Photo: Courtesy of Big South Network
The Philly Soccer Page spoke with Coastal Carolina’s head soccer coach Shaun Docking about Pedro Ribeiro over the weekend. Drafted in the first round of this year’s MLS SuperDraft, the Brazilian-born player, who was with Reading United in 2012, has dominated the Big South conference and was a semi-finalist for the MAC Hermann trophy in 2013. Docking has had incredible success in his 16 years at Coastal Carolina. In 16 years, his team has reached the NCAA tournament eight times. The Chanticleers have also won eight regular season Big South titles and five Big South tournament titles under Docking. And this success has not gone unnoticed by Major League Soccer clubs: Ribeiro is the fourth Coastal Carolina player in four years to be selected in either the SuperDraft or Supplemental Draft.
PSP asked Docking about Pedro Ribeiro’s qualities as a player, where he expects him to play, and how he expects him to develop.
I just want to get your thoughts on what Pedro is like as a player and what you think he will be like in MLS.
I personally think he’s going to do very well. I think he’s very versatile. I think he can play anywhere in midfield and probably anywhere up front. And I think physically, he’s obviously a big guy. I think he moves around the field well. I think he’s deceptive, I think he covers a lot of ground. I think, technically, he’s very good. He’s got very good feet, very soft feet. I think he sees the game very well.
Tactically, I think he knows what’s required on the field to play at that level. I would not be surprised at all if he sees a lot of minutes early on and plays a lot in his first year.
How do you think he will handle coming off the bench or, at minimum, not being a regular starter at the very beginning of his career?
He’ll be fine. He realizes he’s going to a much higher level, a very good team. I think there’s going to be a learning curve early on. He understands all that. I think he’s willing to go in and listen to John and Rob and the staff. I think he’s willing to listen to the senior players and try and earn his way into the team.
Do you think his ability to play all over the field might have hurt his stock in the draft? How did you figure out how to use him?
I think the good thing is, for John and his staff, they’ll be able to… Pedro will be able to get playing time that first year or two if you can play a lot of different spots. If you’re just stuck in one spot, and you have one or two guys playing very well ahead of you, then you’re probably not going to see a lot of playing time your first, second year.
I think, for Pedro, having that versatility is very good. It’ll be fun for the staff to play around with his position in preseason and the first couple of months and see what they feel are his strengths, and where their needs lie. So I think it’s going to help. I think it’s going to help everybody.
So where did you mostly use him on the field? Did you move him around based the he opposition?
He was very, very good at playing wherever we felt we needed to play him. It would depend on the opposition, it would depend on the score of the game, and really just depend on our needs throughout the game. I do like him as an attacking player. He’s very good beating players off the dribble and he can score goals. He’s got a very powerful left-footed shot. I think it’s fun to see if you can get him in an advanced position. I think he’s also very good at holding the ball up and setting up other guys. It might be a case where Philly wants to play through him through the general run of play. He can hold the ball up and link other guys.
Again, I just think it depends on what the needs are of the team. And I think John and his staff are the experts and they’ll figure out over time what his best position is at that level. At the college level, it may be one position but at the professional level it might be another position. I think it’s going to be fun watching him grow and watching him play over the next year and, hopefully, they can figure a good spot for him.
Hackworth mentioned that Pedro was carrying injuries for much of the year, and I saw that the scouting reports mentioned that the only they had with him is that he might not have elite level speed. Are those two things related?
Yeah, he was injured in the Spring last year and kind of rehabbed throughout the summer. And in the Fall he never really got a chance to get himself sharp. And I think if he gets himself sharp and fit, like a lot of us have seen him do, I think he’s going to be very good. Now, he’s over his injury. He doesn’t have any more injuries.
And now, I think, his focus is on getting 100 percent fitness and sharpness where he is going to be able to play games and be able to play at his best. I think his injuries are over. He’s going to learn to take care of his body like any professional player, but I do think when he gets fully fit, 100 percent game fit, he can be a really good addition.
Sticking with his physical aspects, I want to ask you about his size. He’s listed at 6’4. Do you feel like he has already learned to use his size? Or is he still growing into that body and being able to use it effectively?
I think, for the most part, he’s now physically fully developed. Throughout his college years, the four years we’ve had him, he’s been hitting that growth spurt and that’s probably why he’s had a few injuries during his college career. Any time a player goes through that, and hits a growth spurt, you’re going to have those adjustments with your body.
I think now he has fully developed. He’s as tall as he’s going to get and he’s really trimmed down now into a good athlete. Very strong on the ball, very difficult to get off the ball.
I’m sure guys in MLS see someone his size and want to find out right away if he can handle the league.
Yeah, he’s fine. He was used to having two or three guys on him most games for us in his last year here. He knows how to deal with the physical part of the game. I think obviously playing with better players around him now, they’re going to move the ball, share the ball quickly. And I think that’s going to help him.
What do you tell a player like him as he’s leaving your program for MLS? Are there things, mentally or technically, that he’s going to have to work on as he moves on?
I mean, it’s the beginning of a new step on the ladder. So, for him, he’s got a new beginning. It’s certainly not the end, it’s the beginning of a new chapter in his life, in his soccer career. I think it’s an ongoing process. What we try to teach all our guys here is the psychological piece, how to take care of their bodies off the field, how to be a professional player, how to sleep properly, how to eat, the fluid intake is incredibly important at that level. How to deal with the expectation. You’ve got an expectation now, that goes along with this.
And he certainly hasn’t made it now. He hasn’t signed a professional contract, he’s not a professional yet. He’s just going for a tryout. He has to earn the contract, he has to earn the respect of the coaching staff and the players that are already there and established at a very good franchise. There’s a lot that goes into the next couple of weeks. And I think he knows that. I think he understands all that. And I think he’s looking forward and excited for the challenge.
I noticed he takes some free kicks for you guys. The Union don’t necessarily have an established free kick taker. Is that something he did because he was simply the best player on your team, or is it something he specializes in, as some players do?
He’s very good. He’s got an incredibly powerful shot. And he’s got a left-footed shot, which is certainly hard to find. So, for us, we put him on a lot of set pieces just because he was very, very good at it. Being Brazilian, he’s got a natural kind of feel for set pieces, but he’s also incredibly good in the air. Obviously, 6’4, he’s excellent defensively in the air. And he’s very good offensively. If we know that we’re shooting or taking free kicks then he would be on the ball. If it’s from a wider angle, we would get him into the box and see how we could use him there.
Again, I think that’s the great thing about him. He’s just such an effective all-around performer. If you can’t get your goals through the general run of play, he could get you goals on set pieces somehow. And he’s also going to help defensively on set pieces. It’s very rare to get a player in a draft that can be effective and do all those things. So I think that just brings a whole other level to your team where you’ve now got some aerial presence that you didn’t have last year. And he can also play. I think he brings a lot of things to the team.
You mentioned his defense on set pieces. Sometimes when guys come out of programs where they’re the focal point – and he had 11 goals and 7 assists last year – they don’t always need to play as much defense as they will when they go pro. How is his defensive acumen? Have you seen that grow during his time with you?
He’s a very good defender. I think that’s something that has really improved in his game. We played him as a holding midfielder this year just because he reads things very well, he screens the back four very well for us. And the good thing is that you can also play through him out of the back when you’re trying to build and settle your team offensively. He really creates a good rhythm when you’re building out of the back. But I think defensively he reads the game very well. He breaks up so much stuff.
He’s such a big guy with big strides and long legs. You think about it: Teams have to go a long way around just to get by him. So, again, he brings a lot of things that don’t jump off the charts in a statistical way. I think there are guys that are quicker than him, there are guys that may be faster, but when you look at everything that he brings to your team, he’s going to make your team more effective. And that’s going to transfer into results for the squad. That’s something that I don’t think necessarily jumps out at you, but over the course of a season, I think he’ll help you win a lot of games. Just because of the effectiveness, and the ground he covers, and how much work he does for his team. I think that’s what he’s going to bring as he goes through the season.
And what about his right foot? How comfortable is he on his right? Can he only use it when he has to?
He can play with his right, he scored goals with his right foot. It’s just that he’s a lot more comfortable with his left foot.