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Conference Championship Teleconference Transcript

On Wednesday, November 18, Major League Soccer Communications held a teleconference call with the head coach and a key player from all four remaining teams in the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs to preview the Eastern and Western Conference Championships, which begin on Sunday, November 22 with Columbus Crew SC hosting the New York Red Bulls (5 pm ET, ESPN1, ESPN Deportes) followed by the Portland Timbers hosting FC Dallas (7:30 pm ET, FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN2). Below is a transcription of the call with the media.
 
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NEW YORK RED BULLS:
 
Opening statement from New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch…
 
Marsch: It’s been a really good 10 days of training and preparation leading into this weekend’s first leg against Columbus. In terms of Columbus, it’s a team that we respect a lot. I think we admire the way they play and their coach has done a fantastic job with their team. It’s a team that we respect and a series that we’re anxious to get started and that we’re ready for. Always, I think the preparation has been good and we’re excited for a good series.
 
Opening statement from New York Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty
 
McCarty: Like Jesse said, very excited and ready to get this series underway. The mood in training for the past 10 days has been vibrant, it’s been really, really good. It’s some very good days of training, very intense days of training trying to prepare us for a very good Columbus team. As Jesse said, we have a ton of respect for them – the way that they play, the way that they’re coached. I think everyone can admit that it’s great for our league and it’s certainly something that I’ve been impressed with throughout their two years. The way that they play with the ball is something that every team strives to be like. Very impressive team, they’re very dangerous in a lot of different ways. With that being said, we feel very well prepared. Tactically, we’ve gone over a lot of different ways in which we can be successful against them. But like I said, they’re a very good team we’re ready to prepare and face.
 
On Matt Miazga’s progression throughout this season…
 
Marsch: I said when I first got the job that one of my goals for the year was to help Matt Miazga establish himself. He actually was thrust into a situation that maybe we weren’t ready to put him and maybe we didn’t think he was ready for, but in many ways it was a good situation and it wound up being a benefit for him and for our team. At the end of the first game against Sporting KC in Kansas City, our starting centerback, Ronald Zubar, picked up a long-term injury, which meant that we had to put Matt in at the end of that game. And then, that meant that we had to start him the next game at home versus D.C. United. I think that we worked a lot in preseason and at the beginning of that season to try and get Matt up to speed and get him ready to start to perform from the start with the first group. It wasn’t that it was a finished product at the start – and it’s still not a finished product, but he showed that he was brave and fearless and ready for the moment. We’ve seen him grow so much through this season and there’s a lot of people that deserve credit for that. I think that Matt has certainly been up to the challenge, but as a club and as an organization and as a coaching staff, we’ve committed ourselves to trying to help him grow up both on and off the field. And then I think a lot of the veteran players really took it as their mission to help him understand how to be better. Certainly, Dax, here, deserves a lot of credit. I think Damien Perrinelle, guys like Luis Robles, Sacha Kljestan, all knew it was important for matt to establish himself in a big way, and I think everyone has helped him grow. In terms of when we saw that it was starting to come together, I feel like when he came back from the U-20s, he took some of his experiences of being here and applied them to that stage. When he realized that he could hold up in that environment and in those games and actually do quite well, I think he came back here with an invigorated sense of confidence and belief in himself, and I think at that point it was clear that he had established himself as a guy who deserved to be on the field from the start for all moments. It’s been a good year for Matt and we’re all very excited for him. He knows he has a long way to go and we do as well, and we’re all committed to helping him get there.
 
On all four remaining clubs being managed by Americans with MLS playing experience…
 
Marsch: I agree with that and I think that there are four good managers that are managing these teams. They’ve taken slightly different paths, but the fact that we’re all sort of from the same generation I think speaks volumes for how far this country has come. I think all of us would be quick to credit some of the mentors that we had, whether it’s guys like Bruce Arena or Bob Bradley, that have had impacts on various different of us coaches here. There’s a new generation that I think have learned a lot from being players, from having access to the sport and to this league, and now we’ve all kind of grown up and developed our own identity and tried to apply it to the teams we coach now. I think all four have done a great job this year and I certainly respect the other three and I think they have great futures.
 
On applying past MLS Cup experience to this year’s playoffs…
 
McCarty: Like you said, it was five years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday. [It’s] probably one of the most painful feelings that I’ve had as a player, as a pro, because, as you said, finals don’t come around very often. I’ve only been there once in my career and unfortunately it was a loss. But you learn from those experiences and I think five years ago, the League was a much different animal than it is now. Obviously, MLS Cup was determined as a different site. Unfortunately for us, it was in Toronto, and it was about 25 degrees and windy and rainy outside, so it made for a pretty tough game. I think since then, the League has done a great job of investing more resources into the players, investing more resources into stadiums, and investing more resources into marketing our League and trying to build our League into something that we all want it to be. You see the great players coming into the league now… I think the League has done a great job in trying to help all the teams establish themselves and certainly investing a lot of money in new players and bringing in some world-class talent. I think this year has been a great year to prove that you can be successful in this League in a lot of different ways. You can invest in your Homegrown Players, you can invest in your academy, and you can also go out and buy and use your money on difference makers – players that are going to be difference makers in this League. For the owners out there and the coaches out there, there’s no specific right way to build a winner and I think this year has been a great showcase for that type of mentality. I think all four teams in this year’s last four are all capable of winning MLS Cup, and I think it’s an exciting prospect for every team moving forward.
 
On the burden of New York Red Bulls’ historic playoff struggles…
 
McCarty: I don’t think it affects anything to be quite honest. I think the good thing about a whole new staff coming in is that they don’t have that burden of history that I’ve had in the past here. Jesse has come in and done a great job of making sure that this team, this Red Bull team, establishes its own identity. And that identity is that of a family and a team that’s all together, in as one. In the past, the identity of this team has always been about individual players, it’s been about controversy, and it’s been about failures. I think the identity that we’ve established with this team is that while we recognize the past and we recognize the failures that this club has gone through as an organization, we want to build our own identity. We don’t want to be cast in that same light as those organizations from the past. It’s obviously a great challenge for us because we realize that maybe history is not on our side, but I think the good thing about our team is that we’re a little bit young and a little bit naïve. I think that all we care about right now is just the next game. All we care about is winning. That’s a great testament to the coaching staff for what they’ve done, the mentality that they’ve been able to establish within our team, the confidence that they’ve been able to give us as younger players and as a younger team. The balance between having veteran presence on the team and making sure that we’re still young and fresh and have a lot of new faces, it’s been a great balance. I think that’s one of the main reasons why we’ve been so successful.
 
M: Dax says it well. I’ll just add that I don’t think there’s been any negativity all year about anything from the past. It’s only been about how we can build something for the future that’s sustainable, that’s about every person, and about something we can be proud of. The mantra has often been one game at a time, one training session at a time, one moment at a time, and it’s helped us get to where we are now. We’re not changing that for anything or anyone or any situation. We’re about each other and every day we come in and prove that game in, game out and day in, day out. Right now, we’re really excited about the opportunity ahead of us on Sunday, and we’re going to go and go full throttle and give everything we have.
 
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COLUMBUS CREW SC:
 
On thoughts heading into the first leg of the Eastern Championship…
 
Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter: I think it’s been remarkable to see how the city has rallied around us. You see the attention the game is getting and the demand for spectators. It’s been great. It’s a good feeling. I think we’re a club that wants to represent our community and we’re happy to have the fans behind us for the game on Sunday.
 
Defender Michael Parkhurst: I think the team is really looking forward to the opportunity. We’ve got a lot of guys that have never played this far into the season, never played in a Conference Final. Everyone is just relishing the opportunity to continue the season, to keep training on a daily basis, to have this opportunity to have play a home game in the Eastern Conference Finals. I think that we’re really looking forward to it. We know that we’re going to have the crowd behind us. It’s going to be a chilly night and that’s what you want in the playoffs. That’s what you expect: A cold night with a full crowd and a big stage. We’ll all be ready and we’re looking forward to it.
 
On how each rate the Red Bulls’ midfield against other midfields this season and in previous seasons…
 
Berhalter: I would start by saying I have a lot of respect for their midfield. I would say it’s one of the best in the league and they’ve done a great job. You have work rate combined with a high level of skill and it makes it certainly a formidable midfield. In terms of comparing it to other midfields in the history of MLS, I’m not qualified to do that. I know it’s good and it’s going to be challenging for our guys to play against.
 
Parkhurst: I agree with Gregg. They’re a very, very good midfield tandem, all three of them. Dax (McCarty) is obviously one of the best holding midfielders in the league. He gets forward well. I have a lot of respect for him and his career. Sacha (Kljestan) is a guy that’s movement as a number 10 is fantastic. He finds those holes in between the lines very well. He links up with Bradley up top very well. Felipe is an engine in there and works very hard disrupting things keeping everything together. No doubt it’s a strength. It’s a strong point of theirs, but we feel very confident in our midfield and then the way we can match up and hopefully we can take advantage of some things as well.
 
On how to deal with the Red Bulls’ high press tactics…
 
Parkhurst: I think that definitely when you think of the Red Bulls you think of a high press, especially when we play them with the way we play out of the back.  Their high press isn’t as effective against D.C. because D.C. doesn’t try to play out of the back. They play more direct. The Red Bulls are able to generate a lot of offense when they have turnovers in the attacking third and get straight to goal. Obviously, that’s how we gave up a couple of goals in their stadium a few weeks ago. It’s a very difficult press, but it’s one we’re up for the challenge. Just because D.C. made it difficult for them playing direct, that doesn’t mean we think that’s the only way for success. We still feel confident in the things we do best and that’s building out of the back. Of course we think mixing it up and taking advantage of Kei (Kamara) up top.
 
Berhalter: I would just add the Red Bulls have certainly done a great job of having a style of play and sticking to their style of play and the style of play being successful. I’ve had a lot of admiration for what they’ve done this year when you see opponents passing percentage in their own half it’s extremely low. That shows that they’re executing their game plan. As far as D.C. having a blue print in their series, they still lost both games. I’m not sure that’s much of a blue print if you’re not successful. The Red Bulls are a good team. They’ve done a great job all season and it’s going to be a tough matchup for us.
 
On how Crew SC’s style of play will go up against the Red Bulls…
 
Berhalter: I’d say by and large if you’re familiar with our style of play, we want to attack, we want to be aggressive and we want to score goals. By nature, that’s going to put their defense under a bit of pressure and we’re going to be looking to do that on Sunday.
 
On Wil Trapp missing the three previous games this season against the Red Bulls and how he will affect the game…
 
Berhalter: I think you can look at it either way. What I would say though is that both philosophies of the teams are pretty clear. It’s not necessarily about the personnel, it’s about the philosophy. We have a pretty good idea of how they’re going to play and they have a pretty good idea of how we’re going to play and it becomes about execution. That’s going to be the difference in this series. They’re an excellent team, the best team over the course of the season and we have our work cut out for us.
 
On having an independent doctor at games to assist with concussion protocol rather than the team physicians…
 
Parkhurst: I’m not sure about that. That’s obviously how the NFL does it now, but I think that we have a lot of respect for our doctors. I think they do a fantastic job and I think that if something were to happen to me on the weekend I have full confidence that if our doctor thought that I wasn’t able to go that he wouldn’t put me in harm’s way to go back on the field. I don’t know if that’s the way to go, but I can say that I feel confidence in our doctors the training that they have and that they will look out for me as a player first and foremost.
 
On all four coaches in the Conference Championships having developed within Major League Soccer and the outlook of American coaches headed into the future…
 
Berhalter: I think we have to thank our predecessors and our mentors; guys like Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley, Dave Sarachan, and Bob Gansler; guys that paved the way for us. I’m sure a lot of these coaches in the league now learn from that and then thank MLS for being a league that wants to give it’s players opportunities. I know that the Commissioner is very high on giving opportunities to players in the league and that says a lot about the community of the league. MLS is a tight knit group and I’m glad to be a part of it. I think that overall it’s a good statement that you see young coaches in this league learning from their predecessors and they go on to being somewhat successful.
 
On what has raised Kei Kamara’s level of play this season…
 
Parkhurst: I can’t pinpoint it exactly. I think he’s definitely using his experience that he’s gained along the way. He’s just a handful to play against. I’m very glad I play with him and not against him because I see him on a daily basis and he’s the best athlete I’ve ever played with. There’s nothing he can’t do out on the field. Also I think with the way he fits in our system… It’s a good match. Basically we like to get the ball wide and we put a lot of crosses into the box. That’s one of Kei’s strengths. He’s definitely taken full advantage of it. Just because he fits the system doesn’t guarantee success. He started this season very well and obviously he’s a huge part of this team.
 
On how Crew SC has developed since the last match against Red Bulls…
 
Parkhurst: We’ve talked about it the last five or six games or so. We felt really prepared for the playoffs because we played against playoff teams. It was playoff type atmospheres. Every week we were battling an Eastern conference opponent pretty much except for Portland. Every game felt like a playoff game as far as the intensity and the meanings of games because the Eastern Conference was so tight. It provided us with a good learning curve. We talked this year about the process and about getting better every week that you will have learned throughout every game so you can use those lessons come playoff time. I think towards the end of the year, we were able to clamp down a little bit more defensively. I think that we learned how to do a little bit better in the championship side of the game, offensively and defensively. We also learned how to at the end of games win ugly. It’s not always going to be pretty. You’re going to have to hang on sometimes for a one goal lead when guys are pumping balls into the box and you have to deal with it and finish out games. It was a little bit of everything, but we’re a confident group. We know it’s going to be a huge challenge in front of us and hopefully we can hang on to some of those lessons for the next couple of weeks.
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FC DALLAS
 
Opening statement from FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja…
 
Pareja: We’re doing well. Last weekend was very emotional for the group, just getting that victory against a great rival. We had time already just to cross that out and recover and get in that playoff mode the last few days. We have an important match, and I think we have been in that mode for the last six or seven weeks.
 
On how Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace’s yellow-card suspensions alter the club’s approach…
 
Pareja: We have plans for players that you have to control, players that are important. For us and for our group, it always has been the most important to prepare ourselves. Just to take care of what we can control. Not having Valeri or Wallace in the game, obviously, they are players that are important. We will be concentrating on what we can [control]. Portland has excellent players that can step up, it has happened before. [We don’t want] to concentrate much on the players who are not going play, but to prepare for the ones that will.
 
On having enough confidence in Jesse Gonzalez to make him a permanent starter…
 
Pareja: Jesse has shown during the year that he’s growing and growing, and we can see that each week. What I analyze a lot is how they behave in training. In games, as a coach, you have to be prepared to do things and also maybe at times they are not going to be as good. We have to be prepared to give them confidence. But the responsibility and the personality that Jesse has shown, it just encourages us to keep giving him the opportunity.
 
On seeing Jesse Gonzalez mature this season…
 
Midfielder Victor Ulloa: From my perspective, the biggest thing I’ve seen from him is his maturity off the field and in the locker room, and just how much he’s grown in that part. It’s helped him on the field. On the field, his communication has gotten so much better. He is just so confident in there. That’s the most important thing for a player, I think. Just having the confidence from your coach, I think that’s helped him a lot.
 
On if MLS has been a good place to start his coaching career especially if having played in MLS…
 
Pareja: Major League Soccer is a different league. It’s very unique, starting with the calendar, and the things that come with the salary cap and many other things that make our league very unique. It’s good. And now, being part of Major League Soccer has helped us as managers in understanding the culture of the fans and the culture of the players in America. And I’m very happy just to see managers growing with the league.  It’s a great opportunity for us. I think that the belief of ownership and the commissioner and people involved in soccer in America, to give opportunities to people that have been involved as players, It is a good step for us.
 
On the club’s commitment youth development and Pareja’s willingness to play young players…
 
Ulloa: Oscar believes in young guys and the most important thing is that he makes you believe in yourself. He gives you the opportunity, which is what we look for. I had a tough three years coming in. After he came [back to Dallas], he told me, ‘hey, I want you to win your spot’. And that’s what I did. I’m just very thankful to him. You see that FC Dallas believes in the youth and their academy, and he’s just been that father-figure model for us. We want to fight for him and you see that on the field. We run for each other and we’d do anything because of the opportunity that he has given us.
 
On FC Dallas’ approach and philosophy behind its youth development…
 
Pareja: I believe a lot in them belonging, and we have players committed to an idea. And you see that FC Dallas has, at the moment, some young guys that have been with the club for seven or eight years. I think a lot of it is, they want to play for their families, who are here. They grew up and know the area. They know the team and have dreamed to play for the team. That, for me, is important. We created a model for me to build confidence and to put in all the ideas that we wanted. Many of those guys, I had the fortune to coach them when they were young, and at this point we are being rewarded. We created a connection between the first team and the academy, and it’s great. We are very proud of the model we have. I know there are a lot of players that are waiting for that opportunity. We do believe in the talent in America. We have enough players here to develop, and not just to play for the team, but some day play internationally and put on the national team jersey. That philosophy will continue. It’s going to be a long journey. It’s not easy, but I’m proud to do the job this year, and to give credit to all those guys that we’ve been able to [get to this point]. They have belonged. This is the team they want to play for and that is important.”
 
On trusting 20-year-old goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez in penalty kicks against Seattle Sounders FC and players like Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins…
 
Pareja: It was good, another way for us to grow his confidence. Jesse takes, most of the time, the last 10-15 [penalty kicks during training]. The boys want to take PKs against him – and he has the willingness to stick around and do it. So when the time came, we all remembered those times at training. We are all very confident with Jesse, because of how many PKs he’s stopped at training. It would count at that moment and he did not let us down. He did a great job. He had the frequency and repetition at training, and had the personality [in the game]. Over the course of this year, he has been maturing. It has been a great year [for him]. For us, it’s fantastic to see him growing in that department.”
 
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PORTLAND TIMBERS:
 
On playing FC Dallas this weekend coming off of the international break…
 
Head Coach Caleb Porter: We’ve had a very good week in preparation. It’s not ideal to have a break, but we’ve embraced it and we’ve used it to our advantage. Last week, we sharpened some things up, focused mostly on us and made sure we were recovered. We’ve played a lot of games in a very tight window. I think that was a good thing and this week we’ve focused more on Dallas and the preparation for the first leg. We look forward to a great series with Dallas. We’ve played two very good opponents in the first two rounds in Sporting Kansas City and Vancouver (Whitecaps FC) and we know it will be very difficult two legs versus one of the best leagues in the Western Conference.
 
On the partnership of Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell…
 
Porter: That was part of the reason we brought in Ridgewell last year in the summer transfer (window). We felt we needed a top level central defender that had experience playing against top level attackers. You’ve seen the movement of attacking players coming into this league and a lot of them are world class and our thought was if we want to manage some of those attacking players we need someone that has experience at a very high level and that’s why we signed Ridgewell. Since he’s come in the summer last year, we’ve been very good defensively. In the offseason, we wanted to look for someone in the league to partner with him. While Ridgewell has experience playing at the top level in the Premier League for many years, we thought it was important to have someone next to him that has experience in MLS that has been in the trenches, who knows the attacking players in the league inside and out, who knows the dynamics and challenges that you have to deal with on a week to week basis as far as travel and climate and altitude… someone who has been through that. That was the thought process behind pairing those two guys together. I believe in having experienced guys in the back of my team. I think it’s very important. In that area of your team, you want guys that have been in professional teams and have played 90 minutes and have to be focused and are wired in a way that they never take a play off. You certainly want guys that are leaders in those positions. It’s worked out like we had hoped it would with those two guys pairing together. I think the balance of having a guy like Ridgewell, who is very clean on the ball, left-sided, good at starting attacks. He’s a really vocal leader and I would call more of a positional central defender in how he reads the game. You look at Nat and he’s a guy that wants to win balls. He likes to get in confrontations with attackers and battle and bang. We knew with Nat that he’d be a guy that would want to get clean sheets and would take pride in that. We’re pleased with those two guys, but we know they’ll have their work cut out for them versus Dallas.
 
On what Porter thinks Major League Soccer is such a welcoming league for younger managers…
 
Porter: I think you look at the coaches in the league and there’s different types of managers. It depends on the team. It depends on the coach. You have guys like Sigi Schmid and Bruce Arena who started in college. I went that path as well. You have guys like Oscar (Pareja). The Ben Olsens of the world. Jason Kreis was one of those. Guys that pretty much have come out of playing and into the league. Then you have guys like Adrian Heath and Owen Coyle and now (Patrick) Vieira… Guys that have come in from overseas. You have different types of guys that are coming into the league. I don’t know that it’s forgiving. There are times where I think it’s one of the toughest leagues to be a manager in the world because ultimately it’s a league of parity and it’s a league where you have for the most part pretty equal budget outside of the Designated Players. Because of that, on any given day anyone can beat anyone and you’re not going into the season saying these top fours, maybe top five or six are pretty much going to shake out there and everyone else is trying to stay up like with what happens in the Premier League. You pretty much know based on budget and past reputation for the most part how the league is going to shake out. In this league, you can’t say that from one year to the next. Because of the mechanisms of the teams that don’t do as well the year prior, they get a little help. The next year there’s always this natural tendency that the teams on the bottom come up and the teams that are at the top have to fight to try to continue to stay up. It’s obviously a challenge every single year. My point is because of that it’s a very difficult league to manage in. You see with some of the foreign coaches that come in because it’s unique with the way its set up there are unique challenges. Speaking of Ridgewell and Borchers and the unique challenges we have to manage and travel: Nowhere in the world can you go one week and play in the heat. One week now you’re in altitude. One week now you’re in a little bit colder climate. Sometimes you’re on turf. Sometimes you’re on grass. Those are all things that make it difficult. I think some of the younger coaches recently that have come in and have done well they’re guys that know the league. They know how it’s set up and they’re not surprised to travel and surprised with all the challenges that go into it. They get it. They’re not frustrated by it like some foreign coaches that come in and I think that happens. That’s why you’ve seen guys like Jason Kreis and guys like Ben Olson who have done very well, Mike Petke, because they were players and now it’s easy for them to jump into it. I’m happy to be a part of the league. It’s my third year now and I’ve enjoyed it and I hope to be in the league a long time.
 
On how tricky it’s going to be to manage the first leg…
 
Porter: With the away goals tiebreaker I think the whole point we had that was to encourage the road team to attack more. But I think that’s made the home team more conservative not to give up a road goal to the away team. With Dallas, we have to be very patient going for the win. Knowing our priorties for the game… But number two is to keep a clean sheet. We’re not going to play for a draw, but if we can win and get a clean sheet that puts us in a really good spot going into the second leg.
 
On not having Rodney Wallace and Diego Valeri for the first leg…
 
Porter: We dealt with these type of things all year. Valeri was out the entire first half of the season. We’ve dealt with not having him for half of the year already. With Rodney, if you remember the year prior, he had an ACL as well, so we’ve dealt with him being out half the year the year prior. Since Valeri has been back, he’s missed games, he’s had suspensions. The same with Rodney. He missed a game with suspension and we’ve rotated them out a few games. It’s nothing that we haven’t dealt with. We have a very deep team. We’ve had to rotate players for various reasons. We’ve made the decision to rotate players some games and some games it was forced. Obviously Valeri and Rodney are very good players. They’re key guys, but we’ve got other players that will step in and do a job.
 
On the rise of the academy system and how it’s changing player development and whether or not the top players will bypass college and go straight into the academy system…
 
Porter: I’ve gotten that question a lot since I was a coach in college for 14 years. I also coached with the U.S. Youth National Teams and obviously the U-23s. While I was in college I coached club soccer. Now I’m in the pros, so I have a unique perspective on it. I don’t think college soccer will be completely phased out. I think there will always be a place for college soccer in our country’s infrastructure. But I do think there will be less and less kids, the top kids, going into college. The top players go now directly into first teams or the second teams or the reserve teams. That’s just normal around the world and that’s what will happen because obviously if you can play more games, get more training contact, if you can be more closer to a professional environment, if you can be in a professional environment when you’re younger you’ll get better. But there will also be kids who are late bloomers. There will be kids who want to go to go the college route. There will be kids that aren’t quite ready for whatever reason or maybe it’s the decision to go to college. For those kids, and it’s been proven over time, still have a very good chance of stepping into the first team after one, two, three sometimes four years and making an impact. I think the academies and you see that Dallas is the model. Dallas is a great example. What Oscar did with that academy and then obviously coming back in you can see he planted those seeds long ago and now he’s reaping the rewards of that. In Portland, we want to have a similar setup, but we’ve only been in Major League Soccer for five years. We do have a different player pool in Oregon. We have to come up with unique ways in helping to counter the player pool and counter the fact that we haven’t had an academy. But we have spent a lot of time and energy and money in developing our club infrastructure with our academy, our T2 team. We feel like we have a good model in place. We need time now. Dallas has been around a lot longer with their academy. It’s just going to take time.
 
On whether or not that leads to getting more polished players at the senior team level…
 
Porter: I think it’s the best situation, but it’s not rocket science. The more time you get training and the more games you get and the better environments you’re in at a younger age… the steeper and more rapid the learning curve and development that can take place. I’ve had kids that have left my program at Akron in seven years or less and have gone onto Major League Soccer. Most of them have done well. I’ve proven and other programs like the Maryland of the worlds, the UCLAs of the world and so on and so forth…. They’ve proven that they can develop players. But I often look back and say if Darlington Nagbe was in a pro-environment at 17 years old versus going into a pro-environment at 22 years old, as good as he is, could he have been better? That’s the way I kind of look at it. I don’t look at it from the standpoint that this player made it and he went to college for four years. I look at it if he could have been better. It has nothing do with college, nothing to do with the environment. It has to do with time and age. The sooner you can get in an environment, the more time you can get training and games it’s not rocket science. You’re going to develop at a faster rate.
 
On Darlington Nagbe’s fitness level going into the first leg of the match coming off of U.S. duty…
 
Porter: I’m very happy for him. I think it was a long time coming. I always felt like there were a lot of people that thought he had the talent to play at the international level. Obviously he didn’t have his citizenship so he couldn’t get that opportunity. We started the process three years ago for him to get his citizenship. I think it was one of those things where he knew it would happen eventually. I was really excited for him to that he was able to go into his first camp and get his first two caps, which shows that he went in and did well because obviously there have been a lot of players that have gotten the opportunity going into national team camps that never go into the team. That’s the key, to actually go in and stick. The next step for him is to now become a key fixture and become a player that’s relied upon as a starting player game in and game out in qualification. He’s made a great first step and couldn’t be more pleased and proud of that. As far as his fitness, I think it worked out perfect. He didn’t get injured. He didn’t play enough to be fatigued, but he played enough to stay fit. I think it worked out perfectly. He got 60 minutes. He’s going to come back fresh and certainly be ready to go.
 
On competing in his first ever playoffs…
 
Defender Liam Ridgewell: I didn’t know too much about the playoffs. Obviously it’s a unique situation, but I’ve always heard the playoffs are a big deal. You look at basketball and American football as well… It was a big blow when we didn’t make the playoffs last year. This year, I think we took that pain going into the season. I think we did perfectly well to make the playoffs and now we’re in the Conference Finals. It’s been a great experience. It’s been fantastic. We’re feeling the buzz around the city. It’s a little bit different feeling. It’s always a buzz around the league games, but certainly the playoffs have an extra added feeling. It’s been a good run, so hopefully we can continue that and go into the final and show everyone who we think we are. It’s a feel good factor around the place. We’re all looking forward to the game on Sunday.
 
On the key to slowing down FC Dallas’ attack…
 
Ridgewell: Obviously, we’ve played them a lot over the last two years. They’re a very good side - very good defensively and very good on the counter attack. They’ve got a lot of good players on that team. I think we’ve shown this year, certainly in the games we’ve played against them, that we can certainly deal with that counter attack. To be honest, people are asking questions about how we’ll stop them, but what we’ll be doing is imposing ourselves on the game and making sure we worry about us. They’re a very good team and they’ve done well to get here, but we’ll be looking to impose ourselves on the team and try to nullify their attacking players and try to make a stamp on the game that we can.
 
Porter: What’s interesting is, Vancouver is a different team than Dallas, but they have some similarities. We feel like, in a lot of ways, some of the preparation – not all of it – going into the Vancouver games has almost prepared us for Dallas. Vancouver is obviously a team that has Kekuta Manneh, key guys on the flanks that have pace that can penetrate, and very, like Liam said, dangerous in transition. It seems like every team has a creative player in that second forward or number 10 role. Almost every team in the league. Although I think [Mauro] Diaz is in top form and playing better than I’ve ever seen him play and certainly has to be up there with some of the best number 10-type playmakers, we’ve dealt with guys like that before. We’ve dealt with guys with pace on the wings. We have a lot of respect for Dallas, and they, over 34 games, proved they were worthy of being a top team in a very competitive Western Conference. That didn’t happen by accident. They’re a very good team. But we also feel that, by playing in the Western Conference, we’ve dealt with good players every single week and this is no different. But at the same time, we have to be especially, like I said, careful to not get caught up in the emotion of the home game - Conference Final, first leg, wanting to win. We have to be very careful not to get wrapped up. We have to stay patient and organized. But like Liam said, we want to do that in a way that’s aggressive where we’re hopefully on the ball, we’re forcing Dallas to defend, we’re taking away their transition game, and a lot of those things are very similar to how we approached Vancouver. We were smart and organized, and yet we were aggressive and looking to score in attack and managed the transition phase.