bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts after the first week of practice and how your team is looking as you get ready for first exhibition game on Saturday?
Michael Needham: We're definitely very happy with the performance of the kids. The effort level and commitment level to what we're trying to do has been outstanding to this point. Myself and my staff are all very pleased with each one of them. They're all doing what they need to do. We would have wished they were a little fitter when they came in but we're getting there. We're doing a lot of work in terms of fitness. Team organization, the first three or four days we really focused on getting them comfortable with each other. We did a lot of team building exercises, did a lot of technical work. The past three or four days we've gotten into a lot more technical ideas, how we're going to attack people, how we're going to defend people. Actually this morning we did a 5 vs. 5 tournament with the kids and let them compete. They really got after it. I think it was definitely very good.
bc.net: What will you be looking for from your team on Saturday when they take the field for the very first time?
MN: I think the first thing we're going to look for is do we do the things that we're trying to do. First I want to see how they respond to playing someone other than themselves. It's easy to compete and do what you need to do when you're playing against your friends and people you're getting to know. But how will we respond when we play against another team? That's the first thing, how we respond mentally and how we prepare in the next day or two as we go into that.
bc.net: In this first week of practices have there been any players that have stood out to your and your staff?
MN: What we're really looking for in the first week is you're looking to see if players will step up and set themselves apart from other players. Really what's happened in the first week has been good. We have had players step up and it's been a different player each session. I think as a coach it makes your life a little bit more difficult but it's definitely a problem you want to have. I think some players have had great sessions, some players have had sessions where they haven't been quite as sharp but it always seems that somebody steps up. When you look at a game like soccer it's a collective performance but what's really going to win it for you is a minute or a second of individual brilliance. I think we've been fortunate so far in training that we've had at least one player step up in every training. I would say we've probably had four and five players really bring it in a training session and really bring what they need to bring to raise the level of the group. Along the same lines I really think when those kids do bring it, it raises the level for everybody else.
They'll [The fans] see an excitement and a passion that they'll be excited to see and want to come watch again.bc.net: What can fans expect seeing college soccer for the first time on Saturday?
MN: The first thing is they're going to see an excited group of kids. I can speak all I want to them about how supportive this community is and how fired up everybody is about have a soccer program here. The response we've already had, 150 to 200 kids sign up for our clinic. Our season ticket numbers are up around 150. The fans can expect to see a group of kids that are truly excited to see them [the fans] out there. I can explain it until I'm blue in the face that this community has been awesome to me since I've gotten here but until they really see it in person and really see what an Aggie fan is all about they don't get it and they don't understand it.
That's what I think they'll see. They'll see an excitement and a passion that they'll be excited to see and want to come watch again. What the fans do need to understand is that it is in exhibition and we are trying to get some things done. We are trying to see a bunch of different players and it'll be a good opportunity for them to get to know each of our players. After the game we'll do an autograph session. The kids can come down and really get to know our players.
But in terms of what they can expect to see from our team, they're gonna see us attack a team on Saturday. We're going in there to win the game, we're going in there to score goals and we're going in there to compete. That's what they're going to see. Ultimately it is a preseason game and you'll see more chances that don't go in than you will chances that do go in. But you will see chances and you will see us going forward.
bc.net: Tell us a little bit about each of your assistant coaches and what each of them brings to your staff and what they bring to your team?
MN: The first thing that I did when I first got this job was I made a phone call to Stephanie Rigamat. We've worked together in the past, we know each other very well and really my first phone call I hit the jackpot in being able to hire someone like Stephanie. Steph has an accomplished playing background which she bring into every training session with her. Coming from a place like UCLA and the National Team programs and WUSA and playing with players like Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach and players like that. She just brings a level of expectations to a training session. It isn't an option to come out and just go through one. You've got to come out and if you don't come out to play she's gonna let you know. From a personal standpoint she is outstanding in terms of being a link between the coaching staff and the players. She's hard, she's tough but at the same time her personality and who she is as a person, these kids love her and will do anything for her. She's absolutely an integral part of what we do on a day to day basis.
The addition of Courtney Sobrero as a graduate assistant, she actually contacted me. She just got done playing with the Boston Breakers as a developmental player this summer. She had the opportunity to play with some great players. To have a player like that around training who can jump in and demonstrate and show kids what we're really looking for as well as jump in and play with them from time to time is absolutely huge for what the expectations are for a group of kids who have never played college soccer before. These kids are young and it's a lot easier to have a player tell you "Hey, you've to to play faster, you've got to player quicker" than to have a head coach tell and say, "This is how it needs to be done." To have a player that just got done playing and may go back and play again to come in and say, "Hey guys, this isn't quite good enough. It's got to be faster, it's got to be quicker, it's got to be harder", it's absolutely a huge part of what we're doing.
Kris Vaudrey, we're lucky to have him on staff. He's done a great job with our goalkeepers. We have four goalkeepers, if we didn't have a quality guy to work with our goalkeepers our goalkeepers would do a lot of standing around. Chris has kept those guys moving. We've addressed a need that we really need to attack with our goal keepers and he's done an outstanding job of getting our keepers ready to go.
bc.net: Being in the head coaching position, has it been what you expected when you took the head job, has there been anything that's been surprising about running a program?
I think a head coach is only as good as their administration. I feel our administration is aweome... They've done everything they told me they'd do when they hired me.MN: I think if I were to have gotten this job five years ago when I started looking at being a head coach I don't think I would have been ready. It's real easy for a coach to sit back when you don't get a job or don't get an interview to say, " Well, I should have got in there." When I really look back at it I think the jobs I had applied to in the past, I don't think I was ready for them. When I got this job I was definitely ready. I've been around some great coaches, I was around Kat Mertz at UNLV, Diane Drake at George Mason University, Chris Baker at Drury and Karen Parker at University of Rhode Island. Every one of those coaches gave me things that I took with me all the way through. I had a big notebook when I got the job. The time was right for me to get a job.
If there's anything that I would say has been a surprise would be the day to day business side. Really how many e-mails you have to get, how many letters you get that come straight to you. Making the ultimate decision is a little bit different then being an assistant. As an assistant you can offer your opinion a lot of times but you're not the one standing there saying this is how things are gonna go. But I've been a head coach of high school teams, I've been a head coach of club teams. Once we got into training there haven't been any surprises. For a college coach that's the fun part of your job. You do the rest of it so you can get to coach.
That's a tough question, you catch me on any given day and I can give you something that's surprising but every surprise has been a challenge that we've met head on and we've been able to handle.
I think a head coach is only as good as their administration. I feel our administration is awesome. I think they're very supportive. They've done everything they told me they'd do when they hired me. When you're out in the coaching circles and you're talking to people there's a lot people that don't feel that they have the support of their administration. There's not one day that I come into the office where I say I'm not sure I'm supported here. I think the support is here for our program. I think everybody's excited about it and I'm just really looking forward to Saturday. As we move forward into next week with Friday and Sunday really starting our season, I'm looking forward to putting a team out there that the administrators that supported me will now support our kids because they see how hard they work. They see what they're going to do and how we approach things and how we handle our business. That being two-fold with the community as well.
Everybody has been unbelievable to me in terms of welcoming me, welcoming my wife. Everything that a community could do for us to this point the Las Cruces community has done for us, the soccer community has done for us. When we ask them to come to clinics and camps they come. People are supportive here. I can tell the players that all day long but until they see it Saturday, until they look up and see a bunch of crimson and a bunch of people supporting them they don't really get it. I'm really excited for that. When the fans see these kids and they see how hard they work and they see some of the special players we have in this group, I think it's going to be a great match.