Crew technical director Brian Bliss sat down with TheCrew.com's Cody Sharrett on Tuesday afternoon to chat about Designated Players, player development, and the upcoming Super-20s season.
Cody Sharrett: You just returned from Argentina, maybe things didn't go as well as you liked, but how is the DP search progressing?
Brian Bliss: Actually, it was better than I thought in terms of the conversation. It was easier to go meet face-to-face and work through some of the issues eye-to-eye at a table rather than via e-mail or secondhand through an agent. It actually was productive. We made some good strides in the direction of the player and the club, however there are still some hurdles that need to be jumped in order to make a deal happen, but I felt the trip was certainly worthwhile.
CS: If nothing happens with this specific player, what other options are there?
BB: We've got multiple guys on the list. However, the longer you go without actually offering a player that's secondary on the list, that player gets antsy, his agent will get antsy, and they'll look to close a deal somewhere else. So, you've got to accept the fact that you might lose a player or two that might be your second, third, or fourth choice just based on time constraints. So, it's a possibility that our second, third, or fourth choice may no longer be there when we want to try to close something.
CS: When you meet with Mark (McCullers) and Robert (Warzycha), how do you sit down and decide who and where to scout? For example, how do you decide to scout in South America as opposed to Europe and who to scout?
BB: I think we develop the parameters and the profile of the player we're looking for. In that profile are usually the financials, and we kind of know what the financial parameters of guys coming from Europe are and the financial parameters coming from Central or South America are and they tend to fit our budget a lot easier than the European players. The age of a player-- you may pay the same price for a South American and a European, but maybe the European is already five or six years older than one of those South American guys. That's kind of how we develop it. The three of us sit down and pretty much target a certain area, collect names, look at videos, and research until we come up with four or five guys.
CS: You look at DP history in MLS, only one team has won MLS Cup with a DP. That was last year with the LA Galaxy. You look at it now, Two of the three teams that have three DPs (LA and Toronto FC) are in last place of their conferences. So, how do you decide who is worth what when evaluating these players?
BB: At the end of the day, it's not an exact science. Look at teams that get it wrong in Europe and they've spent oodles of money and they've got these guys sitting on the bench. So, because you're dealing with human beings, it's not an exact science. You never know how it's going to work out. There's a risk involved. I still think the DP can be a valuable tool if you're getting the players in the right positions that you specifically need and their roles and expectations are clearly defined. I think expectations tend to be a lot higher on a DP, just because of the label. If we didn't call them DPs and still disclosed their salaries, I don't think there would be as many articles written on the failure or success of a top player. But because the DP conotation is always by their name, it conjures up more speculation and more articles.
CS: If you're able to bring in a DP, you also have Arrieta coming in, so the tough part of your job comes and you'll have to make a couple of cuts. What will go into that evaluation?
BB: A lot of it will probably come down to positions. Obviously with the new CBA over the last couple of years, you've got more guys that are on guaranteed contracts that you can't really do anything with unless you trade them. As we've seen in the last two or three years, trading players becomes very difficult. There's a few teams that have pulled off some trades, but certainly not in the numbers that trades used to happen in the past. We've got a narrow window or a narrow scope of guys within our roster that we can really part with if needed, but it's not a heck of a lot.
CS: Switching gears a little bit, the Crew has had to rely on young talent this season. From a player development standpoint, how pleased have you been to see guys like Aaron Schoenfeld come out and produce early in the season, or Josh Williams holding down the back line, and now Kevan George stepping into central midfield and handling that role?
BB: It bodes well for the club and its future. However, myself, Robert (Warzycha), the fans, the community- they want to win now. We want to win now. These guys are making a contribution for sure. It speaks well to the indentification process of the players and the development within our system that guys are getting it done and you can rely on them. That's always the biggest thing. Some guys we know can play, but you never know how they're going to perform until the whistle blows and there's actually three points on the line. Some of the guys have answered the bell and it's a welcome addition and a nice surprise.
CS: Homegrown signing Ben Speas is finally healthy and training in-full. What can we expect from him when he's able to step onto the field for the Crew?
BB: Ben is a quality player. He's very skillful. He's got similar qualities to Dilly (Duka). Dilly does more of his stuff individually, through the dribbling and creativity that way, I think Ben is more of a passer and gets thing done that way, connecting and combining with others. I think those two guys are somewhat mirror images of one another, but they're opposite in the way they get things done. I think we can expect to see that from Ben. Hopefully in the next couple of reserve games, he can start to gain some confidence and maybe work his way toward some minutes on the First Team.
CS: Speas was on the Super-20s team last year that won its second-straight National Championship. You guys are getting ready to start your summer season, who are some players to watch as you attempt to win a third straight National Championship?
BB: There's quite a few guys. We have a some that we call guest players, guys who are from outside our market area that we've brought in and have done well so far in the short time that we've been together. Fatai Alashe at Michigan State has done well. The two Walker twins (Matt and Will) that have been in our system for a number of years that play at Xavier and Nicholas Hagglund as well at Xavier have done really well. Eriq Zavaleta at IU, who's an Indiana product, has done well. Ross Friedman (Harvard) who's been in our system, he's done well over the last couple of years, plus with our youth teams. Just to mention a few, those are the guys that have done well and we know more about than some of the new guys that we have this year. We hope to do certain things that we did last year this year and hopefully repeat.