Coach Hankinson Talks about Preparation for the Upcoming NASL Season for the SA Scorpions FC

Thoughts on general preparation for the team thus far.

We’re in our third week, the first and foremost foundation block, you want to establish, is building your base fitness, without believing in your fitness level, players don’t want to support, they don’t run without the ball, you can’t press teams, your intensity at training is at a lower level, then it is playing at match conditions and once you have that down it allows you to move onto other things.

The second thing that has to come is trust between players, if you’re a striker, you’re not gonna go and make a brake away run if you don’t believe anyone will give you the ball …. if you’re a midfielder and you have a man on your back, the defender has to believe that he can roll the ball under your feet and your gonna retain possession, so building that trust between players, which also comes from just getting to know each other’s capabilities and qualities is the second factor.  Once that starts happening you can start moving the ball and work with creative ideas and with creative ideas create scoring chances – trust is important.

We want to be a very good possession team, both individually and as a group.  I think if you look at the common elements around the world, at champions, teams can attack differently.  Some from the lanes, some more directly, some with a slow build-up and some with a counterattack style but those elements don’t dictate whether your a champion or not, it’s the ability to have players who, individually, are good possession players and as a group is a possession team and that’s something we want to take great pride on, to build from the back.

Besides fitness, what other area are you focusing on as far as preparing the team?

You have to explore the tactical systems that exist out there to find what compliments the group you got, so there’s a lot of experimenting – not having a team last year, there is no core to deal with that you’re bringing back with certain experiences together and know-how and therefore without a core, there is a lot of experimenting in the early going … you have to test players (who is going to compliment who), you also have to know a player’s primary position but you have to also find their second and third possible positions so that you know, particularly on the road, who can play a couple of spots because you never know what the game is going to hand you at times.

How is the dynamic of preparing a team without having a full season together or any experience to draw on, going into a new season?

There is a good side to it, the players don’t come in with an assumption that they’re a starter … cause there’s no history from last year to make that assumption on.  Where there are some teams who have players coming back in March, they have already established a pecking order, so I think it’s added a great deal of electricity to the training, because players, no matter, even if they’ve been a major league player, even if they played for a national team – they’re still coming in here realizing … you got to establish yourself, I think that’s brought a good work rate and concentration to each training session.

Have there been any performances from players that may have surprised you during training, or were you pretty much familiar with each player already?

I think we’re pretty aware of who we’ve signed and what they’re capable of, meaning – as far as starting level players, there were no ‘blinders’ …. I think that where you have that curiosity, is in that second tier of players who have not established themselves in the pro game yet, and those are the ones who are a little bit more interesting to see how they’ll be coming along because they’ll end up representing the first guys off of the bench and enter games where they will build their pro experience, it’s not like Major League, it’s a typical NASL roster mostly made up of probably 12 – 14 players with pro experience.  So you’re going to have some inconsistencies as far as who has pro experience and who is trying to establish themselves.

Any thoughts on the formation and the tactical plans for this coming season?

Well, formations are funny because i can move a player an inch and the system suddenly goes from a 4-5-1 to a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, it’s less about a structured system because a system is really just a skeleton.  It has no life in itself, it is the players who have to bring the flesh and blood to life to make the skeleton work and therefore, if you were to look at our field, i don’t think you would see, necessarily, a structure of a specific system but more players who are playing in a way to their strengths that they understand how to use each other.  But i would say that if you had to label it, it would look closer to a 4-4-2, but still maintain the fluid and proactive style of play.

Speaking on the pre-season games against their next two opponents.

There are two types of opponents in the preseason, there are those weaker opponents that allow you to dictate some of your ideas, and therefore you get to see some of your ideas come to life, the way you’ve been working on them and i think that has great value to play against a weaker opponent so that you can exercise your thoughts and have them come to life.  The other kind of preseason game, which would be more like Dorados or when we played the US Olympic team, that expose certain areas of your game, maybe a weakness maybe a particular player, how you’re trying to press as a team, how you’re defending – with a very good opponent he’s going to give you a measuring stick of where certain parts of your game are and what you need to work on in the next coming weeks.

General thoughts on the match versus the US U-23 Olympic team.

First of all, understand that they are in a mode where they have been preparing to qualify and they have been preparing together, they are very fit all of them are major league players, or playing internationally, and therefore their level of conditioning is at match standard right now.  We had been together for five days and i have to say that a lot of our players had not done anything in the off-season, or very little, so going into the game, the US was playing at a very high-level of intensity, it was obvious that physically we (Scorpions) were not anywhere near ready to play a game, it was way too early for that, [but] we accepted the game because we wanted to help the Olympic team, they needed some matches and it was a really good opportunity to have a chance to play against a USA Team and give that experience to your players ….. even the veterans came out of that game saying “we’ve got hard work to do” so i think games like that early, even though you know you’re not ready for them, it gives everyone honest feedback about the work that has to be done.  No one likes physical work at any level of the game, but when you play a game like that you realize that the opponent at this level was much higher and that’s where you get every player an understanding of “hey let’s go get our work done.”

What positives can you bring away from holding the U-23s to an even tie at halftime as far as mental preparation for the team?

It’s perspective, Brek Shea, is playing against my right back, who has never played right back ….. and a week later, Brek Shea is in the starting line-up for the game for the USA against Italy …. the guy i had playing at right back that night has never played in a pro game, so the fact that we got to 0-0 at halftime, wasn’t so bad …. the majority of the possession was with the US team, but what was interesting, just like the US vs Italy, we came out of the locker room at halftime and for the first 15 minutes – took over the game and in doing so, created four chances.  So suddenly the U-23s just had a first half like we did with the US vs Italy where Italy had most of the possession ….. so if we had come out of half time and one of those chances we had goes in, everything changes.  We talked about that, how we survived and being a good time is more like learning how not to shoot yourself in the foot and i think the first half showed that we have the potential to be a good team because we didn’t give up anything against a very good, high pressuring team – but in the 60th minute the legs started to go and then it was just a matter of time for the USA to create the chances they needed.  But the players enjoyed it, it was the first road trip for them, it was the first chance to fight for each other and my mantra for that night was that you have to come out of the game showing yourself that you’re willing to put that jersey on, you’re willing to fight for each other through thick or thin of the match and i think they did a great job of that.

Were there any individual performances that stuck out to you during that game either with the U-23s or the Scorpions?

Brek Shea was outstanding, Juan Agudelo did a good job, Freddy Adu did a good job.  For us (Scorpions) Kevin Harmse in the center midfield as well as Ryan Cochrane and Greg Janicki, the center backs … I think those three had a bit of a triangle in the center and did an outstanding job for us.  That will be a very solid foundation for us.

Thoughts on the Atlanta game for the season opener.

They’re (Atlanta Silverbacks) quite a different team from last year and have added some very good pieces, so they will not be at the bottom looking up this year.  We’re trying to watch what video we can find on some of the individual players that they’ve brought in, to get more familiar with what their qualities are.  We play each of these teams at least four times and there have been so many changes with these teams that I don’t think you can put too much into last year’s video to determine who they are, when you play a team once, then you can understand who they are and prepare appropriately for that.  But, going into these first games against teams that we’ve never played before and have quite a few changes going on I think the main focus is to know yourself and try to impose your game upon the opponent.

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