I recently had the chance to catch up with Sacramento Republic FC Manager Simon Elliott as part of our Extra Time with Elliott segment. This is the second year I’ve done this series and third overall for Indomitable City Soccer. Hope you continue to enjoy it.
In our first installment of Extra Time for the 2019 season, Simon and I discussed his thoughts on the season so far, what brings him joy as a coach, players that have stood out, Sacramento’s MLS bid, and more. We even briefly discuss USL and its growth.
As always, many thanks to Simon for taking time out of his busy schedule. Be sure to look for the Extra Time segment all season long. And with that, let’s get to it!
We are about a month into the season. How would you assess where things are?
I think we’re doing OK. We have a good team, [there’s] some depth, and we have some competition for places. But we need more of it. We have had a couple tough results and it’s something we need to rectify. There’s certainly things we are pleased with, but we feel like there is more in us.
Have things been easier in your second year as manager?
I don’t know that it’s been easier. It’s just a little different. It’s your second year, there’s certain things you kind of get used to, you’re more familiar with the way things work. But it shouldn’t ever really get easy you know? That means that you are operating in your comfort zone, and if you are in your comfort zone in this league, then that’s a problem.
You want to be challenged. It should be difficult. There’s good teams, good coaches and good players that want to move up, so it’s challenging. There’s a lot of work to do if we want to get it to the place where we all want it to be.
What is the greatest joy for you as a coach?
Well, we have good folks on the soccer side and good folks in the front office. The culture here is very positive and being a little part of helping to build that has been a real joy. People have been on board and they want to contribute. So that’s been fun.
In terms of soccer specific, just seeing things that we work on in training coming out during games shows that there is progress...shows that we have guys that want to learn...shows that guys are willing to work to get the outcomes they want. Obviously, it’s professional football, but now we want to see it come out in the results as well.
Any particular player that has stood out for you so far?
I think a lot of the guys have [been] solid. Sam (Werner) has done well. In terms of end product, I feel that he has been really effective in the attacking third and getting in behind.
Are you surprised that he has done so well or is that what you were expecting out of him?
Well, we brought him in for a reason. But we got the guys we got for a reason too. He’s just feisty right? He wants to do well, he wants to prove himself. I think you are starting to see the results of that. He’s quick, he’s strong on the ball, he’s got a powerful shot, and he likes competition. We have been pleased, he should be pleased as well.
Switching gears a bit...how will you manage Open Cup this season? It’s obviously been a focus of the club the last few seasons.
[We need to] make sure everyone is ready to play a full 90 minutes. That’s sort of the simplest [answer]. That is part of the reason why we had a friendly against Stanford. It’s part of the reason why guys will get some minutes [Saturday] and this week as well, so that going into May, June and July...where it’s hot and there is a lot of games, we want to have everybody ready. We don’t want to have guys that haven’t played for a little bit, and then come in and play a lot in a short space of time and all of sudden they are fatigued.
Basically, we are trying to get everybody minutes and make sure they are ready. This is part of a period of competition for places. Guys are focused on the weekend, but they know that there are games coming up and not everybody can play all the time because of the midweek games, travel and heat.
With all that is happening off the field with Sacramento’s MLS bid, how much do you talk about it, or is that something that you and the team have to block out?
No. Look, it’s great for the city. It’s great for the fans and for the club. We are delighted with the progress that has been made. There has been some folks around here for awhile that have seen the length of time [that it has taken]. But sometimes it takes time to navigate through the issues and the complexity that is involved. So we are really pleased that there has been good progress.
For us, we just need to be focused on week to week. It’s a horrible cliche right, but our role as coaches and players is to commit to every game we have and make sure that we are well aware of what we are trying to do and how to [support the club] and their efforts.
On that thought about taking things week-to-week, was it frustrating to have a week off so early in the season?
It’s just one of things that you have to deal with. I think it’s more frustrating for the guys. We went into Portland and had a bit of a tough one up there. So it’s frustrating in the sense that it was two weeks before we got back to league play. I think it was appropriate to have a game in there (Stanford game) to get guys back and make sure everyone is ready for this weekend (versus Phoenix) and for what is coming this summer.
There has obviously been tremendous growth in the USL in recent years, both in terms of new teams and with the quality of play on the field. That said, it seems the league is still going through growth pains, in that there are USL clubs that maybe should be playing in League One, and then there was the instance a few weeks ago where you essentially played an MLS reserve team in Tacoma. What’s your view on where thing are right now in the USL?
You can only play the team they put out against you. You are talking about stuff that gets talked about and understood and agreed upon at league meetings at the end of the year. We just have to understand that sometimes we are going to play teams with MLS players playing, and sometimes there’s not. We can’t control that.
What we can control is our performance. If you’re talking about the Tacoma game, we didn’t play particularly well...the goals we gave away were sloppy. That’s not anybody else’s fault...that’s out fault.
Part of being a good professional is being positive and sticking to the game plan, but it’s also being clearer-eyed about how we can improve. In that game, there was certainly things we can improve on, [like] when to step up and when to drop [back] as a back four...we can control that. The runs in behind, we can control that. Hitting the target, we can control that. That’s the way I look at it. The other stuff is more club-to-club, league level. It’s USL and MLS talking.
Overall, I think it’s very healthy for the game. You have a very good league in MLS, a league that is expanding and attracting interest from investors and fans. In USL, there are more places for people to play, you have the academy system which is starting to bear fruit for a number of clubs. You have teams that are more invested in the development of players, so I think overall, it’s a step in the right direction.
Yeah, I imagine for USL players, getting the chance to play against MLS quality competition has got to be a spark given that’s where many aspire to get to...
This is it right? You can use it [as a positive]. If you want to play in MLS, then you need to be prepared to play well against MLS players. It’s simple. It’s not an easy thing to do because MLS players are good players. For guys that have aspirations to get to the next level, they need to perform well under pressure, against good players, good teams, away from home.
It can be very useful if we approach it in the right way.