While I didn’t plan to go this long to bring you episode four of Extra Time with Buckle, I also didn’t plan (or clearly understand) that I would spend every weekday and Saturday’s on a pool deck this summer for my daughter’s swim season (shout out to Rio Del Oro Rapids). Between a swim season, vacation and starting a new job (did I mention swim team), the summer of 2017 has been a complete blur. I digress.
In this installment, Paul and I talk about where the Club is at, Danny Barrera’s injury, adding depth at midfield, the academy, the possibility of taking Republic FC to MLS, and a quick look at this weekend's clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps 2. I hope you enjoy reading.
With all the ups and downs of this season, how would you assess where the Club is at?
I think we’re in a really, really good place. After three and three quarter years as a football club, we’re in an excellent position both on and off the field. We’re challenging again for the fourth year running and we had a fantastic cup run in the Open Cup, and also we got all the excitement and push for MLS with a smooth transition of Kevin (Nagle) and new ownership coming in, so I think it’s extremely exciting times.
This might seem like a rhetorical question, but how difficult was it to lose a guy like Danny Barrera to injury?
Extremely difficult. I think when you lose a player at that level, it’s a big loss. We’re not a one-man team, but [it’s important for us] to not get away from the form Danny put into the Club the last 18 months. At the same time, we’ve got to take positive steps, and we’ve been able to put an academy player through (Roberto Hategan). Hategan has been a positive and is Barrera-like, but certainly we need to add a player to the squad or someone within our team to come up big for us the way Danny has...but it’s a big ask.
You mentioned following the win over Sounders 2 that you and Graham are looking at the possibility of bringing in a player or two to help shore up the midfield. How difficult is it though to find someone this late in the season?
It’s extremely difficult, especially given the standard that we’ve [set]. As I’ve said, I won’t bring anybody in unless they fit with what we got, because that would be unhealthy to do that, so you’re trying to find a player that plays with an equal [fitness], and that’s really not easy. It’s a very difficult challenge given the time of the year.
Sometimes you get in an unlucky patch. We’ve lost Adam Moffit and Danny Barrera, so it’s been tough in that department. But we’re looking all the time...we obviously had Harrison Heath and we’ve looked at other options. But like I said, I won’t add unless they [fit] with what we have. I would rather go with young Hategan or give someone else an opportunity to show us what they’re capable of.
With 14 games left on the schedule, eight of which are at home, what are you looking from the guys to finish on a run like you did last season?
I think in the short-term now is to continue where we left off. It was a welcomed break in one sense where we had a few bumps and bruises that we could get right for the run, but at the same time, we were in extremely good form in the league...extremely good form in the Open Cup. It’s been very, very positive.
So I think the biggest thing for me and the players is to continue where we left off. We were scoring a lot of goals, creating a lot of opportunities and very good to watch. Those are things that I want to provide for our fans and Club.
We’ve had an odd [number off] days off for the players...and it’s important to do that, but at the same time we’ve been working hard since our last game.
I am looking at what [formation] to play this week. I played a different formation the last game that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, so this [break] has given me an opportunity to have a real good look at the players that are available to me to try and get everybody comfortable in their position. I like the system we’ve been playing...we’ve been playing a diamond and went back to a 4-4-2 with four attackers, and although we won the game, I just didn’t feel like we were as fluid. So there are things that I’ve been able to work on and will continue to work on this week.
The Club’s academy program recently turned 2. Are you pleased with where it’s at in the sense of the caliber of players that you’ve been able to attract and develop?
Oh absolutely. Look, the academy...of course we go to showcases and you want to win games. Winning is a big part of becoming a professional athlete...you have to have that winning mentality in you to achieve anything. But ultimately, this is [about] development. It’s trying to get these young players ready. The majority of them will go off to college and then they’re in the hands of others, so you have to wait then for awhile.
I think Hategan proved to me that you can find a player that doesn’t want to go the college route. That was the first thing that Hategan made clear. They were prepared to take that chance to go the professional route. If we can determine that particularly with young players, we can then secure them if they want to come in.
We’re getting more professional by the day. There are lots of options for parents and young players because the education is so important. But at the same time, if you choose an academic route, and I’m not saying anything is wrong with that, I do believe you’re going to miss out on the hours that are needed...and I think Hategan will reap the rewards. It’s been a bumpy road [for him] to become a professional, but as you saw against CF Pachuca, we have a really good potential on our hands.
I think if you get [young players] into a first team environment as early as 16, and develop them carefully, you’ll have an opportunity to get some good homegrown players, because this area has so many young talented players that I want to try and give everyone I can an opportunity.
You were obviously brought in to manage the Republic now, but I imagine there was also a discussion about the possibility of taking the Club to MLS. I know that’s not your focus now, but given last week’s ground breaking, do you think about that and what it would mean to you personally to manage the Republic at the highest level?
[Laughs]...No I don’t think about it. And that’s not me lacking ambition. I think as a head coach, it’s always dangerous to look any further ahead then the next training session and next week. It really is.
I’m proud of my record so far with the Republic. If you asked me that question in terms of wins, and the way we’ve helped develop the Club and continuing the success on the field, building the Club, and getting young players through...there were a lot of things that were in the ring when I took the job...I had to make real sure this was the right one for me as it was my first [soccer job] in America, I am really pleased with the way things are going.
Every time I walk out on the field of Papa Murphy’s, or take the team away from home, I am an extremely proud guy. I really am. My family is there...Rebecca is watching. It’s going to be phenomenal once we get to MLS. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of it and to keep building the club, because that’s my job.
Looking ahead to your match this weekend against the Vancouver Whitecaps 2, what do you expect from them? Anything jump out at you?
Like all opponents we come up against, I feel they will be on top of their game. We need to get our performance levels where they were when we left off and we’ll have to be at our best. I’m sure the players will be hungry for a game and hungry to get back into action.
Indomitable City Soccer (ICS) would like to thank Coach Buckle for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. We look forward to continuing to bring ICS readers the “Extra Time with Buckle” segment throughout the 2017 season. You can follow William Hodges on Twitter at william_hodges.