I saw stuff all over the internet and my Facebook and everything else, with people criticizing the way it went, and I just stopped reading and didn’t pay attention to it. I said “You know what? My goal is to get my calf strong and to work on that each day.” I kind of buried my head in work because at the end of the day, you only have so much control. I just tried to make my life simpler by saying “What can I do today to make tomorrow better?” And that’s just all I try to worry about. That’s all you can really do if you think about it, whether you’re a soccer player or anything else. So just consuming yourself with that mentality, you just make life easier and you tend to ignore the distractions. Fortunately enough I did well enough on my rehab and training that when they needed me during the year it was a completely different me.
As you’ve gotten older and your family keeps growing, has your approach to the game changed? Or is it just soccer at the end of the day?
No, it’s definitely changed. I mean, before when I first started as a rookie, I liked to read all the articles and I liked to know what people thought about me and I was always trying to impress people. But as I got older, like I said before, I consumed myself with just “Where do I need to pick up weak parts of my game?” It’s just all about work. Again, I don’t read anything. I don’t read Facebook stuff. When I watch an MLS game I put the commentators on mute because I don’t want to hear people’s opinions. I just want to do my work and know what I have to do for my teammates.
If there was any advice you would give to someone coming into the league new as far as balancing family life and on-field performance, what would you say to them?
It’s tough. So we have twins and they just turned one and they were preemies too. So we had to get up every three hours probably until… at least six months, trying to get their weight up. So I went without sleep and it’s hard. The best advice I can say is when you’re at work, you’re at work. As much as family is important, when you’re at work that’s time you put everything else aside and you concentrate at that. Because at the end of the day that’s what’s going to get you your income. *laughs* That’s what’s going to keep them afloat and keep diapers on their butts and milk in their bottles. You know, you’re actually benefiting them when you learn to put them aside and focus on what you’re doing while you’re at work. That’s probably the best way I can put it. We’re fortunate enough that when we’re done [training], we’re done at 1pm. So you’ve got more time than the average Joe to go home and take care of your family. But with that limited time, that focus needs to be on your work for sure.
There’s a lot of “style” with goalkeeping but it’s rarely covered in detail. Can you give us one goalkeeper whose style you’ve tried to emulate?
Yeah for sure. I try to steal little things from everybody. So obviously Neuer is a big goalkeeper in the world so one thing I wanted to take from him is just how he moves in his goal and his timing on his diving, for instance. He plays like he’s German. A lot of those guys do a lot of arm swinging and trying to time their jump with the shot. My entire life I was taught “Be set. Keep your feet on the floor.” So I tried to incorporate a little bit of a hop to see if I could get jumps on balls but then my timing wasn’t good. So I’d tried less of a hop and kind of found a middle ground with it. And sometimes, to be honest, it changes from year to year, especially when I’ve had injuries. I kind of have to train around things and do things differently.
Recently, as I’ve seen Petr Cech get older, if you watch his film now compared to when he was younger, he tends to get set a lot of higher [closer to the striker, away from the goal], kind of like we were always taught about cutting down angles. When you cut down angles, you have less reaction time but for a guy who’s a little bit older and probably doesn’t have the legs that he used to, cutting down angles and learning to trust his reactions, that’s kind of where he’s taken his game. So I like to watch the older guys because it’s almost like they’ve found secrets that kept their careers alive. Buffon is another guy I try to - I want to - emulate anyway. When the ball is at his feet, he plays super simple and he’s just so calm. I mean, he’s not a guy who’s going to do anything tricky or sneaky but when it’s at his feet he earns the trust of the players around him because he’s so calm and composed.
Can you give an example where you saw a goalkeeper do something and thought “That’s fine for them but that’s not for me”?
I’ve worked with de Gea’s old goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele. I worked with him in the offseason a couple times. A lot of his work is on the evolution of the goalkeeper and where the game is going and how goalkeepers need to adapt to it. So it was interesting to hear what he had to talk about with de Gea in terms of where he likes to be on his line and how he stays big. Joe Hart is a guy when he sees a 1-on-1 he flies into balls and he does it very well but there are other guys who do that and it leaves them susceptible to balls underneath them. Their feet aren’t on the ground so they can’t react to a shot. That’s not for me. I like to have my feet on the ground and I like to have the chance to react to something instead of just giving myself up and hoping it hits me. De Gea is a guy who is going to keep his feet on the ground and he’s going to stand you up. Many times he puts a knee on the floor, spreads, and it works for him. That’s one thing I learned from Eric and tried to put in my game, being more patient with 1-on-1s.
I’m definitely not a ter Stegen kind of guy. He’s a guy who takes a lot of risks with the ball at his feet and there are times where gives some silly balls up but there are other times that he makes some unbelievable plays where no other goalkeeper does these things with his feet. For me personally, I don’t want to be a risk taker, necessarily. Since I’ve been at Kansas, we’re more of a “build out of the back” kind of team. At DC, it was all about shot stopping and finding the guy up the field. And here the thing Peter [Vermes] said to us on the first day was “I don’t give a shit what pressure looks like. This is preseason. You play out of the back at all costs because I’m trying to get our players acclimated to showing up and learning how to play.” This year above any I’ve made some massive strides with the ball at my feet and learning to play out of the back. Before, if a guy was kind of open but might be under pressure kind of quick, previous teams say “Don’t risk it. Put it up the field.” But here, I’m knocking the ball around. I’m getting it back. I’m playing it around the forward. Doing things that I wouldn’t have done on my previous teams.
I know you probably can’t say a ton but I’m curious if you were involved with the 2015 CBA? Was there anything you were really pushing for two years ago?
I was not [involved]. So our union reps would go to union meetings, get the information back to us, and we’d kind of have a locker room discussion and vote on do we want to strike? Do we not want to strike? I don’t want to say too much, but I can probably say as a whole, from all the players I’ve ever talked to, they’re pretty disappointed with the results of the CBA. I personally felt like it’s going to be steps over time. You’re not going to get free agency overnight. That was kind of my mentality. I voted to, if we had to, strike. I was behind everybody else. I wasn’t going to be the guy that was saying no. *laughs* But I’m glad the league continued. I’m glad we’re playing and I’m glad to have a good job.
When you heard the idea of striking for the first time, what went through your head?
Well the league had made some serious leaps at that point so I think that’s why a number of guys were a little down. They thought “If there’s a time to strike, do it now while the iron’s hot.” But yeah it sunk in. I even called a couple USL teams and said, “Hey, if this strike happens, I’m interested in playing for you to stay sharp.” That was in the back of the heads of a couple coaches and I was prepared to go do that. But... it never happened. *laughs* At the time I was married and no kids, fortunately. My wife was behind me in terms of where we we’re going to take steps in my career but I was more worried about “How am I going to get some income?” *laughs*
Well let’s wrap up with this. You’re obviously closer to the end of your career than the start of it but you still have a lot left in the tank. So what’s your outlook in the next five or ten years where you can look back and say “I was really happy with that”?
Yeah, it’s kind of funny you ask that because I was pretty unlucky with the injuries I had. So the Achilles happened [in 2014]. That was in the middle of my contract and they take me back and I turned it around and whatever. But when Bill [Hamid] was hurt last year, he was going to be out half the season. We went to LA and I ended up slipping the disk in my back. That was kind of devastating. Because every backup waits for that one opportunity, and some guys get one opportunity and some guys get ten opportunities. That was probably the first time really in my career that I thought, “If I do well, either DC is going to want me back at more money or they’re not going to take my offer and someone is going to 100% want to pick me up as a starter or as a competing starter.” Unfortunately I got hurt and that was actually probably just as bad as my Achilles in terms of the rehab because my nerves shut down and I had muscles that wouldn’t work.
So I really had to work and work and work and I said, “You know what? I will be very, very grateful if I just get to be on a team. If I can just do this as long as I can, I’ll be happy.” Fortunately I got picked up by one of the best teams in the league. I made leaps and bounds again with my rehab and got back to a place where I’m impressing coaches and I’m doing well in training. Now that thought of “Oh I’m just glad to be here” has kind of pushed itself out of my head and now I’m on “Damn, I want to be a starter again.” *laughs*