Shortly after finding out that Rocket City United was intending to hire a new head coach, I decided it'd be interesting to have a chat with the team's departing Technical Director Greg Petersen. Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, Greg was never available for a face to face. So, after a few weeks of trying to track him down (he's currently in Europe), I've been able to have have him respond to questions via email.
Here's the transcript of my questions and his answers. As one would imagine, he has a lot of interesting insights on the team and the league.
After the success of the 2009 squad, what was the difference between the team that made it to the NPSL Final Four and the previous year's team that struggled to pick up league victories?
The major reasons for the change from being on the bottom and literally going to the top in one season were as follows:
01.) I had complete say in the selection of players for the 2009 NPSL team. I had no say on the 2008 NPSL team. The 2008 NPSL team was already selected and established before I arrived. I promised no changes to the roster. This gave me an opportunity to evaluate the players’ within the scheme I use. By the end of the 2008 NPSL season, it was very clear what players had a future with Rocket City United.
02.) The 2008 Super-Liga was very important to the success of the 2009 NPSL team. It gave me time to work with the team and individual players on their roles and responsibilities within my system. It gave players from the 2008 team who were on the bubble of making the 2009 NPSL roster a first-hand opportunity to work with me closely. A player who really took advantage of this was Brian Hadley. A questionable selection for the 2009 season, but the time spent in Super-Liga season earned Hadley a position on the 2009 NPSL roster. And as we know Hadley was a major contributor to the 2009 NPSL team. It also gave me an opportunity to evaluate new players. Super-Liga helped identify Derek Pirtle and Fernando Sanchez were as individuals with the ability to be productive in my scheme.
What lead to your departure from RCU?
Before I answered this question, it is important for me to stress how much my family and I miss Northern Alabama. We would like to call it home! We really love it! The people we meet and got to know are just such quality. Special thanks to Sandra Steele, Dustin Carroll, Bryan Boyd, Mark Lee, Tim Simmons, Kathleen Engfinger, Martin Schneekloth Jason Batchelor, Jim and Maureen Baird, Madison and Huntsville AYSO, Aunt Jane at Fresh Market, Olde Towne Brewery, RCU players and staff, and to our friends at the Village of Providence, the Scene and Monaco Pictures and the Ledges. Everyone we got to know made our time in Huntsville very special. I cannot tell how much I going to miss my drive to the County every day!
Concerning my departure? This has 2 facets.
The NPSL. It when I first got the call from former RCU GM Eddie Davidson asking me if I was interested in coaching RCU, I thought he was out of his mind, but I am very happy I decided to come to Huntsville, he are my thoughts on the NPSL:
01.) The Southeast Division had many good teams and players that played a high level of soccer. I was very happy with the level of the competition.
02.) The teams in the National Finals in Madison were very good!
03.) No player restrictions concerning Nationality or age.
04.) Ryan Knapp and the NPSL Insider.
05.) Travel within the Southeast division demands were very reasonable.
06.) One match a week.
01.) The season is too short.
02.) You have no control or rights over players. All NPSL teams are amateur. Any NPSL team who thinks they get a transfer on one of their players is not dealing with reality.
03.) Current NPSL leadership is not qualified to take the NPSL to the next level what ever that might be. Where is the new website? I really hope Andy has input on the leadership and direction of the league. Changes must take in order for the NPSL to move ahead.
04.) The 2009 NPSL Final, other than the team attending and the broadcasting, was a very unprofessional event. NPSL and local host failed miserably in putting on this event. The NPSL needs to make the finals their yearly showcase and provide an environment for everyone involved to shine. Next season finals I know will be first-class because it will be in Huntsville or Madison.
My working and personal relationship with Andy is and was VERY, VERY good! We worked very well with each other. We actually accomplished a lot together. I like and miss Andy! I never had any problems with him and everything we agreed to was honored. The problem here lies with the timing of my career. I was the only full-time coach in the NPSL, but still respectfully speaking, financially I was being paid what I was making 10 years ago. I needed to more money to stay or needed to be offered an equity position in the club, especially with my impact with the rapid development and success of the club. This did not happen. Andy needs to understand his financial investment is not the only investment that is going to make RCU successful. At the end of the day Andy is responsible for making RCU possible and he has worked and contributed in a non-financial way significantly, but the positive status of Rocket City United within the community is a result of other people’s work. In reality Andy cannot truly pay quality technical individuals what they are worth. The new Technical Director is a very competent high level technician and manager, but he will not be moving to Huntsville at this moment full-time, probably just for the season. He is also very experienced and intelligent. It will be only a matter of time before he starts asking himself “Who is really responsible for building this club?” Andy needs to sweeten the pie or it will be only a matter of time before he loses another quality technical director. Andy cannot sustain the high level that RCU currently represents on his own.
What will the next coach of RCU need to do to continue the winning tradition that you've established? NOTE: This interview was conducted prior to the announcement of Desmond Armstrong as the new RCU TD. However, as Greg indicates, he was aware that Armstrong would be hired.
I am very happy with Andy’s choice of coach [of Desmond Armstrong]. This assumes of course everything is finalized and agreed to. Also things could change if Robin Fraiser is named the Head Coach of MLS’s DC United. This class individual is very qualified and I know he will still promote the attacking soccer RCU is known for, but he also is his own man and do things his own way.
What will it take in order to have continued success? Last years team was very good, but don’t assume everyone will be coming back. Some players will move on to higher levels and others will go to other NPSL or PDL teams. The good news is RCU takes care of the players from out of town well. Also there is a good talent pool of college players from the regional colleges and Universities.
What are you doing now?
After the season I went home to the San Francisco Bay Area to spend time with my step-father. He was very ill suffering from chronic leukemia, tongue cancer, and hepatitis B. Things were quite serious at one time, but now he is doing so well he has returned to his psychiatry practice. The doctors at Stanford finally figured out the treatments for each aliment were affecting the other, which was major reason my step-father was gravely ill. During this time I had a lot of time to catch up with friends and family. Soccer-wise I was doing guest coaching with my friends’ youth clubs. I am still trying to figure out what youth soccer in American has to do with developing professional soccer players.
Currently I am in Bulgaria, as my wife’s mother had a stroke recently, and we are here to help her. I also have had and will have some soccer business to take care of in Amsterdam, Paris, London, and Barcelona. In January, I will be announcing in English at least 3 African Nation Cup matches in Paris for games being televised in Africa. Not only do I get to scout the talent in Africa, but I get to spend time with my French colleagues Noel Tosi and Eric Descombes.