Sept. 9, 2004
GoHuskies.com: What are your thoughts on how the season has started so far?
Dean Wurzberger: "We were very much looking forward to the start because we had a great preseason. By all accounts, you ask some of the guys how it went and it was one of the best they can remember. It was amazingly injury-free. The guys really worked hard. There was a great cadence. We had hard work but we took breaks to freshen up. Our practice game, 0-0 - it wasn't frustrating for the guys but they were antsy. It wasn't the offensive performance that we were looking for but we were solid in areas and we looked at 18 guys in that game.
"We went over to Gonzaga which has traditionally been a hard place to play. They have not had a good home record the last year, but prior to that, they've been real difficult to beat over there. They've had many upsets - never us I'm happy to say, but we've played some very close games over there. Things clicked. We got a goal right at the second minute, our first shot from Brett Hite who is from Spokane, so it was kind of a dream start if you will. It gave the guys a turn of confidence that we could score. We scored three in the game, played well defensively and they never really threatened. So it was an ideal start for us.
"Then we were faced with this tough road swing which we knew was going to be hard back east. Playing our second game on Saturday at UConn, it was an incredible performance to get a result there. It was so much like the 2001 game when we played there, we scored early with a good quality goal, tried to keep scoring but at some point we said, hey, we've just got to close this game down, and we'll win it 1-0. Those games tend to be real stressful for the coach because every little chance could be the equalizer for them. But we defended well. The guys tactically at halftime really took a hold of the gameplan which was to sit with two holding midfield players because they were creating some problems with their forwards coming off the front into midfield. So they were adding numbers in an area we only had one player, our defensive midfield player (Mike) Chabala. So we decided to put a second guy there, really helped to deal with the flood of players in that area and lucky for us, they ran out of some ideas and we managed to get a great win there, 1-0.
"Challenge number three, to put it back on the road, to go to New York City was a real challenge. Originally this was supposed to be a tournament at UConn and it ended up to be two road games, so it was a lot tougher than we really would have chosen. We gained a lot from that game versus St. John's, although we did suffer our first loss. It was a performance where I think we saw a different style of play, it was on field turf so it was on a different surface. No question, though, the third game in six days, you could start to see the leg weariness in our players, especially our defenders. We were jumping over people and heading balls with a foot clearance, we weren't winning them anymore. C.J. Klaas, Ty Harden, Will Flanagan - our starters in the back - they just didn't have any spring in their legs. It's three games in six days, it's changing time zones. Hey, we accept that, that's what we conditioned for but had we not had that great preseason and been in such great condition we would have suffered a worse defeat there. Most teams, under those circumstances, would have taken three or four goals there.
"So to eke out a 1-0 loss, is not the worst result. We were disappointed but to be fair to them, we really never had any serious offensive opportunities. We had so much to do to defend, we couldn't get our offensive game going and we didn't look like scoring in that game. They kept pecking away and sure enough, got a half-chance from all their dominating play in the attacking third. They were down at our end a lot of the time. So our hat's off to them under those conditions, with us playing our third consecutive road game in six days, they were better than we were. I'd love to play them again on equal footing, so to speak, the same amount of rest. They also played Friday, we played Saturday. Not to take away from them, they're a very strong side and I'm sure they're going to do well. But I think we come away realizing that if we were at full strength and rested, we could play with a team like that. They were very direct and physical, they exploited more of our defensive weariness playing very direct, right down the middle forcing a lot of challenges and heading duels. That takes a lot of energy and leg power to withstand that type of attack.
"One of our goals coming in and one of the keys to turning around the season last year was to cut down the goals against and to go three games on the road, and come back with only one goal against is absolutely phenomenal. In the late 90's and early 2000, we'd go back there and we would lose to average opposition. We had some terrible losses in the East Region, whether it was the time change, or whatever. To play this quality of opposition, to come back 2-1 from those three games is a very strong start for us."
GH: Which individual performances grabbed your attention?
DW: "Goalkeeper Chris Eylander. He didn't get tested much in the first game and at UConn he was a bit shaky at times - there was some miscommunication and he was under the gun a bit. What was really pleasing was he had his strongest game of the three at St. John's. No question he deserved that accolade of Pac-10 Player of the Week because he really had a good game at the beginning, gathered his feet and played well enough to get us out of that UConn game and then really played well - was probably our best player - against St. John's. Also Mike Chabala, our holding midfield player, is always so important to us defending well and starting our attack. He was a consistent performer in all three games.
"We're looking at a host of different people up front and one of the things we realized from the St. John's game is that we put so many different players up front that we lost continuity. We do think we need to adjust that, maybe give one group of players a longer run, 70 minutes, before we start pulling people.
GH: Your three freshman forwards saw quite a bit of playing time last week. How are they coming into form?
DW: "Ely Allen's probably at the top of that list, although none of the forwards showed much against St. John's. I'm very impressed with Ely. Brett Hite is an all-raw potential, ready to blend in and we're trying to work with him daily. Spencer Schmidt is probably off to the slowest start of the three forwards but we see some promising things out of him. The freshmen have done well. We're bringing another freshman, Adam West, into the 20 - because we have so many games we're expanding our roster to 20 for this trip, it just makes all the sense in the world.
GH:What will be the key for the team to get through this tough early schedule?
DW: "Now we play five games in the next 10 days, that's a game every other day and is absolutely insane even for international soccer. You can never do that with one squad of players, we're going to have to use our depth. And we think we have good players and good depth, we do plan on doing that. We're going to play many different players in the second game in Las Vegas (at the UNLV FILA Invitational), come back against Portland with our first group and maybe play a different group of players in our home opener. We're trying to manage the large amount of games in the short amount of time. For sure we know, if we play one group the whole way, they will be toast by the time it comes to late Pac-10 and postseason. We cannot burn those 10 starters out, and other people are going to be starters so I use that term loosely. We're going to have to test our depth and guys are going to get an opportunity."
GH: What are your thoughts on this weekend's tournament in Las Vegas, facing UNLV and No. 13 Creighton?
DW: "UNLV is 1-1, a tricky opponent at home. Friday night's game will be tough but we'll put our strong team on the field. I'm confident that we'll do well. We'll certainly attack - we had to take a defensive posture against St. John's -and put an offensive formation together at UNLV. Creighton we haven't seen, we'll definitely watch them against UCLA on Friday. They're the higher ranked team, a strong opponent. We are going to have to make changes for that game for two reasons. We play again the following Wednesday, and we'll be playing at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday which is going to be very hot, so for those reasons, we want to use as many fresh people as we can with the goal of still getting a positive result. We're looking forward to the challenge. I'm confident that we'll be stronger from the experience that we've had and hope we can continue to build upon that."