Photo: Courtesy of MLS
After two successful years at SMU, Robbie Derschang transferred to the dominant Akron University soccer program. Akron’s penchant for playing inside-out wingers prompted Derschang to move to left back where he bombed up the wing to join in attacks and apply high pressure. His athleticism, positive attitude, and ability to play anywhere on the left side convinced the Union to select Derschang as a potential left back of the future even though he has only played the position for two seasons. Derschang is incredibly open about the steep learning curve he faces as he adjusts to the pace of MLS while figuring out all his angles as a defender. He spoke to PSP about the parts of his game he’s focused on, his ability to take people on and play a good cross, and how he isn’t afraid to keep plugging away until his chance comes.
Tell me about your initial reaction to being drafted by the Union.
I really had no idea I was going to be picked by the Union. I was really relieved to hear my name because I was just watching the draft and waiting to see what was going to happen. When it said that the Union picked me, the best way to describe it is that I was just beyond happy. It was kind of a surreal feeling because I’ve got to make the step into MLS now. But I was very excited and I think it worked out great for me and I’m really excited to be drafted by the Union.
John Hackworth called me the next day and talked to me about everything that was going to happen. It just made me very excited to join the Union.
So you’re meeting up with the team Friday?
Yeah, I’ll be in Philly on Friday.
Have you been to Philly before?
Just once in high school. It was for a brief time. This will be my second time. I’ve never really been around the city much or anything so…
Was it a soccer trip to Philly?
It was for soccer. They had the draft and soccer convention there in 2010. I went there because I was an All-American then so I went there with my family just to attend the convention.
That was quite an event for Philly. That was before they even put a team on the field. So going forward, as a second round pick that played all over the field at Akron, what do you think the expectations are of you from Hackworth and Vartughian and the guys in Philly?
John Hackworth called and told me what he expected of me, and that he was really going to play me in that role as a left back because I got into that role in the last two years of college and he told me he thinks that’s the role that I’ll be most effective at for the Union. He just said you’re going to have to come in and compete really hard and work hard every day and try to improve at that position. That’s really what he expects of me and that’s what the coaching staff expects of me is just to come in right away and not necessarily be a starter or anything, but come in and make it a competitive environment for all the players. They expect me to come in and try to be a better left back and really try to get that spot on lock so I can improve.
That’s a tough spot to fill for a lot of MLS teams. Teams look for a guy that can defend but also get forward. You can get forward and you’ve got that good left foot, but what do you think you need to focus on to become that every day sort of left back that is responsible enough to be there every week?
It’s going to take a while, obviously. I’m going have to learn a lot and have to improve a lot to be a player that’s going to compete as someone who is going to be in the team. For me to get to that level and try to compete like that, I think the defensive side is the biggest issue that I need to improve on. Positionally, when we are defending deep, where I should be in the back four, and good positioning so I don’t get caught out of position and exposed. Those are the biggest things I need to work on. Because I can get up the flank pretty well but tracking back and staying disciplined in the back four is probably the biggest thing I need to work on. The one v one stuff is probably my biggest weakness but I think playing left back the past two years, I think I’ve really improved a lot more on that. So mostly it’s just staying compact with the back four, staying disciplined, staying alert on all plays so I don’t get exposed by a midfielder sending the ball through my side.
So really the things I need to work on and improve are sitting deep, the defending side, staying patient and making the right decisions with the ball in our own half so we don’t make a mistake. Those are the biggest things I need to work on.
Going from an offensive role to defense, I’m sure you look up sometimes and see that long pass and think, ‘Oh, I can hit that.’ Have you had to work to shorten your approach or just focus on simple things from a let back position?
It all comes from experience and playing the position a lot. At Akron we played a possession game a lot so I didn’t hit a lot of long balls back behind the line, but sometimes I do look up and try to hit that long ball when I shouldn’t be hitting it. Just staying really composed and playing out of the back is something that I should definitely improve on. Just look for the easy pass so we can get out of the back comfortably. But I do enjoy hitting the long switch or the long ball over the top. That’s another thing I need to learn is just to be composed on the ball and pick the right passes.
Yeah, and I talked to Coach Embick earlier and one of the things he saw was your ability to learn how to make good decisions in the final third even though you’re an emotional guy. A lot of the guys on the Philly back line can be pretty emotional as well. Do you tend to be an emotional player and wear your feelings on your sleeve?
I’m a pretty emotional player. I’ve got that competitive edge. I think that’ll fit me pretty well that the other guys on the back line will be pretty emotional guys because that means everyone is on top of each other and wanting to do well. I wear my emotions out there sometimes. I just want to do well and want to win and want the team to do well and everything. But if someone older wants to tell me what to do, I’ll be humble and listen and won’t be stubborn in that aspect.
I’m pretty emotional as a player and want to succeed. Small sided games, regular games, training, that’s just the type of player I am. I would get upset when I wouldn’t make the right decisions in the final third. If I missed the cross or missed the pass for the cutback. I get, not rattled, but disappointed in myself. I think that helps my game out a lot because it makes me want to do better.
How do you assess your crossing ability right now? Do you think you’ve got a MLS-level cross? What do you need to work on?
I think one of the biggest strengths in my game is my crossing, actually. I think at the combine it didn’t show; some of my crossing was poor. But I think it’s one of the strongest aspects of my game. The only problem with it is that sometimes it is inconsistent. I love to serve a ball in the air or on the ground or take someone on and beat them endline and try to pull it back. I just love to cross the ball, really.
Consistency is the biggest thing. I just need to do those things: Stay after training, works on types of service so I can make the service more consistent. I think eventually I can get to serving the MLS ball, serving at a MLS level, but I need to work on it every day and just get reps to make my crossing more consistent.
Have you gotten any advice that’s on your mind as you head off to preseason?
Probably the best advice was from Jared Embick. He just said, ‘You’re a second round pick so you just have to go to the team and every day keep plugging away.’ I think that’s the best advice to take through the preseason is just take every session on it’s own and work as hard as you possibly can. That’s just how I approach things. I think that’s the best advice.
From my family, I’ve gotten the good luck and support talks. They’ve told me just go out and do your best.
I’m mostly going to take what Jared said and also what some other people back home have said. Just keep plugging away, this is what you’ve worked your entire life for, the moment is here so I’m going to take that advice and run with it and work as hard as I can for the Union. I’m excited to be part of the Union, definitely, and play for Hackworth so I’m going to put my best effort forward every session.
Final question that I’m asking everyone: Do you already have a nickname that you’re bringing in, or will Philly fans have to give you one once you’ve spent some time on the field?
I’ll just let the fans decide for themselves. Whatever they think fits, I’ll let them pick for me. I’m pretty open to that. New environment, new fans. I want to be a part of it. I want to play for the fans, so whatever they come up with.