(Photo by Victor Tan / New Day Review)

May 10, 2017 at Sylvan Lake Park

Availability: HC Anthony Pulis, MF Jordan Schweitzer

HC Anthony Pulis

Pulis has his team focusing on his finishing in the attacking third and creating chances during these past two weeks off.

I think it’s been a good two weeks for us because we’re able to kind of reinforce how we want to play defensively, how we wanna attack, how we wanna transition, go through some set pieces. We spent a little bit more time on our attacking play, to be honest, because we feel like we’ve defended fairly well, recently. If you go through our last three league games, we haven’t conceded a goal in open play. So, that’s been a positive. So there’s been a little bit more time spent on some attacking patterns and how we kind of penetrate in the final third.

For Pulis, FC Cincinnati’s record does not reflect its quality.

They’re a very good team. I don’t think their results really reflect how good they are. They’ve got a really good blend and a really good balance between good technical players but also some pace and some power and some athleticism in attacking areas. So we know we’re definitely gonna have to be our best if we’re gonna go there and get anything, but going there and playing in front of probably 25,000 people is gonna be a fantastic experience for our boys and probably the only time we really kinda can replace what would be close to an MLS-type atmosphere. Because, no disrespect to USL, you don’t kinda get the crowds and atmosphere that you get in MLS. So, for a lot of the boys, it’ll be a real good experience to go and experience that and in a really nice stadium as well.

Pulis hasn’t seen a change in how players are developing over the past two weeks.

Not just over the last couple of weeks. No, I think we’ve got an idea of the ones that we’ve kind of earmarked that have been progressing well over the course of the season, not just the last two weeks. As always, as you go into the season, you have an idea of the ones that you feel like may have a better chance of progressing quicker than what you might’ve thought of. And those things change kind of game to game, week to week. So, to kinda answer your question, nothing’s really changed the last two weeks.

For Pulis, OCB is in a better place this year than they were at the same time last year.

I feel like we’re a lot further ahead than what we were last year, individual talent-wise and also as a team. We know that the team changes week to week, but I think the players that have been coming across from the MLS group have understood the importance of coming across and getting minutes, whereas, last year, I feel like it took a lot longer for them to really understand the importance of coming and getting minutes in USL. So their mentality and their approach to coming and playing for OCB has been fantastic and long may that continue.

During the two-week break, Pulis had his squad play an inter-squad match consisting of three 25-minute periods.

Fine. Like you said, the two weeks was important for us to get some tactical work into the guys and focus on areas we need to improve but also get some good conditioning work into the guys who maybe hadn’t played as regularly as others. So we had an inter-squad game on Saturday morning. We had three 25 minutes, which was good because it got a lot of the guys 75 minutes in their legs, and they needed that, but it also kept the guys who have been playing in a rhythm. It gave a couple of the MLS guys some minutes in coming back from injury. So I feel like it was a worthwhile exercise. Now this week we can kinda now start to focus tactically on the game plan for Cincinnati.

Leading up to the match against Cincinnati, OCB had two weeks off. After Cincinnati, the USL Lions will have another two weeks off. For Pulis, there’s no special significance to this game.

No, it’s just as big as every other game.

When asked who he thought was the biggest personality on the team is, Pulis said goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr.

Biggest personality. I would say Earl is really kind of come to the fore, with regards to being a leader and being really vocal, and he’s really impressed me from that standpoint. I think out of the OCB guys, Zach Carroll is a big personality. Paul Clowes is a strong personality. Jordan Schweitzer. And kind of going back to your earlier question, I think we’ve got more leaders in the group this year. I think we’ve got more stronger characters that wanna win every single day, no matter what we’re doing, whereas maybe we didn’t have that as much last year. But, to be honest, I think we’ve got a good group. Everybody kind of buys into what we wanna do, and, as you’ll see, as the season progresses, you’ll start to see, now, people coming out of their shells a little bit. Because I think when you have a virtual new group of guys, it takes time for them to kind of come out of their shell a little bit and show their true personality, but we’re kind of getting towards that stage now, so it’s been interesting.

This is the first season Pulis has seen Edwards Jr. in a leadership role.

No, I didn’t really see that before. That’s why I think he’s been great, and I had a chat with him last week and told him how pleased we’ve been with him, not just on the field but the way he’s been around the group. Because he’s now had that two years of being an MLS backup, he’s been around the environment, and I think he’s now really kind of relishing that role of being our starting goalkeeper and being able to get minutes and play week in, week out and really help the younger guys out. So we’ve been really pleased with him. The challenge for him now is to continue that. And I said to him the last three games have been good because he hasn’t had as much work to do as probably what he had to do in the first five, but what he’s, done he’s done it well, and, like I said, long may that continue.

Pulis has been praising Edwards Jr.’s leadership role since the beginning of the 2017 season when Edwards Jr. took over the starting goalkeeper job for OCB.

Well I think it just comes down to the individual and the way that they approach things, and he’s approached this in a really professional manner and understands how important that this is that he’s getting minutes week in, week out. And he knows, barring an injury or two, that he’s gonna be playing for us every week. So he’s now kind of approaching this as his team, which is fantastic, and this is what we want. It’s funny because I had a conversation with Zach Carroll at the start of the year on why New York Red Bulls II was so successful last year, and he kinda said to me, “Well the MLS guys that came across every week treated it as their team and treated it as their way of being successful and playing well while also still gaining experience. They wanted to win. They wanted to be successful.” And that’s the mentality we want from all our guys, whether they’re OCB or MLS.

Right-back Kevin Alston is still on the road to full recovery. The 29-year-old reinjured himself against Bethlehem Steel FC on April 23.

Yeah, he had a setback, and he obviously got injured in the game at Bethlehem a few weeks back and kind of had a reoccurrence with his hamstring injury, but he looks like he’s progressing pretty well. I know he’s been out here working with the physio, so we’re hopeful maybe in the next week, two, three weeks—I don’t know exactly how long—but he may come back and get some more minutes, and hopefully he can get himself going again.

Cincinnati’s leading goal-scorer Djiby Fall is serving a five-game suspension for biting a player in a 1-1 draw with Louisville City FC.

I think we’ve defended pretty well. We haven’t conceded a goal in open play in the last three games, but we know going there they’ve got the likes of [Jimmy] McLaughlin, [Kadeem] Dacres, [Victor] Mansaray, [Andrew] Wiedeman, Omar Cummings. They’ve got a plethora of attacking options. So we know we’re gonna have to be at our best defensively to stop them scoring.

MF Jordan Schweitzer

For Schweitzer, the two-week break is a “nice refresher” for the team.

It’s great. I mean, we can kind of get to some of the things that we’ve needed to do. It gives us the time to focus on Cincinnati, and it’s just kind of a nice refresher from all of the stuff in preseason. I mean, having that bit of a break, it just—the guys are re-energized, and we’re ready for Saturday.

When asked about what he saw in watching film on Cincinnati, Schweitzer acknowledged his upcoming opponent’s veteran presence.

I mean, they’re a little bit older, a little more mature. Definitely got players that can hurt us, but, I mean, we don’t fear anyone in this league. I think we’re capable of beating anyone on our day, and that’s what we go out and try to do.

The squad has used their two-week break to focus on attacking and hope it can translate to goals on Saturday.

I think we’ve had a little more time to work on the attacking stuff. I think we’ve done a better job of kind of giving up less shots to Earl, and he’s obviously had a really good year. But when it’s a lot of younger guys, a lot of new guys, it’s kind of tough sometimes to get that last, final piece down. I think we’ve had a little bit of time to do that and then obviously, you know, kind of brush up on some defending stuff. So, ideally, we’d come out, and those things would start to show a bit more.

For Schweitzer, Edwards Jr.’s leadership and experience with the MLS side is something OCB didn’t necessarily have before the University of California, Los Angeles product’s arrival.

Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, he’s kind of the last guy there, right? Obviously, our job is to make it really easy for him. I don’t think we’ve done a great job of that so far, and, obviously, that’s something we wanna work on. But, you know, he’s a guy who has a lot of experience with the first team, and he’s getting a lot more games with us this year and showing, obviously, why he’s with that group. But an older guy, a good guy, good leader, someone who kinda brings something that this younger team doesn’t necessarily have.

When asked about where he thought this team has progressed most this season, Schweitzer said it’s been in the fact that players are understanding their roles.

I think everyone’s starting to understand their role. I think that’s the big thing this year is, as you come into the team, right, you don’t know where you’re at, and I think everyone’s—they understand where they’re at, what they need to do and how each player does their job to get wins on a weekend or a weekday, right? So, I think everyone’s got a really good understanding of where they’re at, and, together, obviously, we’ve gotta do a better job of getting those wins now.

Schweitzer sees Edwards Jr. as a leader by example.

He’s made stops, he’s made saves, he’s kept us in games. I think he’s a leader by example. You know, he’s not maybe the most outspoken guy in the locker room, but when he talks, people listen. He’s got a good presence, and, at the end of the day, he’s been performing. You can’t deny that. So, I think to have someone like him in goal making those saves and keeping us in games—we’ve gotta rally around that.


 

Follow Victor Tan on Twitter at @NDR_VictorTan.

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