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One-on-one With Greg Vanney

U.S. defender Greg Vanney seems finally to be settling into form.  After missing out on the 2002 World Cup with a knee injury and inconsistent form after a move to France, the left-footed defender has found a steady role at Bastia and has quietly regained the confidence to put him in position for a regular place in the USA's World Cup qualifying campaign.  After playing eight games for the MNT in 2003 - the most of his career - Vanney tallied his first international goal in second-half stoppage time of the USA's 3-0 win against Grenada in the first match of 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying. Read on as Vanney reveals his thoughts on his past, present and future in this week's version of "one-on-one.” Let’s start by going backwards. 2002 turned out to be a rollercoaster year for your career…

Greg Vanney: “I moved to Bastia from the Galaxy that winter.  I actually left the national team camp that was preparing for the Gold Cup in order to sign at Bastia before the deadline closed.  I missed that series of games, which probably wasn’t good for me in terms of Bruce getting a chance to see me, but I felt like for my career I wanted to go to Europe and challenge myself further.  If you make yourself a better player, it helps your chances of helping the national team.” And then, the call for the World Cup…

GV: “I came in May for the three preparation matches prior to the team leaving for Korea.  At the time, I was listed as an alternate.  Then in the first game against Uruguay, Chris [Armas] went down with a knee injury.  Obviously you don’t wish that on anybody.   Chris deserved to be there.  I didn’t feel great being the guy taking his position.  He had helped the team qualify for the four years before, and he earned his spot on that team.  After that, Bruce had mentioned that he was going to use me to replace him.  Certainly it was very exciting, because as a player that’s what you play for: the opportunity to compete on the big stage.  For me it was a dream come true.  I had stressed out a lot about it for the six months before, having made the move to Bastia, thinking at times during those six months that I may have cut my own throat a bit in terms of making the team.  For it all to come together at the end was a huge relief.  Obviously that didn’t last long.  The very next game against Jamaica, in the beginning of the second half I go into a tackle and sprain my MCL bad enough that I missed the World Cup.  For me, it was a huge blow. You go from elation and excitement, then one tackle later and you miss out on the event you’ve been playing your whole life for.  I don’t know how you describe the feeling.  Luckily for me, I have enough career left to make another run at a World Cup.” After that summer, there was a period where your playing time and position at Bastia seemed in flux. What was your situation like, and how did that impact your growth as a player?

GV: “By the time I got back to Bastia, the coach who had signed me had been fired.  So I’m in a totally new situation, and I have to impress a coach who probably doesn’t know me from anyone else.  I was the only American, and on top of that, a coach always wants to bring in his own players, because at the end of the day he knows it’s him who will get fired if things don’t work.  So I was still in the team, but I found out we were going to play a 3-5-2 and that’s something I’d never done. So I’m trying to get healthy and trying to adapt my game into a system I wasn’t exactly comfortable with.  I wound up having sporadic playing time, but the end of the year started getting better when we switched to a 4-4-2.  That year was very frustrating, with a combination of missing the World Cup and coming back into a situation you don’t expect.  I was heading towards being 30 years old, and sometimes it’s tough to adapt your game in order to be something that you’re not.  Maybe I was fighting that a little bit within myself.  At the end of the day it helped me out.  It gave me a little more confidence getting forward, and it took my fitness to another level since I had to cover the whole sideline by myself.  When you’re faced with things like that, they either set you back or they help you, and I think they helped me out.” The following season had its ups and downs as well, mostly because of the injury.  How did your situation progress in 2003-04?

GV: We played in a 4-4-2, and I started the majority of the matches.  I had a serious groin problem (osteitis pubus).  It’s an inflammation in the place where the groin muscle attaches to the pubic bone. I don’t know how common it is in the U.S., but there are players over there that miss entire seasons over this.  It took me four months, several doctors and several rehab programs until I found a solution.  Once I got that out of the way, I started playing consistently again.  The moral of last year was that it was good to be back playing in my natural position, starting to feel comfortable and confident in doing what I do best.  I came into this summer with the national team sharp, fit, and in a good mindset.” Do you think that getting that consistency in both your position and playing time added confidence to your game and helped get you back into a regular place with the national team?

GV: “That’s definitely it.  Over the last four or five years, my positions have constantly been changing.  In the last two years in MLS, I was playing center back.  I don’t think I’m a center back at the international level.  To make the transitions from center back to outside back, the fitness and mindset are entirely different.  That’s tough to do, especially when you have short camps that are typical of the national team.  Playing outside back at Bastia gave me more confidence.  Eventually that translated into the confidence that I need to do the things I’m best at. What are you best at?

GV: “I think consistently is one of the things I bring.  I think I’m a good passer, and my understanding and positioning are good.  A lot of people would say my left foot is my best quality, being able to find passes, pick out people, and be dangerous on different things like free kicks, corner kicks and crosses.  For me, I like to concentrate on the things I’m not good at and that’s what I work on.  At the end of the day, for a player (being) consistent is the most important thing.  You have to be solid every day.” Typically, Bruce [Arena] has a very good idea of what he expects out of certain players.  What has he asked you to do in the left back spot?

GV: “He asked me to be me.  He doesn’t want me to try to be Roberto Carlos or anybody else other than me.  I try to help the team play out of the back, get forward and help the team in the attack. I need to be solid in defensive responsibilities.  That means helping communicate with the guys around me so the team stays organized, especially on my side of the field.   At 30 years old, I’m not a kid anymore, so I think I have to be a leader out there.  I’m an experienced player now, and it’s important that I bring that into camp every time I come in and help the guys as much as they need help.   I also need to try and get forward and be dangerous when I can.  That’s the fun part of the game -Getting into the attack and trying to score goals. Speaking of which, you managed to pick up the first goal of your international career against Grenada.  And in a World Cup qualifier no less.  How did it feel to finally get on the scoreboard?

GV: “It’s been a while.  I don’t really know what happened there. It felt good, that’s for sure.  I think scoring goals is a sensation that you get, and you have to have that feeling.  When you haven’t done it in a while, sometimes you lose that feeling and you get into a rut.  It’s the same thing with strikers.  If they are scoring goals, it just seems like they are falling for them.   I haven’t scored in so long that I’ve been falling into a rut.  I’d been getting forward well in that game and the games leading up to that. I just found myself in a position to try and get a shot off, and it found the side of the net.  In a game that it seemed like everything we hit was hitting one of them, it was a lucky day for me where I hit a shot that probably should have hit five people on its way through and didn’t.   It was a fortunate one for me, and very exciting. I love to score.” Have you ever been part of a team that has so many quality left-footed players?

GV: “No.  And at Bastia, we actually don’t have any. I’m the left-footed guy on that team.  For the national team, it’s a blessing.  Teams should be balanced, and if you can have a team that has that many good left footed players and right footed players it makes it better.  If you don’t have that balance, you can become a little bit predictable. You don’t see this kind of depth of left-footed players very often, and I’m sure Bruce is happy to have those options.” Speaking of that side of the field, the left back spot is one where the competition seems wide open.  Are you excited about the opportunity?

GV: “I think competition makes you better.  I’m confident in myself and what I bring to the team, and I have to be happy with that at the end of the day.  At this point, I can’t come into camp every time trying to impress Bruce. You just have to be who you are, and if that’s not good enough than it’s not good enough.  I’m just going to concentrate on myself and making myself better so I can continue to help our team be better.  We have a lot of good players in this pool, and that’s why the team is getting better.” Do you feel like you have a chance to seize the left-back position for yourself?

GV: “Yes, I do actually.  If I didn’t, I would be hard pressed to come here.  It’s not like my club loves the fact that I travel across the Atlantic so much.  If you come in and you don’t feel like you have that opportunity, you are setting yourself up for failure.  Whether the position is wide open, or it’s mine, or Bobby’s or whoever, it doesn’t matter.  I’m confident that I can come in and make that position mine if it isn’t now.  That’s what I play for.  I play to win games and help this team get better.  At the end of the day, I want to be able to look back at my career and say I did everything I could do.  I don’t want to have any regrets, and hopefully I’ll have a World Cup under my belt as well. I believe it’s a position I can take over and be the guy.  We’ll see.”