Arguably the biggest signing in the NASL prior to the 2014 season was Brian Shriver leaving Carolina to join the Rowdies on a multi-year contract. On paper it meant a match made in heaven. Shriver, the 2013 NASL Golden Boot winner would be paired with the 2013 NASL MVP Georgi Hristov. The move was a clear from new owner Bill Edwards of the level of investment he was willing to make on the field. Unfortunately for everyone involved nothing really panned out for the Rowdies on the field in 2014. Ultimately head coach Ricky Hill was relived of his duties and now Thomas Rongen has been brought in to instill a whole new playing style. A style that seems to that seems much better suited to Shriver’s particular abilities. The Unused Substitutes had a chance to talk with Shriver prior to training this morning and he addressed 2014 struggles, Rongen’s new system, his chemistry with Georgi Hristov, all the big chances for the club this offseason, and what it means to him to represent the Tampa Bay Area.
So how are you feeling? How’s the first week back been so far? I know the fans are excited to see the team start training so early in the year.
I’m feeling good. I mean definitely tired and sore, we’ve been hitting it hard the first three days. It’s exciting already just to start. But I feel good. It feels good so far.
I want to talk a little bit about 2014. The season was clearly a struggle for the team and you personally. How do you assess a season like that? Do you try to immediately put it behind you and focus on what’s next? Or do you try to take some time for self-evaluation?
I mean definitely after the season finishes, you kinda take a look back on how it all went, both personally and team wise. Obviously for me, on a personal level it wasn’t anywhere really where I expected, or how I expected it to go. It was tough from the beginning. Getting hurt in the first half of the season, missing quite a few games and then finally coming back I feel like I might have played out of position quite a bit. I played a lot of outside mid. Which is not where, I mean I’ve played there before over the course of my career, but it’s not a natural position for me. It took some getting used to. And obviously when you don’t play the same position as you did the year before your offensive numbers aren’t going to be the same. So it was hard. It was very frustrating at times, but at the same you just keep working hard and try to help the team any way that you can. As a team we obviously didn’t get the results, for whatever reasons that may be. It was really tough overall. A lot of us were struggling to figure out some answers. But it can only be something you think about for a short period of time at the end of the year because you have to shift your focus to the upcoming year, which with all the changes is looking more and more exciting, and will hopefully come with a lot better results.
Obviously it’s still early days but what’s been your impression of Coach Rongen so far? What has he been stressing to you guys in meetings?
Obviously he’s been very passionate already. He wants us to buy into the system early on, and I think we already have the guys here to do that. He wants us to be extremely fit, extremely willing to put in the effort for the full 90 minutes. And he stresses a lot about us basically buying into what we’re building here, and from what I’ve seen already from the guys that are here that’s already happening. We’ve got a good core group here already. I don’t think he’s having to persuade us or push hard for us to buy in. I think everyone here is motivated, willing, and ready to put in the work for the group.
How do you think your skill set meshes with Coach Rongen’s system? It seems, on the surface, that his proposed system would fit your game very well.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean from all accounts of what he’s said, and from what I’ve heard, he likes to play the 4-3-3 style. I think personally, for me that’s a great fit. To be able to play up top, or at least hopefully play up top. You never know. You’ve got to come into the season and work as hard as you can to earn your spot. There are no guarantees in this business. You’ve gotta put the work in day in and day out and I’m willing to do that. But the possibility of playing in the 4-3-3 is very exciting for me. I think my abilities definitely translate into that system. So hopefully, with hard work, that leads to me providing the team with lots of goals and assists
What’s your relationship like Georgi Hristov? You mentioned your injury last year which prevented you from building a chemistry, but what was it like when you returned to play? And are you hoping that chemistry grows stronger in 2015?
Yeah, Georgi and I get along great off the field. You know on the field it was tough at first because we only got a couple of games together, and then I was out for three or four games, and by that times it was already the end of the Spring Season. Then you come back, and just based on the style, or whatever, or what Ricky wanted to play, you know I ended up playing a lot of outside mid. He and I really didn’t get to play that much together, but we’ve worked a lot together on combinations in training. So we were always prepared and ready to get into that with each other if we were ever given the chance. So I’m hoping, when we start preseason, you know you start to build that chemistry and that knowledge with whoever your partner is on the field. Whether it’s me and Georgi, or Corey, or whoever up top. We obviously have to work in training and get a good chemistry going so we can be productive on the field.
How is it for you as a player to see all the investment off the field? Like the brand new professional training pitch being worked on a few blocks away from Al Lang. Or all the numerous renovations at Al Lang, primarily the actual field, which has been abysmal these past few years.
Oh man it’s unbelievable. I had a chance to see the field when I was down there 2 weeks ago, or maybe it was a little less than that. But just everything that they’re putting in for the team, all the stuff they’re providing us with, it’s exciting to see. It’s definitely motivating because you get provided with nice facilities, a great stadium, a great pitch to actually play on. So really you have no excuses as a player. So we’re ready. And for me personally, it’s amazing to see the changes that the club has gone through over just the last two years. Obviously last year was just my first year, but you could already tell just last year some of the changes going into it. But this offseason has just been something else. It’s just been one thing after another, and each thing just seems to benefit the team and the fans.
How’s that new grass compare to Carolina’s?
[Laughs] Well to be fair WakeMed is one of the best fields I’ve ever played on. And I think pretty much everyone in the league will tell you that. Obviously I wasn’t able to get out on the new field, but seeing it from a ways away it looks comparable. I’m excited. I’m real anxious to get out there, see how it feels, and see how the ball rolls.
Last question for you. What does it mean to you to be playing in the area you grew up? To be representing your hometown region on the soccer field.
It’s seriously a dream come true. I spent a lot of time away from the area with different teams, and to be able to come back where my family is, to play for the team that’s right around where I grew up is amazing. And it’s even more exciting to be here for all the changes, to see how it’s growing, and what they’re building. It’s definitely something I want to be a part of for a long time. I can’t really explain how awesome it is to have my parents, all my family and friends come out to all the games and support me. In years past it was just when I would come to town and play against the Rowdies, or the rare chance they got the chance to make a trip. For them to be out supporting each game is extreme motivation for me to better myself every week and every day. So It’s great. I’m really happy right now.