(Editor’s note: Ross Almers’ photo gallery from yesterday’s CCC media lunch is here. — dc)
BY JOHN ACE
A natural sense of excitement came over me when Dan Conover invited me to help him at the media lunch for the Carolina Challenge Cup. Like he said, I was expecting a bunch of people mulling around, not giving the players or staff of either team any room to breathe. What I saw though, was another thing entirely.
When I arrived, there was Battery Head Coach Mike Anhauser giving an interview to the press, and so I went over to Colin Falvey to catch up before making my way to the table where the Seattle players were sitting. I first talked to DeAndre Yedlin, who I know is being talked about as being one of the best up-and-coming right backs in the league.
JA: I know you’re talked about as a great young right back, but does it get to you?
DY: No, not really. I just keep my head down and work, and I learn. I just keep trying to work for Seattle and take everything as it comes.
JA: I watched your first game for the American national team a few weeks back. How has that experience changed you?
DY: Again, it’s not really changed me or anything. I just have to remember to keep working hard for Seattle, so I can maybe get chances like that again. I also need to remember to stay humble.
JA: What’s it like playing with some of these players, like Obi Martins and Djimi Traore, who’ve played at that high level, (and Traore) having won a European Cup winners’ medal?
DY: It’s great. Absolutely.
JA: We’ve talked a little about you being young, but would you like to go to Europe now, or maybe five, six years down the line?
DY: Yeah, I’m just doing what I can right now, and if that opportunity comes, then I just have to… Kinda balance out the situation, but if not, then I’m happy here.
I then brought up my ties to Liverpool and Traore, and Yedlin said he’d be sure to tell him hello for me.
And then, beside him was Sigi Schmid. Apparently he’d overhead my comment about Liverpool, since the first thing he said to me was “Liverpool are one of my favorite teams too, so you’re good.”
After chatting a bit, Schmid was happy to talk with me about his team. Most of the topics showed up in our previous post about the event, but he also answered a question I had been curious about.
JA: A lot of people talk about you guys kinda “playing angry.” How does that effect you?
SS: I think it’s important that you play in a manner that you wanna have success, and for every player, that’s a different motivation, but we’re very focused on our team this year. We’re focused on the group of players we’ve put together for this year, and we feel pretty good about the group of players we have this year.
Schmid is known to be one of the best coaches in America, having been in the game since the 1980s at UCLA. But what surprised me about him, and the rest of the guys in general, was how humble they were. I went in there nervous, not knowing what I was gonna say, but by the time I’d talked to Schmid and Yedlin, I had calmed down completely.
And after that, I finally got a chance to talk to Lamar Neagle, who spent a year on loan with the Battery, and helped us win a USL-2 Championship in 2010.
JA: What’s it like being back in Charleston?
LN: It’s nice, I had a great time here, I have very fond memories of Charleston. We won it all while I was here, and it’s always nice to come back and see the guys. I roomed with Falvey while I was here, so it’s nice to be back and kinda have those memories.
JA: The transition back was made easier by the fact that two other guys (Osvaldo Alonso and Alex Caskey) made the trip with you.
LN: Yeah, yeah, it’s kinda cool to have that connection between Charleston and Seattle. To come back, and everyone have different stories, but they can all kind of connect in some way.
JA: Seattle’s a big step up in terms of fan base, but what’s the difference? Because we made a lot of noise when you were down here too.
LN: Yeah, absolutely… The passion is the same, it’s just the numbers that are different.
JA: How has your time with the Battery helped you become the player you are now?
LN: I think it just gave me confidence. I came here, and like I said, we won everything, I wasn’t playing all that much at Seattle (at the time), and I was scoring goals, playing offense.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get much chance to talk to Alonso before the Seattle players left, but the few seconds I did speak with him, he asked about how my family was, and how I was doing. I have to say, he looked really happy. It was nice to see them after so long, and a happy footballer is a footballer at the top of his game.
I got a chance to eat before the DC guys came in, and sat at the table where Schmid and Yedlin had been. I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, Sigi Schmid just sat here…” I felt completely blown away.
But it was the DC guys who surprised me most. Their manager, Ben Olsen, came up to me, asked how I was doing, and what I was up to. Usually, you have to either be a supporter or stick a recorder up their nose for them to talk to you first. Olsen introduced himself with his first name, and it was like he was an average guy, not the manager of a bigshot MLS team. I admit, I was taken aback, but I told him who I was and who I worked for.
He then asked me whether or not I wanted to talk to him. I was eating, and he casually said “Well, finish eating, I’ll come back. You can talk to me then.”
And then, who comes up to me but Andrew Dykstra, the United goalkeeper spent two successful stints with Charleston and who gave me his shirt after we won the league in 2012.
I talked to him on two occasions. During the first, I asked how he was, and if he was getting decent playing time. He smiled and said yes, that United had had some goalkeeping problems of late and that he was getting a chance. I was happy for him, especially considering that I constantly told him that he was the best ‘keeper in the league in 2012, and last year at the Richmond Kickers.
I then got my chance to talk to Olsen. Again, he acted like we were just two dudes in a bar, talking about football.
JA: Playing for so long at DC, you’ve been in this tournament before, and obviously for you guys it’s about getting match fitness. For the (Battery players) it’s about match fitness too, but they also wanna prove themselves. What’s the onus on you, going into the tournament?
BO: With the season we’ve just had (last in MLS), we wanna start winning games as soon as possible, to build that momentum. We wanna get winning games and we wanna do well.
JA: I understand that. I’m a Liverpool fan, and with Liverpool so far this season, we’ve not only won games, but won well. How do you think you can do with that?
BO: Yeah, we wanna win, and win well, but sometimes you have to grind out results. I think our team can do that this season. It’s an extremely thin line you gotta tread. It’s something I’m really passionate about, being here for so long. I have a certain romance with this club.
JA: And not only that, but our fans are starting to love our football again. And you want your fans to do the same, I’m sure.
BO: Yeah, we do. But I think our play last season was decent, just certain things that didn’t go our way in certain situations. We’ll see about that this season and I think, so far, we’re playing some good games. We’ve been training for awhile and went to camp for a bit before coming here, and so we’ve been together for a bit.
JA: And you have to score goals to win games. You’ve just signed Eddie Johnson, who’s a proven goalscorer. How do you think he can integrate himself in the team?
BO: Yeah, I think Eddie’s gonna do great for us. Like you said, he’s a proven goalscorer, and he’s what we need.
After some talk about Liverpool, he asked me about any MLS team I supported. I said I had just picked the Portland Timbers, and he said it was a good choice, they were a good team. But before he had to leave, he told me, “Well, I want you to have this.” and gave me his jacket.
I couldn’t believe it. I smiled, thanked him, and gave him a hug. How many times do you get a jacket right off a managers’ back?
I then went back to Dykstra, who looked a bit lonely sitting by himself on a stool close to the entrance of the Three Lions Club. This time, we didn’t talk about football, other than the fact that he liked DC, because he had some family there, and I asked about his wife, and congratulated him on his recent nuptials.
I also talked about how I wanted to speak to Eddie Johnson. EJ’s one of my favorite American players. He’s a hard worker, and never gives up. Something I admire greatly in a player, and as a personal trait.
At first, he walked up behind me, but I couldn’t get his attention. Then he ended up in front of me, and Andrew tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, and shook my hand. I was also introduced to Bill Hamid, the keeper at the top of United’s pecking order.
I didn’t do much in terms of interviewing Johnson or Hamid, but we must have talked for 20 minutes. I told him I followed him on Twitter, and he followed me back (right in front of me, I might add. I even helped him get my Twitter handle right). He saw the header for my profile, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he’s good friends with Daniel Sturridge, who’s having the time of his life at Liverpool right now.
Our topics ranged a bit. First, they both said they liked my new jacket. Then Johnson showed me a picture of him and Sturridge in Miami together. And that led to a bit about Liverpool, before they all had to leave. Before they did go, however, I told Johnson how much he’s an inspiration to me. He’s always on the grind. Nothing ever seems to get him down, and he’s always looking to better himself in one way or another. He’s an excellent role model for anyone, in my eyes.
And so, despite being nervous, it was an excellent day. First and foremost, I got my work done, I met some truly amazing people, I got a new jacket. It’s well after midnight as I write this, and I still haven’t taken off.
All of these things are memories that were made perfect by everyone involved. Especially the players and coaches I met along the way.
TOP IMAGE: I make small talk with Eddie Johnson as the day draws to a close. ROSS ALMERS photo.