Last month, head coach Dominic Kinnear and assistant coach Steve Ralston spent ten days in Scotland and England watching games and training sessions and learning from some of the great minds in world soccer. Kinnear sat down with HoustonDynamo.com to talk about their experiences.
HoustonDynamo.com: Give us a brief overview of your trip.
Dominic Kinnear: We really had a great time. Myself and Steve Ralston went and we saw some great games. We started in Scotland and saw Celtic play Hearts. The following Saturday we saw Stoke City vs. Tottenham Hotspurs and then Chelsea vs. Manchester City. In between, we had trips to the training centers of Liverpool and Everton to talk to their coaches and see the teams train. The following Tuesday night, we went to see Wolverhamton vs. West Bromwich Albion Reserves and then two days later we saw the West Brom first team train. It was an excellent session and we had the chance to sit with head coach Roy Hodgson and his staff which was fantastic.
Steve is also great friends with [Fulham forward] Clint Dempsey so, on Saturday, Clint was able to get us tickets to his game against Bolton where he scored and got an assist. Overall, it was a good day for him and for us. We saw some good players. There were some players that we are interested in and we are trying to see if there is a possibility of bringing them over here.
HD: You have been a head coach for eight years now. Do you ever feel like you are done learning?
DK: Not at all. We had the chance to see Celtic train and observe what they did the day before a game. The weather is a bit different there and they did a bit more than we would do but much of it was similar. The best days for us were probably when we watched Everton and Liverpool train on the days after they played games. I think all those sessions were interesting. Even though they are mostly the same, there are always some differences and when you see the players play and how they do certain things, you never stop learning.
HD: What are some things you were able to take away from the training sessions you watched?
DK: I think it’s interesting when you see the way they play; the size of the field, why they make it smaller or bigger, and touch restrictions which is something we do as well. In talking to the coaches, I think the one thing they all said is that it’s just a game and you shouldn’t try to over think it. You should always try to keep it simple for the players, which is something we try to do with our guys.
HD: When you compare what you are trying to do with players here and what you see being done with players in Europe, do you feel as if the principles are the same?
DK: Absolutely. Sometimes formations are different but I think the mentality is similar. We have a pretty good mentality here. The way we play is more of a British style. When you compare what the players are making here to what they are making over there, it's a huge difference, but I think what we are trying to do with our players and what they are trying to do with theirs is very similar.
HD: As a fan of Celtic, how nice was it to have the opportunity to visit Celtic Park?
DK: It was great. We went to a training session Friday morning and then to the training facility at a place called Lennoxtown. We met with their chief scout John Park, who was excellent with us. We met with his staff and saw how they went about scouting players. It’s pretty advanced what these teams do as far as tracking players.
Saturday, we went to the game and had wonderful seats. We were pretty surprised when before the game started we looked to our right and four seats away was [singer] Rod Stewart, who is a well-known Celtic suppoerter. To go to Celtic Park and see the team play was great. Luckily, they won which was an added bonus for me.
HD: How often do you have the opportunity to talk to other soccer coaches about their methods and philosophies?
DK: This was the first time I have ever done it. I think sometimes you meet coaches along the way but rarely is it watching them and meeting with them in their offices. We were not there to ask them particular questions, we were just there to talk and when you're talking to coaches in the same line of work the topic of conversation generally revolves around the game. Sometimes you can pick some things up that you haven’t thought of before. We sat with [Everton head coach] David Moyes, [Liverpool head coach] Kenny Dalglish, Roy Hodgson and [Reading head coach] Brian McDermott, who are all interesting people. They were all nice and their staffs were great to us. Along the way, we got to see [Everton and U.S. national team goalkeepers] Marcus Hahnemann and Tim Howard train and Clint Dempsey play so there was a bit of a patriotic side of the trip. It’s something I really enjoyed and if I got the chance to do it again I definitely would.
HD: Do you feel an extra sense of pride when you see these American players performing at what is considered the highest level of the game?
DK: I have known Marcus a long time and obviously Steve knows Tim and Marcus from playing with them so it’s good to see them and talk to them. To watch them play and train and to see Clint Dempsey score and set up the second goal for Bryan Ruiz a few minutes later when they beat Bolton was pretty special. Then to talk to him after the game, you feel happy that he is doing well there.
In addition, [Toronto FC goalkeeper] Stefan Frei was over there training with Liverpool and we talked to him, [Chicago Fire goalkeeper] Sean Johnson was training with Everton for a while and we saw Tim Ream at a game and talked to him. It's nice that the guys that are already over there are doing great. Then you have the guys that are going over there to train and get added experience and you are happy for them too.
HD: With the MLS Combine and SuperDraft in the next two weeks, do you envision taking more scouting trips before the season starts?
DK: We are talking about after the draft going to one more place. It’s hard because the one thing about Europe and Britian is that the price tag on players is definitely high. We did see some players that we identified and hopefully we can dip into that market, but you never know. I think if we have a trip it’s going to happen after the draft and possible into preseason. We might go back to Brazil, where we found Luiz [Camargo], to look at some players and even possibly Central America. We’ll look to see who we get in the draft and see what happens in the next couple weeks. The roster is not complete but we are still trying to make some things happen and if we need to make another trip then that is something we will do.