Coach Needham Interview :: 08/16/10 How did Friday's Crimson and White scrimmage turn out?
Michael Needham: It went well, it went real well. The game was very even and the kids were all competing. We're still trying to figure out what's going to be the right combination of players and the right group for playing UTEP on Friday. It was a good runout and it was a good chance to see the kids in a game environment."

Even though it was against ourselves I felt that it was pretty competitive. The pressure could have been a little bit better. There wasn't quite as much defensive pressure as I would have liked in terms of preparing us to play a rivalry game next Friday. At the same time you're playing against your teammates and you play a little bit differently anyway. All in all it was good. We got through it healthy which is the most important part. We had a some great performances from a lot of kids and got exactly what we wanted out of it. What have been the differences starting year two versus year one?
MN: The first thing, and it's very similar to last year, the first thing we're looking for in preseason is for our group to come together as a team and to get to know each other a little bit. I think they've done that really well. I'll credit my returning players on that. Any time there's going to new players, they were all new players last year, any time you bring in a new group of players and you're trying to incorporate them and get them going, you're trying to make them as comfortable as possible as quickly as possible. All credit to our returning players. They've been great to the incoming kids. They realize that both groups of players, both the returning players and the incoming players, are all going to contribute to this effort. They've treated them very much as equals and not made life real difficult on them as a group of freshmen. That was the first thing, come together.

The other thing was to really start to try to put more a little bit more of a system in play than we did last year. Last year we prided ourselves on working hard and competing. Those are kind of founding ideas in our program. You're always going to work hard and you're always going to compete but this year we wanted to see if we could get to where we're playing better soccer and starting to attack people a little bit and have an idea of what we're going to do in terms of attacking instead of just getting the ball and going. That's been really good, it's coming around and it gets better every day.

Like in any sport the attacking side is the hard part. The defending side is the part where you get them as organized as possible and you pretty much dictate to them what you want done and they can do it. The attacking side of the ball, there's more creativity to it, there's more getting to know each other. It's a lot like football where you've got to get quarterbacks and receivers on the same page. I've been real pleased with how that's going. Obviously you'd always like that to go a little faster so you can feel totally comfortable but I've been pleased with how quickly that's been happening. After a couple weeks of practice, what have you been pleased with and what are some things that you feel the team might need to work on?
MN: There's not all that much that I'm not that real pleased with at this point. Preseason is kind of utopia, you haven't played anybody, there's really been no real drawing of the line of these are the players that played and these are the players that didn't play so you don't really have chemistry issues and that kind of stuff. Last season you essentially had just a week and a half of training camp before you played your first match. With the returners having been able to go through an offseason conditioning program, how big has the jump been in their fitness from the start of last season versus the start of this season?
MN: I think it's been a huge jump, it's probably the biggest jump that we've made. I think collectively coming into preseason we were pretty fit. We were way ahead of where we were last year at this time in terms of fitness and that's a direct effect of our strength and conditioning program. John Taylor does a good job with our kids. That being said, our freshmen came in pretty fit. We had two freshmen pass the fitness test which is pretty good because you don't know what to expect because they're coming up to altitude and the heat. Not too many people unless you're from here are used to doing training and fitness tests when it's 100 degrees. Everybody came in real fit and ready to go and that was definitely a little different.

Last year you're talking a lot, the returning players are able to help you with some stuff where last year there was nobody to help you. When I say help you, I mean they're just nodding their head when you're telling them about what a real environment is going to be like and that we are going to have 1500 to 2000 fans. For UTEP we're going to have a crazy group of fans and they're going to have a crazy group of fans. Last year it was just telling kids and having them not really understand. This year they understand and they get it. They're able to look at the new kids and say hey, he's telling you the truth. There's going to be some great environments here and it's a lot of fun and this community supports us. That's been really good.

Then just having kids that understand the terminology that we're using. After being here for a year, the majority of the kids when you say something to them, they may not be able to execute it every time but at least they understand what you want. That's been a tremendous difference from last year. What's been different for you from the start of year one versus the start of year two?
MN: The biggest difference for me is I'm definitely more confident in my players. Last year I was confident in my players and they were confident in me but it was a blind faith. This year I'm confident in every player on our roster. Top to bottom we're a better team than we were last year. From that side of things, I wouldn't say I'm more relaxed but not as edgy because I'm not totally in the dark on what I'm going to see next Friday night and that makes a huge difference. Just growing up a year, it's not my first time around the block anymore. It's my second year and I'm enjoying it more, I'm having more fun and being able to relax a little bit more and not be a total stressball all the time. It's definitely more enjoyable. Who have been some of the newcomers whose play has stood out in the first couple weeks of practice?
MN: As far as newcomers, I think Mary Kate Koziol has been very good. She's done really well. She's a midfielder, she's strong physically, she's a good passer, she can shoot a ball. She's stepped up and done a nice job. Dani De La Vina has been very good, a kid up front. Kristen Powers has been very good, she's very very fit and also very athletic. Megan Thompson has been good, Daisy Hernandez has been good. I think the one that has stood out, it's going to takelittle bit of learning and a little bit of time, but she's been doing good is Olivia Sierra. She's a player that has come in and worked hard, right now she's being sponge and taking everything in but she's doing a nice job and we're looking forward to seeing what happens with her going into the next month and going into conference. I think she'll be a different player than she is even right now. Those are the guys that are kind of separating themselves of the newcomers and stepping up at this point. Mary Kate Koziol was listed as one of the top players from the state of Delaware for this past spring by ESPN Rise. What does that say about your program and where you are after just one season being able to get players of that caliber into a second year program?
MN: That's a tribute to the kids that we had here last year. We were able to recruit excellent players here. Mary Kate is the kind of player that we're recruiting right now. We have a great university to recruit to, we have a nice city to recruit to and I think our program with what we were able to accomplish in our first year, I think people understand that this program is going to go in the right direction. This is a place that is a good option for kids to go to school. That's a tribute to what our kids did in just working hard last year. To be able to attract a kid like Mary Kate, she played on one of the best club teams in the country. I'm very pleased with the type of kids we're recruiting. Dani De La Vina is a special kid too. She's coming off one of the best club teams in the country. Kristen Powers, her club team is amazing.

Once we get them on campus and get them around what we do, I think we have something to sell here with the university and the academic programs. With our athletic facilities and everything the school has done for us. They've put us in a pretty good situation in terms of recruiting. Friday night you take on UTEP, in just one year there's already a lot of history in the rivalry with the way the match turned out last season and then on Sunday you take on Montana.
MN: It's going to be an exciting first weekend, both night games, both at home. It's a little different for us to play at 6:00 on a Sunday but we were able to do that. I think it's better for us, it'll be a little bit cooler and we'll be able to get some more people out to the game.

The UTEP game is the UTEP game. It's probably the closest thing we'll get to a conference game before we play in conference. The level of pressure in terms of people flying around to the ball, hard tackles and physical play. UTEP is a good team, UTEP is a very good team. Last year going down there to their place and playing them first was a challenge, it was a huge challenge but guess what? It's not going to be any less of a challenge this year playing them at our place. It's close enough that they'll bring a bunch of fans, we'll have a bunch of fans.

We have a year under our belt now so we know what to expect going in a little bit which is better. And I think our kids understand the rivalry a little bit better. It's a situation of playing the game, not playing the occasion and whichever team is able to settle down and play quicker I think will win the game. It'll be fun to see. It'll be a great environment on Friday night. All our kids are excited about it.

Montana is a good team as well. They've very organized, they work hard. We're looking forward to playing them for the first time. I've never played them at any school I've been at. I don't know all that much about them. That's the one thing about playing teams on the first weekend. You don't really get a chance to get all that much information. It's not like football where you can get a tape from last year. The teams change so much so you don't really get a chance to get that good of a look. We'll do our best to figure it out. They play UNM on Friday night so we'll see how that goes for them and we'll see what we want to do on Sunday. But right now much like last year the only game we're thinking about right now is the UTEP game and being ready and making sure we're physically and mentally prepared for that challenge that's going to come on Friday night.