BRIAN SCIARETTA - Saturday, January 22, 2011
With the US national team prepared to take on Chile Saturday night at the Home Depot Center, the most intriguing player in this camp is Eugene Starikov of Tom Tomsk of the Russian Premier League who will be looking for his first international cap.
Starikov, 22, was excited to get the call to take part in the annual January camp for the national team and now on the cusp of his international debut, the former Stetson University Hatter feels ready.
"I feel good," Starikov told YA after Friday's practice. "I think the team feels confident. We have to play well and just how coach Bradley has told us. I think we'll be alright. I'm not nervous. I just look at it as a regular game. Of course it's with the national team but I'm feeling alright."
The January camp has also given Bob Bradley a good chance to evaluate Starikov for an extended period of time. So far, the coach likes what he sees but stresses that the true test will come in a competitive game which suggest he will want to look at the Russian-based attacker against Chile.
"Technically a good player," Bradley said of Starikov. "[He's] tight with the ball and able to hold onto it [and] make good passes. Like a lot of these guys, we need to see what it's like in games."
While Bradley has been complementary of how Starikov has trained, the Soviet-Ukrainian born player had similarly kind words about his national team coach and the style Bradley tries to implement.
"It's definitely a style that I like to play in," Starikov stressed. "[Coach Bradley] is always trying to move the ball forward and play attacking [soccer]. It's not just nailing it forward and run after it. That's what I like. It's how [soccer] should be played."
Starikov has felt at home playing under Bradley in large part because it closely resembles the style of Tom Tomsk's head coach Valeri Nepomniachi.
"It's similar," Starikov compared of the national team's style to that of his club. "With Tomsk we play just a little bit more with the wide players. But here, as training camp has gone on, Coach Bradley has been influencing us to play more with the outsides."
While he feels the playing styles of the teams are similar, Starikov's role with each team is different. Nepomniachi has used Starikov as a striker but over the past few weeks with the national team, Bradley has been playing him on the wings.
Starikov insists it hasn't been difficult to play different positions since he has developed a good chemistry on the field with his teammates.
"So far with the national team I am playing more out wide as a wide player," Starikov discussed. "With the club, it's the opposite. I play as a second striker. It's not tough as long as I understand what the team wants and the team understands what I'm going to do. I think we've been playing well together and understanding each other. It's going good."
Following this camp, Starikov will return to Russia to begin another season in the Russian Premier League. His rise with the team in the second half of the season has given him confidence which has been further reinforced by the positive conversations he has had with Nepomniachi during this off-season.
"No one likes to sit on the bench," Starikov said of continuing the strong play into the upcoming season. "Everyone wants to play. We've had some good talks with my coach, Valeri Nepomniachi. He's helped me out a lot. I think everything will work out great."
In the Russian Premier League this season Starikov will once again likely be the only American in the league and he is the only American to have ever played in that country's top league. He enjoys the notoriety of that fact but since he was born in the former Soviet Union and speaks Russian, it isn't all that much different.
"It feels good," Starikov said of being the first ever American in the RPL. "It's just another stat. With knowing the language, it's just regular for me. I'm just another player out there."
While it's normal for him now, Starikov did admit that things were different initially when he arrived in Russia to play for his first club, Zenit St. Petersburg.
"In the beginning I was a little bit," Starikov recalled when asked if he was perceived as being different as an American. "Not problems but there were questions and everyone was interested. Now, after time, they are the same players as me. We just get out and play together."
Starikov will now hope to return to Russia as an international player when he will likely make his debut appearance with the US national team on Saturday when they take on Chile.