With a 3-2 win over D.C. United Saturday night, Brad Friedel is halfway through his first season as head coach of the New England Revolution. Sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference and on a six-game unbeaten run, Friedel’s performance has exceeded expectations.
It’s his first major coaching job following a remarkable 20-year goalkeeping career. Despite his supposed lack of experience, Friedel has so far shown a deft touch.
Visibly unhappy with the Revs’ first half performance on Saturday, he called it the worst half of the season, despite New England emerging with a 2-1 lead. It’s an honesty and frankness that’s won him plaudits among fans and analysts.
Friedel recently spoke to Boston.com on a range of topics, including the ongoing World Cup.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Halfway through your first season in New England, has anything about this job surprised you?
Brad Friedel: No surprises, for me or my staff so far. We knew what we were doing when we came to interview, and what to expect. I know people said this is your first professional coaching job, but I’ve been coaching for some time. And I was involved in the game for so many years. I’ve been around some incredibly gifted coaches. You have to problem solve on a daily basis, but it’s not a surprise. You know that when you take the job.
You were doing some scouting recently. Any updates on that front?
Friedel: I’ll put it this way: We’re always looking to add players if they can help the squad. They have to make the squad better in quality if we’re going to do anything. We’re not going to sign players just to sign a player. I’ve said many times that we have a talented squad, and any player that we bring in is going to have to be very good.
Yes, I was out watching a player, and we’ll see what happens.
On a basic level, what is your scouting process, and how much does the game you see matter in determining if you’ll sign him?
Friedel: Seeing a player is just a small piece of a much larger process. By the time I go and scout, it’s already gone through our chief scout, our entire staff, through the talking process of us using our contacts worldwide to find out the character of the player. It’s a long process, and by the time we get serious about a player then it’ll be for me to go and watch and get a close up view. It’s a long process.
Speaking of watching, how much of the World Cup have you gotten a chance to see?
Friedel: I’ve been watching just as a fan enjoying games. Obviously with the U.S. not being in it, we don’t have a vested interest in it, but I have a lot of friends playing. Even though it was more of a friendly between Belgium and England, but I saw a lot of friends on both sides of the ball. And that’s really where it lies for me. We’re in the middle of our season, so we’re busy, but the games were always on the TV.
In your own World Cup experience, you had a knack for making penalty shot saves. What was your mindset facing penalties at that level?
Friedel: Pretty relaxed, to be honest with you. It’s the one time in the goalkeeper’s life where you generally don’t get the blame for the goal if it goes in. All the pressure is on the striker. Yes, I used to do my homework on the penalty takers, but the pressure really goes on to them. So when the penalty was called, it really wasn’t a time to get pent up and stressed about it. It was really a time where I relaxed and tried to read the shooter and see how they looked.
On the subject of goalkeepers, what have been your thoughts on the emergence of Matt Turner as the Revs’ starter?
Friedel: First thing I’ll say is we have three outstanding goalkeepers. And in the offseason we told Matt as he was coming in that he was No. 3, but he would have a fair shot at earning the No. 1 spot. Our goalkeeper coach, Ruben Garcia, works with them every single day, and from minute one stated that this is going to be a really good battle. It came down to Matt’s performances in training, matches and discussions with the staff. We had no problem starting any of the three. We decided on Matt, and he’s performed very well. We’re now at the halfway point of the season, so he’s got another half to perform in.
Even before you took this job, you stated that developing youth was central to your coaching philosophy. How do you see that in terms of the current – and future – Revs setup?
Friedel: I do believe in the development of youth, but the young players have to be ready to come into the first team. But I also think it’s essential to have a mixture of experienced players as well. I think when we go out and sign a player and spend money, it’s important that they have value in the loan and transfer market, without a doubt. That’s just part and parcel with the business that we’re in. But we’re making a lot of strides with the academy. We will give the players a chance regardless of their age, but they have to be ready as well. We’re not just going to put someone out there because they’re young.