Pat Phelan is new to Toronto, the rookie was drafted by TFC in the first round of the 2008 MLS Superdraft by Mo Johnston, 10th overall. Pat was kind enough to speak to Come On You Reds about what his experience has been like so far in Toronto, and many other topics in this interview.
I read somewhere that you received offers to play in Europe before the draft. Is this true? And if so, what made you choose the MLS instead?
-I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go over to Europe after the draft to see what it could offer me. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t too great because the transfer window for most teams closed at the end of January. I was only able to trial with a Danish First Division club. The situation there wasn’t a good fit for me and I figured that Toronto would be a great place to begin my professional career so I came back to MLS.
You've now been in Toronto for a while, what have you learned about the city that you didn't know when you were drafted?
-I didn’t know much about Toronto at all before I came here. I visited here when I was younger but didn’t remember much, except that it was very cold. I knew that the city closely resembled many European cities and that it was an ethnically diverse city. I didn’t realize how expensive it was but I know now. I had heard about the fans and the passion they have for the club but it’s something you really have to experience in person. The atmosphere is the best in MLS by far.
You were named the Gatorade High School player of the year in 2003, how did this award impact you as a player?
-It’s always nice to win awards but for me, that award was special because it not only acknowledged my athletic achievements but also recognized my work in the community and my academic accomplishments. It let me know that I was on the right track not only as a player but as a person too. One of the perks of winning the award was a trip to the ESPY awards in Hollywood where I got to meet former FIFA World Player of the Year George Weah which was an honor to say the least.
You played at Wake Forest where you had a very successful college career, how do you feel the NCAA compares to other development leagues and systems, and do you feel it prepared you for the MLS?
-It’s tough to gauge the NCAA to other development leagues and systems since I wasn’t really a part of any others but I felt that the NCAA did a good job in preparing me to be a professional. Wake Forest is very difficult academically so I really have to balance my time between athletics and academics. It helped a lot with time management and prioritizing. It’s very nice not to have to worry about school anymore; now I can focus completely on becoming a better player. I also felt like I was very lucky to have played under such a great coach in Jay Vidovich. In the past couple years he has helped produce a number of players in MLS like Michael Parkhurst, Will Hesmer, Scott Sealy, and Brian Carroll (to name a few). The program he has built was a perfect environment for me and my development.
What is your preferred position as a player?
-I would have to say I’m most comfortable at center back, although I’m becoming more and more comfortable as a holding midfielder. I spent some time at right back in college and in training here in Toronto. At this point I’m just trying to become a complete player since we will be losing a lot of guys for the Olympics and other international duties. I want to be able to step in wherever I’m needed.
Many players have complained to me about field turf, what are your feelings when it comes to playing on it?
-To be honest I’ve never really liked it. I’m still pretty young so I don’t feel the soreness as much like a lot of older players do. It’s nice that the surface never really gets worn down or damaged like a grass field can. It does, however, produce some unexpected bounces and I feel like striking the ball on turf takes a different kind of technique as opposed to grass. I’ve also had some trouble with the ball sticking to my feet on turf but I don’t want to blame that on the surface. It is what it is, we just have to deal with it and try and play.
You have yet to step on the field in a game for Toronto FC. How do you deal with the change from the NCAA, where you were a integral part to your team, to the MLS where you are a rookie waiting his turn on a contender?
-It’s obviously a bit frustrating but it’s the nature of the professional game. Although I’ve never been on a team where I haven’t been a consistent starter, I realize that I will have to pay my dues and work hard to prove that I deserve to be on the field. Experience is crucial in the professional ranks so I understand that the older and more experienced players will most likely play more than I will. Having said that, it’s my job to make sure that the players who are playing in front of me deserve to be out there and I will do my best to make it very difficult for them to keep their spots.
Is there a player that takes the role of leader in the locker room, and lets the team know when they need to perform better?
-Obviously Jim Brennan is our captain and the vocal leader of the team. He isn’t the only one though; we have several veterans (like Tyrone Marshall, Carl Robinson, Danny Dichio, and Greg Sutton) who know when it is time to speak up and let the team know when things need to get better.
John Carver was hired at the beginning of this season and I have personally received nothing but great reviews from players about him. How has he impacted you as a player?
-JC has been a fantastic addition to the club in my opinion. He has a created a very professional atmosphere and really pays attention to detail trying to do things the right way. He is very committed to the development of the younger players and does a good job of making all the players feel like they are part of the team regardless of whether or not they play a lot of minutes. What I like most about him as a coach is that everything he does is done for a reason; everything has a purpose which helps to keep me focused on what I need to do to get better and help the team perform well.
How did the team mentality change once Rohan Ricketts, Laurent Robert and Amado Guevara were added to the team? Did you notice a change in the confidence level of the team?
-There was a 2 week period or so where the team wasn’t really a team. Within a couple weeks we released Boyens, Samuel, and Hemming, and signed Ricketts, Guevara, Robert, and Tebily. It was kind of strange to have so much movement within the team in such a short period of time but once the roster was set and we started to get a feel of everyone the team’s confidence shot through the roof. Although the future of the team was a little uncertain at the beginning of the season things have leveled out considerable. Now we’re very confident and learning to play well together.
Which player has helped you the most while with TFC?
-At this point I would have to say Carl Robinson. He’s a very down to earth individual and always has great advice for the younger players. He’s made my transition into MLS much easier than I thought it would be.
Going forward, what are your personal goals as a player, and how do you see this season shaping out for Toronto FC?
-My personal goals are to keep improving everyday and to be prepared to step into any situation at any given time. As a rookie I know I’m not guaranteed anything so when my opportunity does come I have to be ready. While the season started out on a rough note, the past few games have given the team, and the fans, a lot of confidence. I think it has helped being at home and the new additions to the team have obviously had a significant impact. I think it’s important for the team to avoid becoming complacent with our performance. As JC says all the time, “don’t think we’ve cracked it.” We need to keep working hard each day and try to get better in every training session. I’ve very excited about the future of the team and I think this season will be a dramatic change from last season. I can’t wait to see how it all pans out.