what he was about in some competitive games, and he’s not only made a good impression on the field, but I think you’ll find when you speak to the guys that he’s fitting in terrifically: a great personality and a real genuine individual.”
Ropapa and Ramone positions
“Ropapa did finish the season out wide. I actually think he played some of his best soccer out there. With him and Alan on the flanks toward the end of the season, it gave us a different dimension: [they’re] both pacy, sharp, forward-thinking players. Of course very different physically, but they both offered us a dimension that is and can be very difficult to deal with in a game. I see Ropapa’s future in that position. He’ll be competing out in those wide areas with Alan, with Kharlton, and Ramone, as you said. At the moment, he’s not in the right place athletically, which means again that there’s a bit more work to be done behind the scenes before we see the best of him again.
“Ramone’s slightly different. I think he’s a little bit more adaptable. He’s very comfortable in that 10 attacking midfield role. At the moment, he’s going to see his best opportunity, I believe, in those wide areas. Again, somebody who can take players on, he’s got a turn of pace, he’s more than comfortable in possession, he’s creative, and he’s bright. They’re all good qualities that we’re after. Preseason’s all about those guys that hit the ground running and show consistency in form – as I’ve just said – as quickly as possible. Those guys will start the season. The ones that take a bit longer to get into their stride, who are showing erratic form, are probably going to be the ones that are going to have to wait their chance.”
How did Matt LaGrassa perform?
“Matt’s one of those guys that are coming in good shape. He looks after himself. He played as a 10 against Louisville in the period that we played, which we’ve seen him play – not overly consistently – last year, but certainly at important times. There was a reason for that, but I felt as though the game warranted an individual in that position that we may well see as the season unfolds. He’s looked bright, he’s looked in a good place, and like many of the guys, he wants to be in that starting lineup come the start of the season.”
“I’m very blessed with two excellent goalkeepers. Matt looks like he’s continued where he left off last year. In both games, he’s made a couple of very important saves, and looked as I would imagine and I’ve seen Matt an awful lot in these preseason buildups. He looks in exactly the right place and building towards the start of the season.
“For Connor, slightly different: I don’t know and haven’t seen him every day, of course. But he’s made a great impression. I did think that the goals against in the Montreal game maybe didn’t reflect – especially for him – brilliantly. I don’t mean that in terms of he made mistakes, but I’m sure he’ll be a little bit down about conceding two goals. So therefore, delighted that he kept a clean sheet against Louisville under some pressure late on, against what will be a strong opponent, and one of our – if not our main – rivals. I’m delighted with the pair of them. It’s going to be a good battle and challenge throughout the season for the good goalkeepers.”
Philosophy in wholesale changes at halftime for the weekend
“These early games, I don’t think the guys are ready for 90 minutes. It’s the case for most teams: they’ll utilize the early few games to make sure everyone’s getting a good sight of the field, an opportunity to show what they’re about, and where they’re at. I would suspect as we move down towards the New York and the Indianapolis game that we’re starting to see a little bit more of the guys that have pushed themselves in front: they might play a few more minutes. Certainly edge towards what would constitute what they’re going to see in the first game of the season.”
What experiences did you get out of Florida?
“I think Gary likes to make preseason tough on all of us, and it was. It’s a grind when we’re down there; we’re training a lot. I think more than anything what we can take away, is it’s our first experience as a group, all living together, eating together every meal. You make a lot of connections on the side: learning people’s backgrounds, where they come from. I think those connections go a long way for how you can play with somebody on the field.”
Seeing a different opponent instead of each other in practice
“That’s what we’re all in it for: the games are where we have the most joy. Finding those first challenges, trying to work with people, and just being out there feels good, because you can train and train and train, but the games are what it’s really all about.”
Playing multiple roles
“I think for me, I just want to be on the field. I look at myself who can play different positions, and it’s helped me throughout my career. Realistically, if he wants me at the 10, I’ll play the 10. If he wants me at the 8, 6, wherever – I played a little bit of right mid last year – I’m just out there trying to solve problems with the guys and trying to give the team what I can.”
Do you have to develop different chemistry at multiple spots?
“There’s differences to the positions, and obviously you have to kind of flip a switch in your mind, because the 10 is a lot different than the 6 or the 8. It’s just part of the challenge that I have to face, and I enjoy it, really.”
Will it be nice this weekend to play in front of fans?
“Definitely, and I think them – Birmingham – obviously being a newcomer to the league, it’ll be good to see their setup. THey’ve signed some good players; I think they’ll put out a good squad. It might be their first home game in front of their crowd too, so maybe it’ll be a decent little crowd – which will be different to IMG. Excited to keep moving forward on it.”