Img: Daniel Gajdamowicz
As the Union prepare for the I-95 derby with DC United, the Philly Soccer Page turned to DC assistant Chad Ashton for his thoughts on his own team, the Union, and how a coaching staff can manage its locker room chemistry.
Philly Soccer Page: One of the things DC Coach Ben Olsen said recently was that Philadelphia’s strong defense is really what separates these two teams. You brought in Brandon McDonald this week, but what are you telling the guys to work on tactically to improve in the back?
Chad Ashton: You know, we’re just trying to tighten things up a little bit. For the most part we’re trying to focus on little things in training, being aware of certain things that have hurt us in the past. And, you know, not give up as many goals. And yeah, if you look at them, they’ve been very stingy about giving up goals and we need to do that to have some success.
PSP: With the dynamic wingers that you have, is one solution to try and keep your outside backs at home more and tell them not to push up in the attack as much?
Chad Ashton: A little bit, but I think that at times when you have these dynamic guys, other people can stand around and spectate a little bit and you don’t adjust your shape and you don’t make little adjustments around the field and it leaves you exposed at times. Even if you go back to our last game. Essentially when we gave up the tying goal we were on the team’s endline and with three passes they went the length of the field and scored a goal. We have to maintain focus and concentration for ninety minutes and know every little play counts.
PSP: Philly brought in Brian Carroll to sweep the midfield and allow more players to get forward. Do you feel like you have that guy in DC, someone who you can rely on when the rest of the midfield presses forward? Or is that an area that you still need to work on?
Chad Ashton: We feel we have that guy. We have Clyde Simms who essentially fills that role. They both played here at the same time and you almost couldn’t play those two together because they were too similar in what they do. We have that guy, it’s more about getting moved around by a couple passes or a back getting sucked out of an area and the other three backs adjusting. I think that’s where our problem is at. More about understanding each other and when there are trouble spots and when there is danger and how to react to it. How to organize and communicate in the back. We continue to make the mistakes we’ve made throughout the year. We’ve limited them but we haven’t eliminated them yet.
PSP: When you have some of the offensive talent that you have, you said there can be a tendency for the rest of the team to sometimes stand around and watch. How do you deal with something like that? What do you tell the players?
Chad Ashton: We have to understand that we are the total of eleven guys out there whether we are attacking or defending and we have to be more compact. In tomorrow’s game, I think, if we stay compact, if we keep the game compact, it will be to our advantage. If it opens up and it’s an end to end sort of game it’s to their advantage. We need to maintain our level of discipline and try and limit them on the counterattack little bit. If we can do that and limit their chances… we feel like we can score goals right now. We just have to keep it out of our net.
PSP: One of the things Philadelphia has done this year is use high defensive pressure on the back line. Using someone like Le Toux, who runs all day, they can make you play fast out of the back. Is that something you have to prepare your guys for this week?
Chad Ashton: Absolutely. I think if you go back to the Salt Lake game, when Salt Lake played in Philly, they took Salt Lake completely out of what they like to do, which is possess the ball and find a rhythm and play through you. They didn’t allow Salt Lake to do that. They pressed and they were all over them and any time RSL played forward it was a longer ball. So we feel like we know where and how to play through them but doing it is a different story. For my money, Peter Nowak is coach of the year. He has that team very well organized. They believe it what they’re doing and they’re all on the same page. It’ll be a difficult game because they’re in first place for a reason.
PSP: Defending the Union, the last few teams have used a high pressure system – Chivas targeted the outside backs – to keep Philly out of there rhythm. Do you look at the past few Union matches and see anything you tell the guys to focus on in terms of defensive tactics?
Chad Ashton: There’s always going to be a bit of a different mentality when teams are at home or on the road. But when you look at our wide guys they are players who can take people one on one. We want to establish a pace early and, really, do to them what they did to RSL at home. We want to take them out of their rhythm, we want to force them to play long. Then we want to hold possession and put them on their heels a little bit and slow them on the counterattack. They have a lot of guys who can make plays with their legs. And when you turn the ball over in bad places, if you don’t get behind the ball quickly or commit a foul, they will be off and running and we cannot allow that to happen.
PSP: You mention a different mentality home and away. What is it about playing in a different venue that makes managers or players change their tactical approach?
Chad Ashton: It’s a comfort thing. You play however many games at your place and you play one game at the opposing place. Every place has a something a little different to offer and you have to play different ways. You’ve got altitude in one place and a tiger field in another place. At home, teams have a little more confidence about them and they feel like they have to go out there and get the points. For our team, we’ve almost been the opposite this year. When we go on the road, we’ve relished the underdog sort of thing and we’ve had more focus – especially on the defensive side – on the road. We need to turn RFK into the place it used to be, or the fortress that PPL is for Philly right now. They’re tough to beat there.
PSP: Is it different playing an Eastern Conference opponent? Even though you play each team twice, is there something about playing a team like Philly – especially when the entire conference is so tight below the top three – that makes the atmosphere a bit different?
Chad Ashton: We are always looking at the table and where you stand in the table. There’s some added stuff there when you play Philly who is in front of us and then New York next week. These games can count double. Because you’re picking up points and you’re not allowing the team in front of you to pick up points. So even though it’s a three point game, these games can seem like six point games. They’re a very good defensive team but when you look at tape you see that they concede chances. So we just have to execute and finish.
PSP: Looking at your team, it might seem a little strange that your big move was bringing in an offensive player at this point. Was there something specific about Dwayne de Rosario that you wanted or did you feel like he filled a more general need?
Chad Ashton: Probably more than anything you have a guy who is a proven winner and a difference maker. He’s a good team guy but he can also flat-out win a game on his own. He can pull things off that not many guys in this league can pull off. And that may put the other team on their heels a little bit, it might create more possession for us. So we feel that, overall, it’s going to make us a better team.
PSP: When you bring in a new player, it’s going to create more competition for spots and perhaps friction, but it can also signal to the team that you think they are ready to win now. How do you handle the team chemistry? Is that something that you, as coaches, think you can manage?
Chad Ashton: Absolutely. We daily try to influence, try to evaluate what the morale is in our locker room. How do we need to handle them as a group on a weekly basis. And some weeks they need some love and some weeks they need some butt-kicking. And sometimes if there is a little tension you may have a team function to bring the team together. But we are very happy with our locker room right now. We think we have a group of guys that not only get along but also really want to work and fight for each other. So we are very happy with our locker room now.