Brad Friedel on building the Revs' roster and why the USMNT's development system is not broken
How different is this version of MLS, which you enter as a coach, from the one you entered as a player in the league's first season in 1996?
It doesn't even compare and for the better of it. In 1996, every single stadium was an American football stadium. I believe only D.C. United had a training ground. Everything was in the early stages - that include coaching and salaries.
On January 22 when all the players come in, they will have the ability to prove themselves during our preseason camp. That’s how it works with a new manager and new staff. You have a chance to make a good impression.
Now, the league has expanded, also a lot of teams have their own stadium and training facilities. A lot of money was poured in, which brought astounding amount of high-class players. Global recognition is growing every year. In a few recent seasons, we could also see a trend where clubs are turning away from players who are close to retirement, in favor of those being close to their prime - not a full case, but a trend for sure…
Plus, ownership groups have vested interest in clubs outside of the U.S., have their arms around the global aspect of the game. When we started in 1996 - you could never know what it’s gonna look like in 20 years, but we should be satisfied with the progress that has been made. Of course our growth is a never-ending story, there are still many challenges ahead of us - especially for the ownership groups, but we are on the right path.
You have experience coaching in the youth ranks. How do you feel that prepared you for your first professional club head-coaching job?
It has prepared me very well and the longevity of my career also helped. I’ve used a lot of that experience, especially in the latter years of my career. I’ve been around for over 20 years as a player. That helps a lot in the mental aspect of dealing with players, understanding their nature and problems. I could start to figure out how to deal with them once I become a coach. With youth team - many of them were already professionals, so that was important as well.
MLS continues to evolve, and many have noted the distancing between the more ambitious clubs and those perceived to be less ambitious. New England has always been classified as the latter. You noted that the budget is irrelevant. Having had a few weeks to let it set in, do you feel you have a handle on how you want to build this roster?
When I said that, I meant that whatever budget we are given - we have to work on that. Salary cap and all the other rules definitely help, because when you negotiate with teams or agents - there’s a certain level you can go to. We’ve started the process of building a competitive roster and I can assure you we will be ready for the start of the season.
New England has struggled to find cohesion in attack, despite the talents like Juan Agudelo, Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen and, until recently, Kei Kamara. Do you see the challenge as figuring out a way to get the best talent on the field, or finding the best system to shape the team?
Challenge? No, it’s just a part of being a coach - to figure out how to put the pieces into the right places. Anytime there is someone new in a job, when you go into preseason - you want to find the players who will be the best fit for what you are trying to do with the team. At the moment all of them have the same chance. On January 22 when all the players come in, they will have the ability to prove themselves during our preseason camp. That’s how it works with a new manager and new staff. You have a chance to make a good impression.
What are you early goals for the 2018 season? Is a playoff berth the minimum standard?
I’m not gonna go into goals right now. Not yet. Now, we are trying to build a competitive roster and we keep those goals internal. I can only promise to you that I’m very ambitious, so are members of the staff, Robert and Jonathan Kraft. We definitely want to be a very good team in this league.
How important is it that MLS teams build around Homegrown Players like, in New England's case, Diego Fagundez or Scott Caldwell?
Development system in the United States is a very long conversation. Do I think it’s the main reason why United States national team didn't qualify for the World Cup? No, I don’t.
It’s extremely important - not only in MLS, but anywhere in the world. If you lose the culture of the town, area you live in, you run a risk of losing the central feeling. If you have all the players from outside, it’s harder for the fans to relate to their own team. There are also financial incentives to have Homegrown Players, and I like that. There are some obstacles which we try to tackle every day at New England and we talk about it every day, but overall it’s a good system for sure.
How much do you pin the United States men's national team's failure to qualify for the World Cup on the development system? How do you fix it?
Development system in the United States is a very long conversation. Do I think it’s the main reason why United States national team didn't qualify for the World Cup? No, I don’t. The last two years were one of the most successful ones for the U.S. federation and we had many good young players coming through the ranks. There are obviously some problems as well. We don’t have all professional clubs in close proximity to each other.
MLS has been there for only 20 years, so there is still a long way to go in terms of improving coaching and scouting system. We want a lot more Homegrown Players on the teams for sure. But it’s not the U.S. federation’s responsibility to develop them - it’s on the clubs. Clubs have them at their disposal for majority of the time, so the pressure should be on them. As the time goes by, coaching standard will get better and we obviously want all the most talented, technically gifted players to become professionals.
Let’s not forget that we also have the best fallback policy in the entire world, which is college. There are definite worries in England and France - not so much Germany, where they have a great network of schools - about players who never make it to the professional level. What then? In America, they can go graduate from college, have a good job and live a great life. There’s an obstacle that they have to keep their amateur status for little bit longer, but you could see the benefits. So, overall it’s a good system we have in the United States. There are challenges ahead of us, but the foundation isn't as bad as some try to picture that.
Pulisic weighed in. Others have had their say. Is there a right answer to the debate over whether young Americans should test themselves in Europe or stay close to home?
It’s different case by case. Not every player has the mentality to move and live away from home. Some can’t make it without family and support system and they should preferably stay. It’s impossible to generalize, [say] they should all leave or they should all stay. Some will benefit more than others from going to Europe and trying themselves there, but some can develop better here in the MLS.
Did your time in the media profession provide insight you hadn't considered from a coaching or playing perspective?
Absolutely. Coming back to the U.S. and working with MLS helped me to understand all the rules that change constantly - salary cap, trades, draft system… I’ve spent the last two and a half years talking to coaches, managers and even players. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge that I can use now with my job at New England Revolution. So, it helped me dramatically from the educational standpoint. From the technical standpoint - any time you watch more high-quality games, at a TV studio or at home, you definitely benefit from it.
As a loyal Tottenham supporter, are you little bit worried with their slow start in the league this year? Is there a reason to panic?
Not disappointed at all. Not even a little bit. They have a very good roster and every game they play is highly entertaining. They are also having a great run in the Champions League. This club is being run impeccably well and has a great future ahead.
Mauricio Pochettino has proven to be one of the greatest football minds in the game. I’ve learned a lot from him - just by being around at Tottenham. I could say I’ve started my coaching education with Mauricio. I was getting my Pro License at the time. Some of the things he did with the team were eye-opening for me; I’ve never seen anything like that. Although I’ve been involved in the game for many years, I was very surprised with his approach. Now I understand why he was so successful at Espanyol, Southampton and anywhere he worked. He leaves no stone unturned. He is always prepared. I highly admire Mauricio, he inspired me for sure in a lot of ways.