The Oakland Roots held its media day on Wednesday, February 2 at its shiny new training facility on Bayshore Island in Alameda. The blog was able to speak at length with new head coach Juan Guerra, technical director Jordan Ferrell, returning players like Paul Blanchette, Emrah Klimenta, and Chuy Enriquez, while new additions in Danny Barbir and Charlie Dennis also spent time with media.
Below is Guerra’s 23-minute interview with every word from the meeting transcribed.
What drew you to Oakland?
“When they reached out to my previous club last year, they showed there was an interest in talking to me. I said I was interested and wanted to talk, but I wanted to wait until the end of the year out of respect for where I was before. Obviously in December, they picked up the phone again and contacted me, since that day we had good conversations in which I explained what was important to me in order to be able to provide for the city, organization and players; that, to me, is the most important thing. That was how the conversation started. We had more conversations with different parts of the organization until this day where everything aligns.
“The values of the club aligns with my personal values as well, and that’s something that’s important to me. They talked to me about the importance of the club in the community, that’s something that was huge for me. I wanted to be sure that if I was going somewhere as a head coach, I was going to have the ability to represent the city and the people. I wanted to go to a place that had a clear identity, and I think that’s Oakland. There were a lot of boxes that checked, that’s how everything started, that was the foundation and started out in layers. We had more conversations and everything lined up, and I’m very happy it did. Everything that was said since the beginning, they have stood behind their word. It’s not just words or putting things on paper and they have executed, we can see it now. It doesn’t have to stop here just because we’re in a great place, we have to make sure that when this is done; it’s what’s next? What do we do to keep growing and developing. In order to provide for the players and city, we need to work together to try and make this organization one of the best in North America.”
Talk about the process of professionalizing the organization?
“Professionalizing was huge, it was a word I was using a lot during my conversations with ownership and Jordan. That was important to me, to be able to make sure we professionalize the technical side of the club, which is closer to the players. To be able to have this, a top-notch training ground, players can come in every morning and feel good, feel professional, it dignified their profession. That way, if they feel good, you’re influencing the environment which will influence their behavior right away. It’s a good environment, we can manage that and protect it as much as possible, and then the players feel it out there on the pitch; it’s going to be positive. That’s what allows me to demand, push, and make sure things work out. The importance of professionalizing the club is to provide, provide for players so they can understand that we’re a soccer club. The most important asset to a football club is the players, if we provide for them, they’ll make sure they provide for the club and the city. This goes into the values of the organization and my personal values as well. We want to make sure to leave this place better than we found it. It’s going to be very interesting and hard, this is an amazing place right now. We came into a great organization, just look around. So we must make sure that when our time is up in Oakland this place is better for whoever else that comes in.”
What can fans expect from your system?
“I know you guys love this question and everybody asks this question. Yes, I’m possession-oriented. I’m possession with a purpose, I want to keep the ball, I want to be sure we’re offensive minded. But at the end of the day, I do believe what’s huge in the style of play is based on the players. What can the players give you? This is what this six weeks is. We have identified players that we want to bring in, we kept a core group and have a solid base from last year, and when you put those two together, we gain a clear idea of how we want to do things. But I can guarantee you that in a 34 game season , things are going to chance, things will transform and we must be able to adapt. What I can guarantee is that we’re going to be a team with a lot of character, be intense and be aggressive, and when we have the ball we’re going to try and take care of it, and create chances when we attack–it’s as simple as that.
“We’re going to attack together, we’re going to defend together, and hopefully we can represent this organization the right way.”
Describe the philosophy with building the roster this offseason?
“For us, it was important to retain a core of last year, I’m huge on that. You can see that in the USL it doesn’t happen very often, a lot of teams rebuild their roster over and over each year. To make sure that we’re going to be able to build something that’s going to be sustainable over a long period of time. We have to make sure that we have a solid base; that solid base is going to be provided by the players returning. Those guys understand what the city is and what the organization is, they understand what they are representing. I have huge respect for what they went through last year and all that they had to deal with, and they were still coming in, working hard and fighting in every single game. That’s character, and that’s something I don’t negotiate. The guys that are coming back have that, that provides a huge platform in order to build from.
“When we started building the roster, it was; Who’s returning? Who’s under contract? And then I mentioned, who were players not under contract that I wanted. After doing that, we identified people who will be good in this league, who will be good in the organization, and young players who could be here for many years until, hopefully, we can’t afford them anymore. That’s the way I want to see things, I want to target and Identify young players, bring them in, and do a job for us until we can’t afford them anymore. It’s about growing players and helping them develop and become the best version of themselves. If we can do that, we’ll be successful.
How does your recent playing experience help you as a coach?
“I can relate a lot to the players on the pitch and in their personal life, we listen to similar music, we dress very similarly, we can relate in a lot of things. I don’t necessarily think that someone with more experience means they are a better coach than someone with less experience. At the end of the day, it’s about what you’re doing to prepare, how are you educating yourself, what you’re doing to be able to compete and motive, and to be able to manage. If you can have your players compete to motivate each other, then you as a coaching staff can make sure you manage those emotions on the players. We’re in a position to lead players, that’s what we have to do as coaches. We have to be a role model and make players believe in what we’re doing.
“I also mention this, and you’re going to hear this a lot from me, I don’t like players obeying. It’s not good. Obeying is not in my philosophy, I want my players to believe in what I’m saying. In order to do that, I have to make them buy in. For them to buy in, they have to feel a part of the process, so you have to pass on a bit of responsibility. That’s how we build. It’s going to be 34 games, U.S. Open Cup, hopefully the playoffs–it’s going to be a lot of games. At times, the ride is going to be turbulent. If the players are just obeying, you lose them in those turbulent moments. Now, if they feel a part of the process and have responsibility, they’re going to believe in what you’re saying and they’re going to push back, throw punches, and that’s what I want.
“Back to your question, I feel motivated, I feel ready. If I didn’t feel ready, I wouldn’t have taken that step forward. I can’t wait to lead this group of players, they are making me proud every single day. They are little by little buying in, and I hope we can become a family.”
What’s your vision for the team?
“My vision is that we utilize the platform we have as an organization in order to provide the players that are here, and help them get better and reach their best version toward wherever they want to go. We can provide for a coaching staff to grow and develop so they can teach and lead. We can provide for our city and The Town of Oakland, and the young talent in the area with Project 51O is very important for us; to show that this is a route to be a professional, that this a structured pyramid. In preseason, we have three very young guys and I want them in preseason with us all year; two 17-year olds, one 18-year old. I told them the importance of what they are to me, I said ‘If you’re here for 10 years, or if you go somewhere else, you guys are representing the organization. And then when new guys come in, they’ll look to how they developed, that’s how we create a sense of belonging, that’s how you create love for the city and organization.
“It’s not always putting responsibility in the older players, but its also putting that on younger players too. With our second team, we have that, we have a clear path which players can grow and develop. The coaching staff from Project 51O has been unbelievable too, they’ve been working with me since the first day over here because the first-team staff is still working on their VISAs. It’s great to have an organization that has a clear pyramid and that we represent that same crest.
What was your outside perspective of Roots’ run to playoffs last season?
“For Oakland, I wasn’t seeing everything from the inside, but I remember our first game in Phoenix; you guys had a bye for the first week so I couldn’t find film absolutely anywhere. They had changed coaching staff, there were new players, I didn’t know what to expect. After the game, I remember walking in the locker room, I sat down and told a staff member and said, ‘I’m not looking forward to playing these guys three more times.’
“The season didn’t start well for the club last year, but you guys had something. There was character on the field, there was very good players, and a very good mixture of youth and experience. That makes things good if you know how to manage them. So, there were obviously ups and downs, but what I take are the good things that I can utilize and use to keep growing. Bringing back those 14 players from last year provides the platform and structure that this is where the team was as an organization, and what are we doing to keep growing. At the end of the day, what I want for the organization is continuous growth. That’s the way it is in life and professional sports; I told the guys, ‘Yeah, formations, systems, styles of play is great, but after four games, teams are going to analyze us.’ We must be able to change and transform.”
First impressions from the first week of practice?
“As a coach, you can’t ask for more. We have a great group of players. When I talk to them, look at them in the eyes, and I see them absorbing and trying to execute. As a staff, I tell them that we’re going to provide information. Hopefully, that information becomes knowledge. Just because you have the knowledge, doesn’t mean we know how to execute it. After you have the knowledge, we’re going to go on the training pitch, we’re going to try it, and we have to execute.
“And then on the weekend, we’re going to get tested. So it’s: information, knowledge, execution, test. We’re going to teach, we’re going to provide and that’s why it’s so important to have this [training facility]. To have a place where the players love coming in, because we’re going to push them and demand a lot from them. When they have to execute, I’m going to push and demand. But having all this and feeling professional, it allows me to push as much as possible, and for the players to develop…
“We’ll see when we get tested, it’s going to be a 6-week preseason, 7 games, and I just can’t stop thinking about RGV. I know it’s five-and-a-half weeks away, but when I go to sleep I’m already thinking about what’s Wilmer [Cabrera] going to do? That’s just how I am. It’s important for the players to feel that way, and I think we’re going to build a very good soccer club.”
How important is it for the players to form relationships?
“I think it’s huge, especially with a team because it’s never about individuals. Relationships are a key piece, I told the guys in the first day, ‘Just because you guys are in the same uniform, doesn’t mean we’re a team.’ They looked at me like ‘What?’ I said you see Sunday league teams that have better unfirms than we do, probably; a team is a family, and in order to be a family, it’s going to take time. For now, we’re wearing the same uniform, but little-by-little we’re going to create and develop relationships that will allow us to become a family. You guys have to protect each other and show you care about each other… That’s important to me is bringing people who are good human beings, good soccer players–obviously be technical and tactical awareness–but if they don’t have the ability to create relationships, then we don’t want them here.”
Describe Alejandro Fuenmayor and Edgardo Rito, what they bring?
“Alejandro is a center back, he was at Houston in the MLS and before that, played in Venezuela. He;s played at the highest level in two different countries, he has adapted very well to the system and culture of soccer in America. He’s a guy that we brought in because he’s a good person, and he’s won in the past. He understands the importance of the little details that need to be taken into account in order to be successful. He’ll help us create the culture, he’s going to be a leader, and the way he plays the way we envision.
“Edgardo Rito is a right back, he’s also played first division in Venezuela and has played first-division in Colombia, and was brought to the U.S. and understands the culture of the USL Championship as well. He trained with the NY Red Bulls when with the Red Bulls II. He’s very dynamic, strong, powerful; he can cover a lot of ground, and combine well with players around him. He’s a good person, as well, who can adapt fairly easily. He’s hungry to keep growing and develop.
“I’m proud of all of our players on the roster. All of them have been hand-picked, no one was enforced on me. Every single player who is here, I’ve picked them and I’ll protect them.”
Characteristics that you want to pull from your time with Phoenix and Indianapolis?
“From Indy, I’d say Martin Rennie’s ability to do so many things helped me a lot. He was very hands-on in passing drills, possession, and tactical aspect. So in Indy, I was doing a bit more of the managing, talking to players, and observing. That helped me a lot in getting closer to players, but also to get close with distance, so to speak. I was close to the players but they also understood that I was a coach and there are invisible lines that need to be respected. With Phoenix, it was different. Rick Schantz is a manager; he loves managing emotions, he loves managing players. I was a bit more hands-on with doing planning, implementing, game analysis and video–so it was the other side of the coin. I think my time in Indy and my time in Phoenix brought the right balance to absorb. Now it’s my time to execute and try to put things in place, and make sure the players to do the rest.”
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