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Checking In With U-20 Forward Johann Smith

U.S. Under-20 forward Johann Smith was called in by U-20 head coach Thomas Rongen for the 2006 Northern Ireland Milk Cup. Who's Johann Smith you on (or listen in) to find out. 

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Center Circle: To start off, can you talk about growing up playing soccer in Connecticut?
Johann Smith: “I was pretty much born and raised in Connecticut. I got some time in New York, but pretty much lived in Connecticut all my life – Hartford and Bloomfield. I played soccer my whole life, pretty much. I played basketball, but really soccer was my main sport. My dad ran track for Jamaica and Jamaica soccer is a really big sport. Both my parents come from Jamaica and it was sort of a Jamaican community where I come from so that’s how I got involved in soccer. Then I played with my club team, Oakwood, and have been with them for awhile. I was involved with ODP, my state team, the Connecticut State team since I was 14, I think. I’ve been to the ODP tournament, the ID camp and been with that for awhile. I’d been with the Region I team for awhile and that’s pretty much my time in Connecticut. So, the football I’ve played has just been with my club team and Connecticut ODP and the Regional team.”

CC: And you were All-State for you junior and senior years of high school?
JS: “Yea, I was All-State and I made All-American for my senior year. Watkinson is a really good school; it’s a private school in Hartford. It’s a small school, but I really enjoyed being there.”

CC: How did the Bolton opportunity come about?
JS: “Actually, one of my friends that plays there for awhile, Luke Magill, he was on my ODP team and we’re pretty much family. We were really close friends and he offered me a trial in England because he was playing in England and when he moved there he told (Bolton) about me. He said, ‘you guys should check this guy out, he’s a pretty good player,’ and Bolton called me up and said, ‘we want to see you, what do you think?’ I was really excited and really interested to go. From then on, things have been great. I went on a week trial initially (back in 2004) and I did pretty well in the week trial, so they extended it into a two-week trial. I did well again and they said they wanted to sign me for a couple years. I discussed that with my parents and they agreed with me that it would be a good opportunity, so I flew back to America, grabbed my stuff and now I'm here in England.”

CC: You were actually signed in April of 2005, but before then in late 2004 and early 2005 when you were on trial there seemed to be some speculation that you had signed when in reality you had not yet. What was the reasoning for the confusion?
JS: “Well, I couldn’t just go there because I wasn’t part of the European Union. I had to get a work permit. So, I was flying back and forth to New York, talking with the British Embassy and I finally got a work permit through my father who has a work permit in England. It took a little bit, but in the end everything worked out for the best.”

CC: And you were offered a three-year contract and are in the Academy right now? Is that correct?
JS: “It was a two-year contract.”

CC: Did you know much about Bolton before you went over there?
JS: “I did. We’ve got Fox Soccer Channel (back home) so I saw the Premier League a lot. I watched it on every Saturday and Sunday, so I saw Bolton here and there. And I knew they were a top ten club in England, so it was really exciting just to go and play for a Premiership side. It was an amazing deal, so I didn’t want to pass that up.”

CC: You’ve been there over a year now. How much have you enjoyed it?
JS: “It’s been great. I love the town of Bolton; it’s a beautiful place. I love the club and all the staff there. I really have no complaints. I really love everyone at the club. They treat me amazingly. I’ve had a great time and I hope to stay here for a long time.”

CC: You played consistently with the reserve team last year, starting 22 of 24 games and you finally tallied your first goal, or I should probably say goals, as you scored two against Newcastle’s reserves on Jan. 16. What was it like to finally put one in the back of the net?
JS: “At first I didn’t even know what to do. It was the weirdest celebration because I just stood there. I started running around the field because I was really excited. The reserves is a big thing over here. Some the best players play in the reserves. At first I didn’t get adjusted to the English game at first. I think anyone has the tools to get adjusted to any game, but it took me awhile to adjust. After those two goals, everything came through. I started playing well, started adjusted a lot more, so those two goals really set everything up for me.”

CC: After that you had three more goals over the next nine games, so it seemed you started to get in a groove.
JS: “I was on a roll for awhile. It was a great feeling to score those goals.”

CC: You said you had to get used to the English game. What exactly about the style of the game did you have to get used to?
JS: “The speed of the game is different, as is the tactical part. Each club has a different way of playing and Bolton plays a lot of long balls, so there has to be a lot of movement for the forwards. I’m not saying when I played in America I didn’t have to move a lot, but over here it’s a lot more demanding, the fitness side of the game. Just getting used to all the tactical things Bolton taught me and what I learned from the English game in general, it took me awhile to adjust to it, but I think I’ve adjusted now.”

CC: One of the more interesting guys you’ve played with is Jared Borgetti of Mexico. What’s it like playing with a guy a lot of U.S. fans have at the top of their list of most hated players?
JS: “(Laughs) At first when I saw him at the training field, I was like, ‘wow, Borgetti,’ but then I remembered ‘hey, this guy is Mexican and I’m American.’ But he’s a really nice guy and a great player. No grudge at all. I wished him good luck before the World Cup and I wish him good luck in every game for Mexico, except against the U.S. (laughs) Other than that, he’s a great guy. It was an honor to play with him in the reserves. He’s an amazing player. It was an honor to play alongside him.”

CC: You also ran track in high school and we read you ran the 100-meter dash in under 10 seconds. Is that true?
JS: “I think it was 10.5.”

CC: Okay, still pretty good. Is speed a big part of your game?
JS: “Yea, it has a lot to do with my game actually. The manager is always telling me to use my speed to exploit defenses. Especially with Bolton in the reserves I use my speed a lot because I think it’s one of my biggest assets. It is my biggest asset.”

CC: If someone was to describe the type of player you are, what would they say?
JS: “Speed, skill and power. Those are the three things I use a lot in my game.”

CC: The next season for Bolton is coming up. What are you goals for this year?
JS: “I kind of broke into the first team last year, training with them a lot and was in the squad here and there. My goal for the season is just to make my debut (with the first team) as soon as possible and then score my first goal as soon as possible. But first and foremost it’s to make my debut with the first team.”

CC: Have you talked much with Nicky Hunt and Kevin Nolan, guys who have risen through the Bolton Academy and are now with the first team to get any advice?
JS: “Nicky Hunt is a great guy and he talks to me a lot. Kevin Nolan is the captain of the team and he always pulls me aside and tells me what I need to do, what I don’t need to do. So, he’s sort of like a fatherly figure to me on the team. I have a lot of good friends on the team, but Kevin Nolan is always talking to me. I get along with Kevin because he’s come from the Academy and he’s been through it all to become the captain of the first team now. He’s always giving me advice and it’s great. He’s a great player, a great guy overall.”

CC: You were with the U-18s last year for a couple camps and actually ended up tied for the leading scorer on the team. Now, you’ve been invited into your first U-20 camp for the Northern Ireland Milk Cup and have your first chance to meet and impress head coach Thomas Rongen. What are your expectations for this tournament?
JS: “I really want to score as many goals as possible. I hope to help the team out as much as possible. It that means not scoring goals and the team wins, fair enough. But I really want to score goals, help the team out and win the tournament. I know we have a great group of guys, I know a few of the guys. My expectations are to win the tournament and just show (the coaching staff) what I can do and make that Under-20 World Cup squad.”

CC: Is making the roster for the U-20 World Cup in Canada in 2007 a goal?
JS: “Most definitely. Besides making my debut for the first team (at Bolton), that’s my second goal. It’s definitely up there. That’s what I definitely want to do. What an experience to go to the Under-20 World Cup and play against the best players of your age. I would love to do that, so that is definitely a goal of mine.”

CC: What does it mean to you to put on that U.S. jersey?
JS: “I love America. I love that country, so when the national anthem plays and I have that jersey on it’s just pure pride. I love wearing the jersey and I love playing for America. I love putting that jersey on and playing. I just love it.”