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Outside the bubble: Rapids assistant coach Steve Guppy

PhillySoccerPage: What do you see as the most important thing for your team coming out for the second half of the season?

Steve Guppy: Well, we’re kind of hoping that everyone can stay fit. It seems that with the group we have we’ve suffered more than our share of injuries, with a lot of key players being out injured. And I think all teams have to go through that, but it seems like more than any other year that I can think of, guys like Conor Casey – big, big players for us – we’ve been without them for large periods. We have to hope that everyone else is going to be good and we can create some of the form we showed last year.

PSP: With a guy like Casey out, are you going to ask your midfield to contribute more offensively? You’ve got a guy like Larentowicz with four goals, Nyassi with three (all in the same game), so do you ask them to get forward more, stay higher up the pitch?

SG: First and foremost, those are good players. So with guys like that on your team it’s not just the forward who are scoring. Where we are now, a guy who scored a large part of the goals last year isn’t with us. So it’s vital that guys like Sanna and Jeff and the like step up and contribute like they have done in recent weeks.

PSP: The consistent goalscorer is that rarest of beasts in soccer. Is there something specific you can tell these other guys on the field to help them adjust to having Casey out of the lineup?

SG: Obviously, the hardest thing in this game is to score the goals. That’s why these goalscorers get paid the big bucks, eh? You can look for little things. Look to build pressure, get more balls in the box. Can you get the extra five, extra ten yards as a midfielder and get yourself actually in the box instead of just on the edge. That extra little bit can often bring you a lot of reward.

PSP: Tactically, when you lose a big striker, is there anything you look to change in your setup? Do you try to keep the ball on the ground more going forward, do you just ask the midfield to flood the box, like you said before, or is there something more you can change?

SG: Well obviously, if things aren’t going well you look to do that, to change. But it’s up to the guys out there to make it happen. Part of the issue is to build pressure. If you can build and maintain some sort of pressure, the chances will come. And when they come, it’s up to the guy to make the most of them. When you can get 3, 4 players in the box at any one time, you figure you’ll get on the end of one of them sooner rather than later.

PSP: How do you teach a team to do that? To successfully build pressure and hold the ball, the way we’ve seen from some of the European sides that have come over for friendlies?

SG: It’s a very interesting question. I think it’s a compromise of a lot of things there. To build pressure, you need the ball. So you need to maintain possession. But you also need to keep probing and keep pushing. Can you be positive and try to make chances. And I think if you learn to keep knocking on the door, as it were, and creating chances, eventually cracks will appear.

PSP: Looking ahead to this game against the Union, without Conor Casey up top to receive balls, are you going to have to adjust how you play against the Union’s extremely high pressure system?

SG: Well, he’s been a major piece for us the last few seasons. It’s up to the other players to step up and create chances. We need a little bit extra from everyone to fill that gap. I’ve been impressed with Philly this year. Very solid in the back, creating chances, and Mapp’s having a great season. And the other thing, Philly’s the one team of all the teams we play, the crowd remind me of a European game. It reminds me of playing in England so I quite like it!

PSP: The team on the field has a bit of a harder edge this year too, a bit more European tackling maybe?

SG: Yeah.

PSP: With Brian Carroll having an excellent season, I’ve been asking people about the role of the midfield enforcer in MLS. Do you see it as a position is more necessary in the American style of play than in other leagues?

SG: I think football goes in trends. And at the moment, there’s a trend toward the 4-3-3 system. And in that system, you tend to have an attacking big line midfielder who tends to go up and help the front line. And you need the other midfielder to sit in and counter that guy. I think most teams I ever played on throughout my career have had a holding midfielder to try and make things happen and then when we lose the ball to become that screen in front of the central defenders too.

PSP: Speaking of trends, one of the more popular ones now is having a midfielder drop between the center backs to receive the ball and start the offense. Do you think that can continue to be effective, or have you seen a defensive system develop to counter it?

SG: I wouldn’t say that has changed the game much. Depending on how high, you said Philly likes to press high, when that tends to happen, the midfielder drops deeper and deeper to find space. A lot of it is dictated by the teams you play against. If they press high, you need to get your foot on the ball and get time to make things happen. At the minute, I think that the type of play that most teams are focusing on is that high press to force the other team to go route one and then take the ball and counterattack quickly.

PSP: Has a suitable counterargument to the high pressure system exists yet?

SG: With every game, you never know how it will develop. As coaches you set out a plan but ultimately it’s up to the players to go out and… and there are so many things you have to take into account every game. So who knows? There are games where our middies will drop deep to receive balls, and there are games where they will drive through gaps and link up with the forwards. You never quite know what you’re going to get.

PSP: You touch on an important point in soccer, and that is the amount of influence a coach can have during the game. In major American sports, the coach is very involved and able to make changes all the time during the run of play. In soccer, it’s less clear how much a coach can do. Are you able to adequately make adjustments during matches or do you have to mark most things down as something to discuss at halftime?

SG: I think this game has always been about the players. I’m sure some coaches will give different answers but having played it – and I’m sure as a coach you always want to take some sort of place – but ultimately it comes down to the players. They have to do the tough bit, which is go out there and get the result. All you can say is that you hope you have a full week to work with them. Gary does most of that stuff, and as coaches all you can do is get the team prepared and ready for the task at hand. Obviously we’re watching the game and if things drastically need changing, you do what you can and… you know, you try your best. You try your best. Ultimately it comes down to the players though, and rightly so. Rightly so.

PSP: I wish I got more answers as honest as, ‘You try your best.’ So do you think your view on the game has changed a lot as you’ve transitioned from player to coach?

SG: Not really, I think there is a little bit of a different style in this country because of the South American input. In this league you have influences from Europe and South America. Having played in Europe, I think there’s a lot more, what would you say, diving? Simulation? Whatever you want to call it. That’s something that’s come into the game more in recent years. That’s something that was really frowned upon in England, I guess, when I was playing. But it seems to be… around here people talk about it being “smart soccer.” And that’s a shame. You know, if someone dives and earns his team a penalty your team loves him and the opponents hate him. What can you do? I think, apart from that, the big difference is the challenges. Whereas back in the day they could be quite fierce – none from me, I might add – but the whole idea is to give the guys with more flair a chance to operate, I guess.

PSP: As a side question, if a guy dives, is it something you talk about in the locker room after the game or do you just keep your head down after the game and not mention it?

SG: If one of your teammates dive? Ooh, it’s a difficult one, it really is. Thankfully we don’t have much of that issue. I mean, if someone comes in on a hard tackle and you jump over it and fall over, is that a dive?

PSP: It might look like one on replay if that happens.

SG: Exactly. Sometimes replay can make it look a lot worse than it is. But the people who sometimes hold their face when they haven’t been hit in the face… I mean, what can you do. You can only do your best and try and guide your players to do the right thing. There is certainly a gray area in all of that.

PSP: As a coach, do you prepare your team differently for a home or away match? Do you send them out there with instructions to play more cautiously, or is that just how the game develops for an away match?

SG: I think you look at this year, there have been a lot more draws than in the recent past. It seems that a lot of teams are going away and getting draws. I know in Denver, we’ve had so many draws this year. I think some of it’s our fault and some of it’s the other team. With the players we have, we have to try and win every game. We go out with that mindset. I will say, if it’s coming towards the end of the game and you’re away from home and you think you want to walk away with a point, you might consolidate then. But we certainly don’t go out and say let’s get a draw this game. We go out and think we can play with anyone in this league. But having said that, I think Gary does pride himself on organizing the team and having a good shape and a good structure, and that’s just good management.

PSP: Anything you saw from the last Union match against Colorado that you think your squad needs to focus on heading into this showdown?

SG: Well, I’ll be honest, I will probably look at tape tomorrow. But one thing I do know is that they’re a much improved side from last season. They certainly have got some players with a lot of confidence and they’re very solid. I think we’re under no illusion that it’ll be anything other than a tough game. So we’re going into it with our eyes open and we believe we can cause them some real problems.

PSP: Thanks for taking the time to talk.

SG: Thanks, mate.

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