The inside scoop with San Jose's Frank Yallop
After a tremendous finish to their 2008 season, San Jose came into
their 2009 campaign with high expectations and the goal of reaching
a playoff spot.
A combination of injuries to key players and a poor start to the campaign meant that the postseason was again beyond them. Frank Yallop has been one of the most successful coaches in MLS history, but he knows that he is now entering a critical period in his reign at San Jose.
I had the chance to catch up with the Earthquakes coach and talk to him about his team's awful start to the season, which player returning to MLS struggled for form and just how much his side missed the injured Darren Huckerby.
<b>Keith Costigan:</b> Coming into this past MLS season there was a lot of high expectations in San Jose mainly because of the team's strong finish to the 2008 season. What were your individual goals and expectations for the Earthquakes coming into the season?
<b>Frank Yallop:</b> I expected us to be in there or thereabouts at the end of the season. You can't guarantee a playoff spot but I did expect us to be fighting for one, but for one reason or another we fell short.
We struggled with injuries and we didn't really replace the players that we had lost at the end of the previous season. Injuries hurt the squad and then when you don't start well it can affect confidence and self doubt can creep in and that all added up to a poor start to the season. We added some players in the window and I do feel we are a stronger team now, but those moves came too late to get us back into contention. We went into the season with higher expectations but you add in everything that happened and I believe where we ended up was just about what we deserved.
<b>K.C.:</b> Managers all over the world have to deal with injuries to key players, but is it even more difficult in MLS with the salary cap making it very difficult to have a top quality replacement when someone like Darren Huckerby is out of action?
<b>F.Y.:</b> It is very difficult to replace a player like Darren Huckerby. We basically played the whole season without him because even when he did play he was still carrying an injury. When you think how good he was last year when he was newcomer of the year it was always going to be a massive blow to not have him in our team. It is almost the equivalent of the Galaxy playing without Landon Donovan for a large portion of the season. That is how important Darren was to us.
We almost had to become a different team without Darren and we struggled because of it. I don't want to make excuses because every manager has to deal with injuries, but it was very difficult to be successful without a key player like Darren.
<b>K.C.:</b> The last two years you have made moves to improve your squad midway through the season but both times you have still come up short on making the playoffs. How frustrating is it that you have had to wait until midseason to make these acquisitions and how difficult is it to integrate these players halfway through the season.
<b>F.Y.:</b> It is difficult but you have to do it. The good thing about the signings we have made this time around is that John and I made sure we have these players for next season too, so we will have some continuity going into next year.
At the end of last season we had Ronnie O Brien, Lima and Scott Sealy all out of contract and we were confident of having all three come back, but for whatever reasons that didn't happen. We learnt a valuable lesson from this and that is the only way you count on a player being around for the next year is to already have him under contract. We have already re-signed Ramiro Corrales for next year and everyone else that we want back is already under contract so we have a strong base on which to build upon. We also have room to add to the squad so we are excited about next year..
<b>K.C.:</b> You mentioned that you failed to re-sign Francesco Lima who was superb for you at the end of the 2008 season. How much of a loss was he in the middle of midfield?
<b>F.Y.:</b> It showed in our results because when we had Lima we were very good and when we started the season without him we really struggled in the center of the park. I will say that we have added a good player that we are really happy with and that is Andre Luiz. He is similar to Lima but not as aggressive, although he may be better on the ball so he is someone we are looking forward to having for the entire season.
<b>K.C.:</b> Bobby Convey was seen as a big signing for you but seemed to struggle for form all season long. Were you disappointed with Bobby's form throughout the season?
<b>F.Y.:</b> I think some players go abroad and have some success and then they look back on this league and think it is easy and it is not. I think Bobby was shocked when he first came back. We also messed him around a bit by playing him in multiple positions and that didn't help his form either. He started to find his feet a bit towards the end of the season although it didn't show in the stats, but I was a lot happier with him over the final few weeks of the season.
We had a chat at the end of the season and I told him that he needs to be a lot more productive in the future. Bobby gets paid very well and if you use a lot of money on a player you expect a lot in return. He was upset with how he and the team performed but he has to focus on his own individual performance and knows that if he plays well the team will invariably do better as well.
<b>K.C.:</b> Ryan Johnson continued to play well throughout the season and completed his best season in MLS. Can you tell us what qualities he brings to the team and how important he will be to the team in the future?
<b>F.Y.:</b> Ryan is one of those players that will give you everything he has for every minute of every game. He puts himself into areas that other players will not go and his bravery in those situations is a big part of his game. He has worked on his finishing over the last few years and has improved that aspect of his game. It is something that he will work on again this offseason and will be even better next year. Ryan and Cornell Glen are both quality players and if we add one more striker we will have a good mix up front for next season.
<b>K.C.:</b> Your team ended the season in good form and started to show the form we expected from such a talented squad. How much optimism does that give you for next year or does it really count for nothing because of the big gap between the end of the season and the start of the next?
<b>F.Y.:</b>I'm a positive person and I think that we will be fine for next season. With the team we have we should be able to compete next year. It is up to us to get off to a good start and make sure we are strong defensively. I think if you look at all the teams that did well this year you will see that they were all solid at the back. I think we have strong defenders but we need to protect them more and make sure we defend better as a team. If we do that then we should be able to build on the momentum that we built up to end the season.
<b>K.C.:</b> Last season we saw Seattle come in and compete in the league straight away. Does that put more pressure on other teams and coaches when a team built from nothing can come into the league and already be just as good as anything else the league has to offer?
<b>F.Y.:</b> I think Seattle did things their way and money talks. They had a great start and the drive in that city was tremendous. They had a year to prepare for the season and Seattle really didn't follow the model that other new franchise's had used over the last few years. Seattle probably learned from the likes of RSL, Chivas and Toronto and decided to really go for it in their first season.
I think it was a good idea to have a DP straight away and the quality they brought in helped them to be successful. They did their homework because everywhere I went scouting over the last few years Seattle had someone there too, so I give them credit for putting the work in. I am not jealous of Seattle in any way and congratulate them on a great season.
<b>K.C.:</b> Are you a fan of the playoff system we see in MLS or would you prefer to see the champions be crowned at the end of the regular season like we see in Europe?
<b>F.Y.:</b> I am not sure if I am a fan of it to be honest. I think it's hard because I felt for Columbus this year because they had played well all season and deserved more for their efforts. I think that if we are going to use the playoff system then we could reward the top two teams in the standings with a bye into the next round of the playoffs. That way they would play their first team at home. I like the NFL wildcard system and it is something that could work well in our league.
<b>K.C.:</b> Have you already set your goals for next season and, if so, what are they?
<b>F.Y.:</b> Our first goal is definitely to make the playoffs. I want to put myself under that pressure because I don't want to be a mediocre team. I want to win and I want to be involved in the postseason. That drives me on every day and it is something I am confident of achieving.
We had some problems last year, in the locker room and on the pitch, but I believe we have learned our lessons from that and will be stronger for it. We have to make sure that we finish games out because we conceded so many late goals this season and they cost us our chance of making the playoffs.
<i>Fox Soccer Channel's </i><a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/writer/archive?authorId=306">Keith Costigan</a> <i>writes about American soccer for FOXSoccer.com, and contributes </i><a href="http://community.foxsports.com/blogs/keith03">his blog</a> <i>to interact with his fans.</i>