Stoke City manager Mark Hughes, striker Peter Crouch and US defender Geoff Cameron attended a press conference yesterday evening at FC Dallas Stadium ahead of their preseason friendly tonight versus FC Dallas.
The trio discussed a number of topics relating to Stoke’s preseason tour of the United States, including Hughes’s opinion about his team’s 2-0 loss to Houston Dynamo that occurred Wednesday night:
“From our point of view it was more about preparation. It was our first real test. We knew it would be difficult for us because we’d traveled only 48 hours previous and maybe our body clocks were a little bit askew. But I thought in terms of what we were looking to get out of the game, in terms of looking at things we’ve worked on at home, we’ve had two weeks together, and I was pleased with what I saw. We talked before the game about transferring the work that we’ve done on the training pitch into matches and I think we did that to a certain extent. Overall, it was absolutely what we needed at this stage of our preparation because we’ve still got three weeks to go. The games that we have [on the preseason U.S. tour] are the right quality, they’re good tests, and that’s what we need at this stage of our preparation.”
Hughes was also asked how important this U.S. tour would be in selecting his starting eleven for opening day of the Premier League season:
“We’re still trying to get minutes into the guys, get game time into them, so we’re not about trying to formulate personnel for the team for the first game against Liverpool. We’re not at that stage – that will come later. Obviously I’m new to the team. I’m still learning about the capabilities of the squad that I have, so these three games will be invaluable in that regard.”
Inevitably, the “what do you think about the quality of MLS?” question came up. Every European manager visiting America on summer preseason tours gets asked this and I’ve yet to hear one say, “MLS stinks.” The European managers are always diplomatic and complimentary. Nevertheless, here was Hughes’ take on the MLS quality question:
“There’s definite improvement in the standards. I think everybody accepts that. The MLS is a well-regarded league by everybody in Europe. I think you will see more and more teams coming over because we now know that the challenge and the competition here is good and we get the right level of opposition to test us. And I think it’s a credit to everybody who has put so much hard work into the infrastructure of American soccer. You can see it’s building and the interest here obviously is representative of that. Maybe a few years ago that wouldn’t have been present. So I think it’s very encouraging for soccer in this country. We’re pleased to be here. The quality of the opposition is correct and we can benefit from it.”
What does Hughes think of American midfielder Brek Shea, who only started one match in his half-season as a Stoke City player last spring?
“We haven’t had the opportunity to see Brek yet. But, obviously he’s playing with the national team. We’re pleased that he’s progressing. Ideally, from my own point of view, I would’ve preferred that he was with us so that we could work with him. But he’s part of a team that’s doing really very well and we wish him luck in the [Gold Cup] final.”
Shea will have a ton of catching up to do when he finally joins Stoke after the Gold Cup.
Crouch was asked about his first trip to Dallas fifteen years ago when he played in a Dallas Cup final when he was 17 with the Tottenham youth team. Crouch reminisced about playing Corinthians in the final and what a great learning experience it was for him. In the years since, he has enjoyed traveling all over the U.S., “on various holidays.”
Hughes interrupted Crouch’s U.S. travelogue with impeccable comic timing saying, “Vegas – they all go to Vegas,” which cracked up Crouch and brought down the house.
Meanwhile, the genial Cameron looked like a kid in a candy store. He is obviously making the most of what he understands is a rare opportunity to play in the Premier League:
“It was definitely a big adjustment, leaving Houston and going to Stoke. First is the weather in general. That was a tough thing for me to deal with. But the league itself, I mean, you’re playing against the best players on the weekend, so the fast pace, the physical presence of teams, everything is just a step up. I think for me my adjustment [coming] from MLS and with the national team helped me out. It’s been great.
“I think just being confident with knowing your opponents and knowing that you’re capable to play in this league. You always question yourself and your ability. Especially every weekend you’re playing against a guy like Van Persie or Steven Gerrard – those guys that you grew up watching on TV over in the States and you’re playing against them. You might second guess yourself here and there, but now you have that year of experience under your belt and you’ve been through the whole process, you’ve been to the stadiums, you’ve been playing in front of big crowds, so you know what to expect. And I think that confidence and experience will help for this year.”
Crouch confirmed that the team is in the midst of an overhaul from the staunchly defensive strategy they’re known for to a more attacking mindset. “The first week of training has been very different. I think the boys have enjoyed the change. There’s been a lot more of the ball on the ground.”
Hughes admitted that changes are afoot, though he emphasized he won’t dismantle everything that’s been in place at Stoke for several seasons.
“I think that would be crazy to do that, because it’s been successful for Stoke in the past. It’s allowed them to stay in the Premier League for four or five years consecutively which is really important for the development of the club as a whole. Now I’ve come in with a view to take them to the next level. That’s certainly my aim. I think we’re now an established Premier League club with a good base and good stability in all areas of the club so now is the point in time where we need to start to go to that next level. And to do that I just feel that you need to play in a more progressive way, retain possession…
I know that they can change and embrace what we’re telling them [about] the direction that we want to go and I’m delighted with the response that myself and the coaching staff have had from the group.”
Tickets are still available for tonight’s game between FC Dallas and Stoke City with prices starting at $25.