We sat down with FC Tampa Bay head coach Ricky Hill to get his thoughts on the 2011 season, the upcoming season and what his plans are for the offseason.
Now that you have had a couple weeks to contemplate, what comes to mind as you reflect on the 2011 season?
"Overall, I would say I was pleased with the effort of all the players. As a squad I think over the course of the season we all improved. When we first came together it was difficult because we were just 22 bodies thrown together and the season was only four weeks away. In the early part of the season we struggled to find a cohesion and a rhythm that suited everybody. At that time there were players coming in and out. Midway through the season, I think it was after we lost 3-1 at Carolina, that things started to change and we got on a fairly good run from that moment on until towards the end of the year. We were very disappointed with how it eventually panned out in regards to us losing a home game against Minnesota, who, with credit to them, went on to win the whole championship. But at the same time, I felt over the course of the season, in terms of games against Minnesota we have always managed to have the upper hand apart from that most important game. It left me disappointed in myself; the team was disappointed, as well as the club. At the same time you cannot take away from the fact that in general, it was a fairly acceptable season, apart from obviously not attaining the championship."
Do you think that having played so well against Minnesota during the regular season and then losing to them in the playoffs fuels more excitement for next year?
"Yes, it certainly does. I hope that those players who are returning next year, who have had seven or eight months of being with me and knowing how I like to work as a coach, will come back ready. I am hoping that the new players will adjust quite quickly. But this is a league that was so competitive in regards to the level of competition of all eight teams. It was one of those situations where on any given day anyone could possibly beat anyone else. To our detriment we found that out in the playoff game against Minnesota, who had not managed to beat us throughout the year and they managed to beat us on a fortuitous type of goal and for all the huffing and puffing during the game we could not manage to blow the ball into the net. When knockout football comes, it is important for the players to grasp that moment, because it is a moment, and it only takes a moment for a goal to go in, and goals do change games. I am hoping next year we will be a year wiser, a year stronger, a year more versed as to how we want to play. I would say we are looking for a marked improvement in regards to when we play the so-called “better teams” of the league –the Carolinas and Puerto Ricos. On occasion we had not had very good fortune during those games, but overall I was disappointed with our level of performance against the so-called better sides in the league, particularly away from home because I know we are capable of matching their skill and level of play."
Do you think as a coach and as a team, you were able to accomplish all of the goals you set out at the beginning of the season?
"No, definitely not. Our aim as a group, and my aim in particular, was to come here and try to win the championship and ultimately by not doing that I certainly am not satisfied with how things went. I am sure the players are not satisfied because I think that there was a belief amongst them that as a group we were capable of going deep into the championship finals. And for us to not get into that situation means that we have come up short in that department, I do not think that there is any real satisfaction. We can look back and reflect on positive things throughout the year, as I said we have become better throughout the season and that is a major positive. But I am disappointed that the season has ended and we have to wait during this period of time to get back to work and back to preseason and build on what we have started to build on last year. So, satisfaction: not really. Disappointment: to an extent. But I guess in football only one team can win."
What is the process that you go through as the season ends and what are you doing now?
"We have come together as a group and we have had our evaluations with the players internally with the players as individuals, and a general overview. We have had to make decisions in regards to certain player's contracts and options. At the moment I know there are a few players whose options were not exercised and they are free to go ahead and look for new pastures. And we wish them well in their endeavors to do so. There are others who are currently negotiating certain contracts, whether it is in regards to extensions or new deals and that is ongoing with the front office. Basically, my job is to look at the makeup of the team, the remaining players, and try to improve on the general quality of the squad. I know you cannot always have 22 starters in your squad. Last year we used 22 or 23 players over the course of the year and I would like to think that every player that came in played his part to a degree. And that is something we are hoping to take into next season and have a strong group of players who are all fighting for starting positions in the first 11."
What are your plans for the offseason?
"I would like to get back to the UK over the festive season in December. I have been away from home for the past eight or nine months. I have probably seen my wife possibly one month during that time, and my daughter one week during that time, which is difficult at times. But this is the life that I have chosen in regards to being a soccer coach and sometimes you have to make sacrifices. I am grateful that they have supported me the way that they have done to allow me to come here and apply my trade. I hope to go back and spend some time with them. While I am there I will still be working from the UK in regards to speaking to players, identifying any possible talent that we would be able to procure and also scouting, going to games over there and looking for potential players we could sign and make our side slightly better."
Do you have any holiday traditions?
"Apart from Christmas dinner, the only tradition we really take part in together is a West Indian Breakfast on Christmas morning. And that consists of the national Jamaican dish called Ackee and Saltfish. It is a very nice fish that can be had for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We normally have it on Christmas morning. We sit collectively and my wife makes that with green bananas or plantains, hard dough bread and hot chocolate and that is probably our only holiday tradition apart from the Christmas meal."
What would you say to the fans of the team after your first season?
"We are really, really appreciative of all the efforts that the fans have made throughout the year. Whether it was a home or away game, we went to places far removed in my estimation, Minnesota for instance, there were fans from Ralph’s Mob there, and we have been to Carolina and there were fans there, we have been to Atlanta and there were fans there. It was tremendous. I am really happy on behalf of all the players that the fans played their part and next year they can rally around us as they have done over the past years. The fans have made Al Lang Stadium a really nice venue for the players to come play. The atmosphere that they create through their encouragement has been really good. I am sure the players are appreciative; I certainly am. I hope next year we can still maintain the same efforts."