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Union Spotlight: Meet Brian Perk

Posted on 22 January 2010 by Breton Bonnette

It was draft day and Brian Perk stepped out of his hotel to meet up with his father, nerves most likely fluttering as he prepared himself for the day that would decided his professional future in the U.S. Waiting for the rendezvous, Perk was blindsided by a cohort of chanting Philadelphia Union supporters, over 200 strong. Little did he know, he’d be shaking hands with those same supporters that night as he toured the city of Philadelphia as a new member of the Union. 

Even after that omen, Perk says landing in Philadelphia didn’t even cross his mind. As the first round concluded, then the second, then the third, the keeper simply wanted a home. A place to play what he loves. He knew he wanted a city, a place to explore, but “I had no clue. Philly is probably one of the last places I thought I’d end up because of the two guys they already had”. So at the start of the last round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, the 22-year old was blindsided yet again when Commisioner Don Garber announced, “And with the 49th pick of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, the Philadelphia Union selects from UCLA, goalkeeper Brian Perk”.  Initially, he didn’t know what to think. It was a tough situation in Philadelphia. Chris Seitz, who Perk backed up at the 2007 Under-20 World Cup, is the heavy favorite for the starting position. Brad Knighton was taken from the New England Revolution  in the expansion draft and looks set to be his back up. But simply put by the well-spoken 20-year old and starting goalkeeper for the US U-20s at the 2009 U-20s World Cup,  “when it gets to the fourth round, you just want to get drafted”. 

Perk understands the situation now and is genuinely happy to be heading to Philadelphia. He’s already looking at places to stay with fellow UCLA teammate, Kyle Nakazawa in and around Center City. He has time as his first few weeks with the club will be spent in a hotel and in Greensboro, NC for the start of preseason. He will also be joined in preseason by other Bruins, #6 pick Amobi Okugo as well as league veteran Jordan Harvey. To add to the three new Bruins, however, there are three other SuperDraftees in McInerney, Mwanga, and Stahl, all vying for a spot in the squad’s inaugural roster. “It’s very nice to come in with those guys. It’ll make the transition a lot easier. There will be a hierarchy obviously – we’re the rookies, so it won’t be too different. I feel like it’ll be a little bit different because we’re coming into a new situation and basically everybody is, people don’t know each other. I feel like we’ll all be a little closer because everyone is in the same boat”.

How strange is this goalkeeping situation though? The Union have made it clear that they’re focusing on youth but three guys all under the age of 26 vying for a starting position in which the general saying is ‘the older, the better’? “It’s unique. It’s something I’ve never really heard of. It’s either the old goalkeeper or the young one. That’s usually how most teams are structured but if you look at it, we’re all very similar personality-wise in the way we like to do things. Although, I might not get the number one job. The training is going to be very, very good and high. It’s only going to push us all of us I think”. The training he’s talking about, of course, will be supplied by well-regarded former Maryland goalkeeping coach Rob Vartughian. The training of the trio will inevitably foster some healty, interpositional competition. Two guys, Perk and Seitz, come into preseason with youth national team and major international experience while Brad had the only real run of Major League Soccer experience last season when he filled in for an injured Matt Reis. None of this fazes Perk. “It’s going to be a battle. I’m not naïve, I know that Chris [Seitz] is, as of right now, the clear favorite right to get the job. I’m not just going to put up the white flag and give up. That’s not the way I work.  I’m just going to come in, work hard, and see where things lead”.

Perk realizes that no matter where he goes, as a young keeper, it’s going to be a dogfight. He looked abroad, finding options in Spain and Belgium but with the lack of an EU Passport, interest stayed pretty thin and options limited. Major League Soccer swept in with a “pretty good” deal which he was excited to accept. That kept his eyes purely on the SuperDraft. Upon recollection of his first thoughts after the Union selected him, Perk stated, “I was certainly not as enthused as I am now. The closer we get to preseason starting the more excited I am”. He flies out on Sunday morning to join his teammates for physicals and meetings on Monday, set to start a new chapter with new goals. “I think it’s good to set your goals high. I would like to compete for the starting job. To get a few games and, you know, get a chance. And in order to do that for me, I have to train well. And again, it’s a tough situation but the only real thing I can do is work hard. That’s generally how I’ve always approached things. I feel like, you know, if I do that I’ll get a shot. I want to do well, win as many games as I can, get to the playoffs. We’ve got quality. We’re young, but the guys that I know that are on the team and everyone I’ve talked to are very excited. None of us are burn out on the team and that happens in some places”.

Adaptation is the key as a rookie in Major League Soccer and it’s clear Perk will embrace that. Coach Nowak seems to have found guys willing to do just that – identify the challenge and fight for what they want and what their new team wants. Dealing with the whirlwind of emotion and detail that comes post-Draft and preseason, Perk has finally realized…

“I’m happy Philly is the place I wound up”

If you like this, check out Breton’s other interviews and Q&As with Shea Salinas, Amobi Okugo, and Nick Zimmerman

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Union spotlight: Q&A with Nick Zimmerman

Posted on 01 December 2009 by Breton Bonnette

Welcome to Philadelphia

Welcome to Philadelphia

It’s clear from his expansion draft selections that Piotr Nowak plans to build around a core group of highly touted Major League Soccer prospects: Shea Salinas from the San Jose Earthquakes, Andrew Jacobson from DC United, Dave Myrie from the Chicago Fire…don’t forget to add to that list Nick Zimmerman, a loss to Red Bull New York that has many in that team’s supporters section still scratching their heads.

Well-spoken and professional, the 22-year old winger was one of the only real bright spots for a wayward Red Bull New York squad in 2009. His appearance at mid-season caught many by surprise, displacing the likes of Dane Richards before Juan Carlos Osorio was let go. Stepping into the offseason, ASN Philly thought we’d give Union fans a preview of what is to come from the winger.   

What was your initial reaction to the news you were heading to Philadelphia? A bit surprised to be unprotected?

I was very excited when I heard Philadelphia had drafted me. I see this as a huge opportunity and great chance to continue to develop as a player.

At the end of the season, I knew there was some uncertainty about how the Red Bull organization was going to proceed. Then the Red Bulls sent me with two other players to train with their Salzburg team in Europe for three weeks. It was excellent training and because we were so busy and engaged I really didn’t have a chance to think much about the expansion draft. I realize at the end of the day it’s a business and I very grateful to the Red Bull organization for bringing me into MLS.

What do you see as the positives and negatives of heading into an expansion atmosphere?

I see only positives. Our players are hungry and we have a great technical staff. Ownership is making a huge investment. The city of Philadelphia is known for its loyal sports fans. It’s a great combination.

What are realistic expectations for the Union heading into the inaugural season?

We have seen expansion teams in MLS do very well in a short period of time – just look at Seattle. Also, my experience as a professional is limited so I can better speak to my own personal expectation and that is I am accountable for being prepared and doing everything I can do to help contribute to help the team win and that’s what I plan to do.

What have you heard about Coach Nowak? The Philadelphia Union organization?

I have heard real good things. Coach is a teacher and builder.. and a winner and winning is the bottom line in professional sports. I am very impressed with the investment that ownership has made in this team and it doesn’t get better than Philly as a sports city.

You came from a very successful but less known Division I program in James Madison, what were the positives and negatives of being in such a program?

I had a great coaching staff there that helped me develop as one of the team’s leaders. The school is also well regarded and I feel fortunate to have earned my bachelors degree from JMU. It was a great environment in which to be both a student and an athlete.

How frustrating was last season with the Red Bulls? The initial expectations must have been high coming in as 2008 MLS Cup finalists…in your opinion, what went wrong?

All of the players were very frustrated – nobody likes to lose. In general, professionals should always have high expectations. I was a rookie so I had very little background to evaluate or determine what was going on. My focus was on continuing to develop my skills, work as hard as I could and contribute in any position the coaches wanted me to play.

How do you feel your rookie season ended up?

I think, in general, professionals are never satisfied. I know personally I am at the age that I should be looking to continue to develop and improve. So I viewed my first season as just that – a starting point on which to improve and get better.

In your mind, what are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?

Please ask me this question again five years from now and I will have a much better answer for you. I know I was identified as an attacking player – I need to build on this. Obviously, as a rookie with eleven games played I don’t have much experience. So I need to make up for it by working harder.

What improvements are you looking to make this season?

Continue to improve overall conditioning, strength and skills. Generally, get better in every facet of the game.

What’s the plan in the offseason?

Live in the gym and when I’m not there train on the field. Working as hard as I can to get in shape and then keep building on skills.

What are your long-term goals as a player?

Develop as a player and leader and contribute in every way I can to a winning program.

Quick Picks:

Last concert you went to?

Lil Wayne.

Best away game atmosphere?

Seattle, New England, DC United, Toronto

Least favorite pitch to play on?

It seems like I’ve played on everything. In general, artificial turf seems to be a little harder on the legs.

Just from the list of new teammates, who are most interested in meeting?

Donovan McNabb. LOL, although Donovan looks like such a good athlete he probably would be a great forward. The whole team sounds good.

Nick Sakiewicz gives you the checkbook and says sign your ideal teammate, who would that be?

Messi is fun to watch as is Xavi as is .. most of the Barcelona players. Pick one.

If you are not playing soccer, you are…?


What are you most looking forward to in Philly?

Besides soccer, great fans and Philly cheesesteaks.

Who do you think should get the nod for new RBNY coach?

Richie Williams did a good job of generating points at the end of the year when he took over and deserves a look. If the club looks outside of the organization there are a bunch of big names. But don’t discount some of the good, young American coaches like John Hackworth, wait… he’s already ours and we’re not letting him go anywhere.

ASN Philly: Please join us in welcoming Nick into the Union. Along with Nowak’s other core prospects, it seems Nick is ready to do the work needed to find his way onto the field each time out. No disputing that. We look forward to catching up with him when he gets to Philly in early December.

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Union Spotlight: Meet Shea Salinas

Posted on 27 November 2009 by Breton Bonnette

ASN Philly got the chance to sit down with new Union winger, Shea Salinas for a post-Thanksgiving introduction.

Welcome to Philadelphia!

Welcome to Philadelphia!

Talking with Shea, you would almost think he was a seasoned veteran, born from years of tough games, league and player research, grueling preseasons, and a plethora of ups and downs. His age (23), however, didn’t match his demeanor. He has a clear passion and worksmanship about what he does for a living and, when all is said and done, he just wants to get on that playing field. Looking up and down the expansion draft selection list with Shea, it was interesting to see an overlapping theme with the 10 players selected by Coach Nowak. Solid work ethic. “I’m a hard worker. Other guys on the list are the same as me and my motto has always been, ‘Go all out or don’t go out at all'”. It’s the same work ethic that put Shea in the starting line up for San Jose over the last half of the season as he went on to register 5 assists in just his second full season. Coming from Furman University, a school that produced USMNT midfielders Clint Dempsey and Ricardo Clark as well as Kansas City’s Jonathan Leathers, you can see that hard work ethic was sort of a prerequisite to playing well on the professional level.

That’s the thing, however…looking up and down the list to begin with and despite a great reputation in San Jose, there was an odd realization for Salinas. He was on it. And that itself hit home. “I was kind of shocked I wasn’t protected. I love San Jose, the fans, the teammates and to see that, it hurt coming from John Doyle and Frank Yallop”. Once on the list, however, “I knew it would come down to me or Bobby [Convey] and with the history between Coach Nowak and Bobby, I thought I would stay”. Regardless, Shea did his homework and prepared himself for the possibility of leaving San Jose. The more he thought about it with friends and family, the more he realized how great the opportunity to play in Philadelphia really was. “I read up on the new stadium, the organization, the crest and history and the more I thought about it, the more I thought I’d love to go to Philly. To start with a new team and create something. Our own traditions. I’m really looking forward to it and excited about it. I’ve heard great things about Coach Nowak”. In fact, Coach Nowak called Shea the night before the release of the Union’s picks and asked him one simple question, “Are you ready to work as part of the Union?”.

Shea has been no stranger to the “expansion” tag. His rookie year was San Jose’s inaugural season back in Major League Soccer after the relocation of the Quakes to Houston in 2005. The expansion feel is perfect for him, he says, “I was and now am joining a team whose players are all in the same boat. It’s not like Coach Nowak has favorites already and you have to adapt to be able to work your way into Coach’s system. Being a rookie with San Jose, I was in a much better situation. I was on an equal playing field with each of my teammates, rookie or not”. Off the field was much different of course. In two seasons, however, Shea firmly entrenched himself as a fan favorite, a presence in the community, and an exciting player on the field.

As for what type of player Salinas is, a couple attributes are raw like his final ball into the box and finishing. Overwhelmingly, however, he has all of the makings of a great MLS winger. “I am back training by myself every morning at 8AM and playing some indoor with my buddies. There was more time to take off but I couldn’t take it anymore”. A former track and cross country star in high school (4:28 miler and 9:51 two-miler for those curious) and with running as his passion, speed and fitness are his forte and a quality which will never leave his game. With that in mind, “my focus this off-season is to work on my final ball in the box and that final decision”.

Shea and the 10 (including new keeper acquisition Chris Seitz) will be flown in on December 6th to meet with Coach Nowak and the rest of the Union staff prior to introductory press conferences and physicals. Then the search for a house begins along with his fiance Julie before the next couple months become some of the busiest of his life. In January, he will be married. In February, pre-season starts in earnest. And March? Well we all know what happens then. One thing seems clear, so does Shea and he’ll be ready for it. “I have been everywhere and it sort of comes with the territory. Born in Texas, college in South Carolina, started my career in California, and now Philadelphia. I really hope I can stay longer here”.

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