Interview / US Open Cup

PhillySoccerTalks: DC United’s Ethan White

PSP talked with DC United defender Ethan White ahead of tonight’s US Open Cup clash. White has helped solidify United’s shaky back line in recent weeks, and he played in front of Zac MacMath at Maryland. Along with a discussion of how a Cup run can help spark regular season success, White discussed the development of the DC-Philly rivalry, differences between Zac MacMath and Bill Hamid, and what he has to do to contain Jack McInerney.

Does the USOC take on extra importance when the season isn’t going well?

When the season is going well, [the US Open Cup] is a good chance for the guys that aren’t getting most of the minutes to get some games in and play for something. When the season is not going well, it’s a chance for a club to still get some silverware. If you’re not doing too well in MLS you still want to get a trophy. And whether that’s the USOC or the reserve league when it was still around, it always feels good to get something. So I think the Open Cup is a good chance for that sort of thing.

Can you get any confidence carryover from the Cup to the regular season?

Absolutely. Now that we are playing MLS teams, I think that if you get a good win against a MLS team in the USOC, it gives you confidence to go into the next MLS game and get a W. Soccer is a pretty streaky game. You get on a good roll and that’s how you get the ball rolling. I think it’s a good chance to get something started.

Do USOC matches in general have a different feel than regular season matches?

It feels different for us because we play in a different stadium (Maryland Soccerplex instead of RFK Stadium). Recently, they’ve doubled the money for everything in the Cup, and you always have something to prove. Whether you’re playing a lower division team and want to prove that you’re in MLS for a reason or if you’re playing a MLS team and you want to show that you’re the better team, so whether it’s reserves or starters playing, you always want to be the top club.

As the home team, do you guys feel like you have to go out and be the more attacking side, even with the offense’s struggles this year?

For sure. Philly’s style is that they like to come out and counter anyways. When you’re at home you want to come out and get your fans behind you. You want to go out and show them that you are good going forward. You want to put the other team on their heels and make them uncomfortable after they’ve already driven a few hours and they’re already on an uncomfortable ground. So you definitely want to be the more attacking team at home, and I think that’s our goal.

As a center back, do you feel like there is a lot you can do to help the offense?

Sure, it changes from game to game. Some teams play two forwards and give me less time on the ball. Some teams play one forward and give me more time on the ball so I can pick out larger passes, longer passes. It all depends on the team.

But the best offense starts with a good defense. So if we are winning the ball in good spots, we can get our attack started higher up the field. And if we have a higher line it’s a quicker trip to the goal, so we are mainly told to try to find the best pass that eliminates the most players from the game. So if I can pick out a forward and bypass the midfield, that’s what I want to do. But you never want to lose the ball, so don’t force it.

Is it a bit tougher for you to distribute against a team like Philadelphia when you know that after any mistake they are looking to go vertical to a guy like Jack McInerney who has his finishing boots on?

Not really. If I can get past Jack and keep the ball in a good position, that’s what I’ll do. If I can get him, Le Toux, and Conor Casey out of the game I’ll do that however possible. If I can get past them without getting out of position, that’s what I’m going to do. It’s the game of soccer and you’re going to make mistakes, but that’s why my other defenders are there to cover me.

When you have as much turnover in the back as you guys have had this year – you’ve already paired with Dejan Jakovic, Brandon McDonald and Dan Woolard – does that has as much of an effect on your game as who you are playing against?

Sometimes it can. You just have to realize what kind of player you are playing with. Dan [Woolard] is very athletic, very fast. Everyone has different qualities. Some people like to organize more, some like to keep everything in front of them. I just try to have an understanding of who I’m playing with and, along with that, defending is defending. All our goal is is to keep the other team from scoring.

With that turnover, I think we are just trying to figure out what works best. I think we’re figuring it out, but we still have a long ways to go because obviously we’re still not scoring goals.

When you know your offense is struggling, does a defender feel extra pressure to be that much more perfect?

A little bit. If your offense isn’t getting goals you know you have to keep a zero every game. But we are a team, so we defend as a unit, so if we lose a game we aren’t just pointing to the back line. Maybe we can do better higher up the field, why are we missing those chances, why did we give the ball away in this spot, why we are breaking down in the midfield or up top.

When you go to the film room after a game, are there things at the top of your mental list that you are focused on? Either things that you can do better or things that are coming together?

I think it’s mostly commitment. Now that we realize what we need to work on, we are putting in that work. In the video room we are seeing what players do, what certain players do. It’s a real commitment to defending. Now we know we have guys who are going to put their head on the line to win a ball. Regardless of who it is, we could be going against a 6’5″, 250lb guy and we are going to put our head through him to win the ball. I think we are really committed now that we see we could lose a game 1-0 if we aren’t scoring.

Were there things that, at the lowest of the low points this year, you guys looked at to change?

I think we were giving up some really soft goals earlier. All of us, we were all having some mental lapses. Then we were beating ourselves up and playing scared and playing not to mess up instead of playing well and backing each other up. Now we are backing each other up and you can see that we are decreasing the number of goals we give up.

If someone messes up, the other guys come and help out as soon as possible. It’s a real commitment thing.

Right now you are playing with one of the best young goalies in the US system, and you played in front of Zac MacMath in college. Are there similarities between the way Bill Hamid plays and the way Zac played? How they organize or play?

I think Zac is a good positional keeper. Bill is more of a shot stopper; he’s crazy athletic for how big he is. But they’re both really good young keepers. I’ve played with both of them a lot – Zac in college, Bill in academy before here – and just seeing those guys come up from being young guys to now, I think they both have bright futures.

And with the organizing thing, I don’t really know what Zac is like now, but Bill is a very vocal guy. You can hear his voice from 50 miles away. It’s good to have him behind me.

Is that the sort of thing, especially for a young central defender or goalie, that you have to work on when you come into a team?

It’s my third season so I’ve gotten comfortable with the guys around me. And Benny [Olsen] encourages me to be one of the most vocal guys when I play, and in my position you have to talk. It’s not really an option. Plus, having Bill behind me, I’ve had him barking me orders since I was 15 years old. So I’m pretty used to him. He’s made me comfortable back there. It’s all about a comfort level and I’m getting comfortable back there now.

You’re probably going to see Jack McInerney tomorrow, and he’ll likely be paired with Sebastien Le Toux or Conor Casey. Depending on who you get, does that change your approach to defending the Union?

Kind of. Conor Casey, they’re going to try and play him long balls and he’ll look to flick it to Jack. I think Jack does a good job of getting in behind and getting himself in the right spots to get rebounds. He’s gotten some you’ve-gotta-hand-it-to-him goals because he finds himself in spots like a good poacher, but he has also gotten some where he will lull you to sleep when he’s on your back side and then he’s in for a breakaway. They have a good front line.

And with Le Toux, he’s a runner. I’ve never seen a guy run that much in a game.

Watching the last match you guys played against the Union, was there anything you picked up on or noticed that you want to focus on this time?

They come out to counter. Last time, they sat back and waited for us to make bad decisions then they flew forward with their numbers. I think it’s mainly trying to keep possession in good areas and not giving it up in bad areas. And when they do try to counter and break, we need the right numbers behind the ball.

Then just watching out for when Conor Casey flicks it. Keeping track of Le Toux, or Hoppenot or Jack Mac. I think we learned a lot from the game.

We have to know that every single time we play Philly it’s a fight. It’s rare that we end up with 11 guys on the field for each team. Just know that it’s going to be a battle.

In the past, we’ve seen Perry Kitchen and Michael Farfan going at it during a game. You guys who came up together all know each other so well. Does that lead to more trash talking in these games? Poking guys a little more?

I wouldn’t say it’s trash talk, we all have so much respect for each other that when we do get on the field together, it’s all about trying to prove who has come out to fight more on the day. It’s like when you’re playing soccer with your brother in the back yard: You’re going to kick him a little more than you’re going to kick another opponent.

I think it’s just trying to prove we belong with the W and they don’t. With Philly right up the road, the rivalry has just grown stronger and stronger.

There is that geographical aspect to the rivalry, but with some chippy games recently, do you think it’s grown to more than that on the field?

I think now it has. I think there have been a few red cards in each game. There was a fight in the preseason game, there were the red cards in the last USOC games. We are always bumping heads.

We are cool on the field, but on the field we are just going to war. I think it’s also a respect thing. I think being up the road started the rivalry, but now it’s fights every game and that just adds fuel to the fire.

Does playing every year in the US Open Cup raise the stakes too?

Well, you never want to get beat on your own turf. Never want to give them the keys to your home, essentially.

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