With the Houston Dynamo training in the Rio Grande Valley this past week, HoustonDynamo.com was able to catch up with the new head coach of the RGV FC Toros, Gerson Etcheverry.
HoustonDynamo.com: You’ve been on the job for a couple of months and have had your team on the field for a week now. How has the adjustment period been for you so far?
Gerson Etcheverry: “It’s been pretty good. Finally we’re down here. I think the most important thing is that the players are here and we’re working. It’s fantastic to have the Dynamo staff and the players here, so I think it’s a great opportunity for the RGV players to see the professionalism of not only the other team, but also the staff and how we want to run things. I think having the two teams together and seeing where this can progress for them is ideal.”
HD: When did you and Wilmer first cross paths professionally? How far back does your relationship go?
GE: “We met in Colombia at America de Cali. While he was ‘the man’ on that team, I had just come from college and I went down there on a tryout and fortunately I was able to sign. So I was under contract with the first team, although we never played together because at that time that was the best team in Colombia and one of the best teams in South America, and I was just a kid coming from college. So I was on the team, I practiced every day, but I never got any games. There were five forwards, and four of them were on the Colombian national team, so I was never gonna see the field! So it was there, just on the training field and through talking and being able to share. And being the person that he is, he took me in, welcomed me in, and from then on (we’ve been in contact). It’s funny, because it wasn’t until about 15 years later that we met up again in New York. But yeah, it’s been a great relationship from playing together to working together and now finally reuniting, I think it’s a great opportunity for myself.”
HD: It’s still early, but how is the relationship between the RGV coaching staff and the Dynamo coaching and technical staff?
GE: “There’s a lot of communication. After practice, there’s a lot of talk about his practice and then there’s talk about mine, and then the integration between the staffs. Obviously, from my part I want as much information from them because ultimately a lot of these guys are trying to move up, so it’s for us to provide a venue and to provide players for them to be able to have and to use as they need to. Obviously, the setting that we have, for those players to come down and be able to perform day-in and day-out and put on a good show here.
“So we talk a lot about what we want to do in training, what we want to see in formations, what we want to see in games, and what we want out of certain players and how they see them. Obviously, there’s some players that are closer to being able to make it to the Dynamo than others, and how is it that we can help, not only individually but collectively all of these guys.”
HD: Part of your job as a coach is obviously to win games, but you’re also tasked with developing players with the goal of getting them to MLS and the Dynamo. How do you balance those two goals?
GE: “I think if we help players to improve, that’s only going to help us on the field here. So as he becomes a better player, it’s only going to benefit the team. Now, in saying that, what’s key is the fact that Wilmer was here two years ago and had success, so a lot of that philosophy that he has, we’re going to mirror because it’s important for us to do well here. I think the stadium and the setting that we have, the fans that we have, it’s important for us to be able to put on a good show for them here and be able to win. Why can’t we win mirroring what they did? Right now we have Wilmer with his philosophy and he won here, and then last year he had a lot of success with the Dynamo, so I think we’re capable of being able to do both – develop and win.
“I think at this age, also, winning is important. I think having that winning mentality, that mentality to work hard, to battle, is important. Look, it’s not always going to look pretty, but we saw some games last year with the Dynamo that didn’t look pretty, but there’s different aspects of the game that we need to improve on. And if they can do it here – they have to make sure that they shine here – then they can try to do it at the MLS level. If they’re shining here, we’re going to have some success as well, and that’s the goal. The goal is to make sure we have as many guys on the same page doing well and taking care of business.
“Like anything else, winning the championship – at any level, it doesn’t matter – it’s an important goal for you to have. Now, does that mean that with the relationship that we have with both clubs, that that’s what ultimately matters? No, because listen – if we sent four or five guys up but we’re not doing well here, that would be rare. Because if the team’s not doing well, how is it that they’re good enough to succeed up there? So it kind of goes hand in hand.”
HD: What goals are you laying out for your team so far in preseason?
“Right now we’re just laying out short-term goals for guys within their position, to be masters of their position and make sure they’re doing things well before we start becoming a team. We have about four-and-a-half weeks before we have our first official game, and I think we need to tweak a lot of things individually before we can start doing collectively. So slowly but surely, we’re going to start forming the team by pieces – the defenders forming good relationships with each other, and the midfielders and the attacking players.
“I think it’s important for us to start establishing short-term goals every four days or five days as we start building this up. It’s a long season, and it’s a longer preseason than what these guys that are coming from college are accustomed to. In college, you have a week and a half of preseason and then you’re jumping into games, and now here we have over a month of preseason. So all of that is an adjustment. Also, the season in college is three months; now we have 10 months, so with all of those things, we can’t have guys flying for the first month and then fizzling out, so we have to build them up. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so along those lines I think those goals have to be met, but we have two ultimate goals. What’s more important? It depends on who you ask. But what’s important is that we take care of business at the USL level, primarily at home, and then it’s important that we have players that are able to move up to help the Dynamo whether it’s during the regular season or during training – you never know if you have injuries. We have to make sure that we prepare those guys so that if they move up, we don’t miss a beat.
“That’s why, as I’ve said, it’s important that Wilmer and I are talking to each other and making sure that the same vocabulary is being used, the same philosophy is being used so that when guys come down it’s not something completely different; or when guys move up, vice versa and they’re not shocked and he doesn’t have to re-teach them. We have to make sure we’re trying to mirror that. Now, is it going to look 100 percent the same? It’s impossible because one, they have better players right now and two, the international players just make that huge of a difference. But all of the other things – style of play and what we do in training that’s important, I think that’s going to be key.”
HD: How important is it from a motivational standpoint for the RGV players to see the direct pathway to MLS with the Dynamo?
GE: “It’s huge. Not only seeing the Dynamo this week, but also the results of actually having guys moved up. I believe over the last 14 or 15 months, there’s been something like seven to nine guys that have signed first-team contracts, and then obviously there have been guys who have been moved up, so this works. It’s not just in theory – they can actually see it and sense it. There’s some guys who were teammates with guys who are now currently on the Dynamo roster. It’s important that we have that and for those guys to see that it’s a goal that’s very attainable if they’re willing to take care of business here at RGV.”
HD: How important has it been for you to start getting familiar with not only the RGV roster, but with the Dynamo players as well?
GE: “I think it’s important. It’s important for me to walk around, talk to them, for them to see me and hear a voice, not just a name. It’s also great to have the opportunity that Wilmer has provided for me to be at practice and jump in and actually be on the field with them. Because if they come down, then there’s a lot of familiarity between the players and myself, so I think that’s an important aspect of us being together right now.”