With the Chicago Riot home opener only 4 short days away, I had the pleasure and privilege to interview Chicago Riot captain Fred Degand. He was courteous to take a few minutes out of his hectic schedule preparing for the season opener to answer some questions. Follow me after the break to hear Fred talk about things like his life growing up playing soccer, his route to the Chicago Riot, how the team is coming together, and his favorite soccer moments.
1, Fred, please start off by giving me a little on your soccer background. How long have you been playing? What teams/leagues did you play for when you were younger? How did you get into indoor soccer?
I grew up playing from a young age. Apart from playing for school teams and clubs, I really broke into the higher levels of soccer when I played for the U-16 Chicago Sockers, when we went on to win the National Championship in 1995. I had the incredible privilege of playing for Brazilian legend Batata on that team.
After high school, I attended Bowling Green State University in the MAC athletic conference. From there, I moved on to the Hershey Wildcats, a professional A-League team in Pennsylvania. I did have a brief call up with DC United of the MLS, but moved on to play primarily in the A-League after that.
In 2002, I took the next step in my career, and joined the Cleveland Force. At the time, I was playing outdoor soccer for about 6 months of the year, and then played indoor soccer with Cleveland for the other 6 months. They had originally drafted me earlier out of college since I had been playing in Ohio in college, but I decided not to accept the offer at the time out of college. After having played for Cleveland for awhile, I was actually traded to Baltimore. I decided to take some time off from soccer. I was gone between 2 and 3 years, with part of that time off nursing a blown out ACL. It was then that I decided to make a comeback.
Interview continues after the break
2. After you had decided to make indoor soccer a career, how did you path to the MISL, and specifically the Chicago Riot, end up playing out?
I decided to make my comeback, and did so with the Chicago Storm, and played for Frank Klopas. From there, I moved on to the Rockford Rampage of the ASL, and finally was acquired by the Chicago Riot for their inaugural season. Roughly 8-10 Rockford players ended up being acquired by the Riot, so many of us had a head start by already knowing and being familiar with our teammates while with the Rampage.
3. What are your thoughts so far on being a member of the Riot?
It’s been great so far. I feel very fortunate to get to play with great players like Novica Marojevic, Jeff Richey, and Semir Mesanovic. The team has some great young players as well that play with a ton of heart and energy and bring a lot to the table. Intangibles like these are things you simply cannot teach.
Again, it’s nice to have a portion of the team be guys I know from Rockford, but at the same time, many of them are younger, so the energy and hunger and desire and heart is definitely there, and the experience will come as more and more matches are played.
We have a first class owner in Peter Wilt, and Tom Dunmore has done an excellent job so far. The level of professionalism at the Riot is way above that of Rockford or some of the other places I have played. I am very pleased to be with the Riot.
4. Even though the team hasn’t had a chance to practice or play together a whole lot yet, how do you feel the team is “gelling” so far? Is there a feeling of familiarity between the players beginning to form?
I do have a sense of the team beginning to come together. It’s always interesting for a new group of players to learn and become familiar with each other and start to become cohesive as a team. I definitely can tell that the competition is not letting up. There are players battling for time at every position, but it is good, constructive competition.
For example, I think we were both pleased and disappointed with our recent match with Costa Guerrero. While I think we were happy with scoring 10 goals, we were also disappointed by giving up 7 goals. I think this is something we will definitely improve on as we get a chance to play more games together.
5. Of all the places you have played, what are some things that stick out for you about the soccer atmosphere in Chicago? How does it differ or how is it similar from some other places you have played?
Having lived in 8 different cities, I think each city has their portion of passionate fans. However, one thing that sets Chicago aside from other cities is the level of passion the soccer fans have. We get tremendous, huge support from the fans, and that really helps motivate the players.
I also think Chicago is great because it features many highly competitive men’s leagues at various skill levels. These are played by people of many different ethnicities, which helps subject players to varying styles of play. Thus, Chicago soccer can build on all these great players and all of this experience with soccer styles to further the quality of the players and the leagues that Chicago features. I think our recent opponent, Costa Guerrero, was a very diverse team, and I think this helps them to be successful and helped them play very well in their recent match against the Riot.
6. What would you say are some of the unique challenges or differences between indoor soccer and “conventional soccer”?
Fitness is definitely a whole different level/world when comparing indoor and outdoor soccer. Indoor soccer focuses more on explosiveness and quick movements and sprints. Outdoor soccer focuses more on longer distances and endurance running.
A great outdoor player can be very good at indoor soccer, but many times it is hard for them to grasp and adjust to. Indoor soccer is played in a much more confined environment, and I feel mistakes are punished much more in indoor soccer. I think there is more recovery time in outdoor soccer, even if a mistake is made.
However, with that being said, the same is also true in the case of and indoor soccer player trying to learn to play outdoors. The spaces are much bigger and less confining, but there is a lot more ground to cover and the dynamics of the game can be very different, which can make it tough on indoor players.
7. Fred, what is your favorite soccer moment or memory that you participated directly in? What is your favorite moment or memory that you watched or experienced as a non-player?
Easily, my favorite memory that I participated in would be the 1995 National Championship I won with the Sockers in Palm Beach. Almost all of the players on that team went on to play major division 1 soccer in college, and many of those players still play at various levels. It was also neat to win a championship with those guys, then go on and get to play against them don the road with other clubs or in college.
Apart from winning that championship, I truly enjoyed the memories of playing for Brazilian legend Batata. He taught me the game, gave me much the knowledge of the game I have now, and I feel like I really owe my soccer career to him in terms of the knowledge I have.
I try to pass that on to younger players by coaching youth soccer now. I have even gotten a chance to coach against Batana and receive praise from him! It was a really cool experience, and I enjoy working with all of the youth players and being able to coach them.
As far as favorite memory as a spectator, I would have to say the World Cup games in 1994 I attended at Soldier Field. Even though I don’t remember who played, I ended up going to 2 or 3 games, and I was amazed at the passions displayed by fans of other countries. Soccer wasn’t near where it is now, so I think that World Cup was really a wake up call to get US soccer going, It showed us what the game meant to others around the world, and I think it started the “tidal wave” of soccer passion that we are enjoying now in the US.
8. Lastly, what do you think of your home park, the Odeum in Villa Park? It seems like it will be a loud, intimate venue to pay your home games in.
I think the home crowd will be great. It will be really intense in the Odeum, which will help create a high level atmosphere. The Odeum has had high level men’s league games in the facility for quite a while on Friday and Saturday nights and on Sundays. So, there is already quality competition in the building, and I think we can draw from that.
I think the Odeum has a nice, old school “Rocky” type of feeling. We definitely can play off that theme of the old days. The noise level will be really great, especially for the opener against the Milwaukee Wave. Their fans travel very well, and hopefully we will get a good rivalry going with them. It will definitely be a great relationship to build on between the teams.