Monday, April 7, 2008

A Q&A with LA Galaxy defender Julian Valentin

Soccer brings you everywhere and nobody knows that better than Los Angeles Galaxy rookie defender Julian Valentin. Did a little bit of digging and I found a college project of Valentin's that gives you the lowdown on exactly where soccer has taken him...Most notably - Argentina, South Korea, and Finland. A Hermann Trophy semifinalist, Julian has had one hell of a soccer year. In mid-December, his collegiate career at Wake Forest came to a close in dramatic fashion. The defender was playing a great College Cup vs. Ohio State until the 81st minute when a cleat connected with his face, leaving him stunned and in need of 30 stitches. The Demon Deacons won and Julian was right back out on the field for the team championship picture - bloodied face and all. Plain badass. Valentin has been described as a "coaches' dream" and more importantly, a true Philadelphia player. Intestinal fortitude, work ethic, professionalism, and talent now find the Lancaster, PA native learning from Ruud Gullit and the Galaxy in Los Angeles. According to his map, he's been there before...but never under these circumstances. Olde City got the chance to ask him about his experiences - past and present.

In such a young career, you’ve gathered quite a bit of accolades and memories. An Under-20 World Cup victory over Brazil, a well-deserved NCAA Championship, numerous appearances for all youth national team levels. Which has been the most memorable?

I think that each memory was special in its own way and I carry each bit with me. The National Championship was sort of a culmination of lots of hard work and commitment, something very special. But there's nothing like representing your country - it's everybody's dream and playing in a World Cup is the highest level possible (at any given age group). I'd have to say that playing in the U-20 World Cup, particularly beating Uruguay in overtime, assisting on the game winner, would be my most memorable moment. I'll never forget hugging Mike Bradley at the corner flag after the scored the winner.
A graduate of the residency program and, in fact, a captain of that program – what was your experience like there? Care to give us a day in the life of a player in the Bradenton-based program?
I would not be where I am today if it weren't for the Residency Program. It was a great experience and a great way to grow up with the game. I played with some great players, many of which are playing for top European clubs right now and had fantastic coaches.

Each day we'd wake up, eat breakfast, go to school for a few hours, go back and train, and then hang out until the end of the day. We would lift weights and do other things like that a couple times each week. It's a lot more involved and intense than I just made it sound but that's the bare essentials of the program.

Can you see yourself playing abroad at some point in your career? If so, which league abroad would most suit your style of play?

Playing overseas has always been a goal of mine every since I was young. European culture thrives on the game and being immersed in that is something that would be awesome. Right now, though, I'm just focusing on the Galaxy with all of my energy.

The Bundesliga would suit my game well because of the physical play and I've always liked to watch Munich, Werder Bremen, Leverkusen, and all the others. My favorite league, though, is the English Premier League.

A four-year contributor at Wake Forest is no joke and you were one of three huge Demon Deacon prospects in 2008’s SuperDraft. More prospects like Marcus Tracy and Cody Arnoux to come – what makes Wake Forest that rich in talent?

First, the professionalism of the program is one of the main reasons. Coach Vidovich treats us like professionals and holds everyone to a high standard both on and off the field. He's as good as they come as a coach and players tend to grow up fast in the program.

The way that we play is another main reason. Coach Vidovich bases our game around collective, team play and that creates good individual players. When you play well as a team, players are able to better display their individual talents in the appropriate way. We play an attacking style that is based on passing, ball and player movement, and try to play an advanced game in college.
The other big thing is recruiting. Coach V. and the staff know what sort of people will turn into good players and the program is surrounded by good people. He has a great eye for talent.

Pat Phelan and Brian Edwards both landed in Toronto. You in Los Angeles. How has the transition been in Los Angeles so far?

It's been great. We have a big rookie class in LA so there are some "built-in friends" so to speak. LA is a lot different than Lancaster (or Winston-Salem) but I really like it here. I live a few blocks from the beach and have a nice little apartment with some of the guys on the team.

Being a rookie, have the veterans imposed anything that could be classified as ‘hazing’?
No. All of the older guys have actually been very welcoming and helped a lot with the adjustment - both on and off the field.

Within the Galaxy organization, who has offered the most in the way of help and advice?

Greg Vanney and Chris Klein, in particular, have really helped me out. They are both very good players who are very experienced and great guys. Landon [Donovan] and David [Beckham] have also offered a lot of help on the field.
Gotta ask about Ruud Gullit. You had one hell of a coach at Wake Forest and then you are drafted into the tutelage of Gullit. What does he bring to the Galaxy organization?
Coach Gullit brings so much to the table. It's a great privilege to play for someone with such a resume, both playing and coaching. He's a great coach, knows how to teach the game and he runs a good training session. When he says anything, you just listen because you know what he’s experienced in the game. And if you get a chance, watch some videos of him on YouTube – he was totally dominant.

Are you close to full health? What are your goals for your first MLS season?

I am in full health and I’m hoping to learn as much as I can in my first year. We have a lot of good, experienced players to learn from and a great coaching staff and I’m hoping to improve various aspects of my game. If I get first team minutes it would be an added bonus but my primary goal is to make sure that I improve a lot and that I’m a much better player by the end of the season.

What’ll be the key to the Galaxy’s success this year?

One of the major keys to our success this year will be staying healthy. If we can minimize injuries, we’ll be able to have a very successful season.
Despite the rise of new soccer-specific stadiums all over the country, many still proclaim that the Home Depot Center is still the “mecca” of America soccer. True statement?
True. Of course I’m biased, but I definitely feel that the Home Depot Center is the best soccer stadium in the country (and I’ve been to most of them). The stadium field is amazing and the atmosphere is fantastic (thanks to the great fans that we have here). Along with the stadium goes the locker room and lounge, quality training field, weight room, training room, and all of the other things that the facility has to offer. Everything here is world class and it’s a privilege to play here.

I saw that the Sons of Ben were able to interview you earlier in the year. How has the Riot Squad and the Galaxians treated you upon your arrival into the Galaxy organization?

I’m slowly getting to meet some of the Galaxians and Riot Squad members and they have all been very welcoming. They’re great fans, knowledgeable fans, and very passionate about the club. They are a huge part of the success of the Galaxy and it’s an honor to play for their club.
I also got to meet some of the Sons of Ben at the draft and through email and they’re all great guys. Their passion and organization was a major part of Philly being awarded expansion. I have no doubt that they will become one of the best supporter groups when the team starts playing. It’s funny because they already are!
Born in Lancaster, ever ride in a horse and buggy? Go to Dutch Wonderland?

Never rode a buggy but visited the “Real Amish Farm” on Route 30 near the outlet malls. I have a bunch of Amish neighbors, walking distance from my house. We love to go to Dutch Wonderland – it’s mainly for little kids but they do have some sweet water slides and solid funnel cake.

Favorite player? Team?
Hard to pick just one but I love watching John Terry – our playing style is similar. I love Steven Gerrard as an attacking player. My favorite team would have to be Manchester United. (I’m aware of the disparity here.)
As a defender, who has been the toughest opponent to shut down?
Hard to think of one in particular because there are always different challenges with different forwards. Charlie Davies and Patrick Nyarko come to mind, though.
You had another Philadelphia area member on your NCAA Championship Wake Forest squad. Did you and South Jersey’s Jamie Franks ever go head to head before college?
We did when we were young. It was a tournament at USTC. He played for Medford Speed and I played for a club called FC Leeds United (now PA Classics). I don’t remember the result though but I’m pretty sure we won.
How would you go about marking Cristiano Ronaldo??

I would kick him every time touched the ball.
Where do you see the [Philadelphia] Phillies ending up this year?
I see the Phils with the Wild Card again. I think that ATL will bounce back but we'll beat out the Mets. We obviously need a bit more depth on the mound but we definitely have what it takes to make a run at things.
Julian, thank you for taking the time and good luck with the rest of the season. Hope to see you in an MLS Philly uniform one of these days...

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