[INTERVIEW] Discovered by former Chivas USA coach Preki while playing amateur soccer, third-year striker Justin Braun is adjusting to a new coach, Martin Vasquez, whose attacking philosophies have enabled Braun to score as many goals this year -- seven -- as he tallied in his first two pro seasons. Braun, a 23-year-old Utah product, explains how Chivas USA has recovered from its slow start ...
SOCCER AMERICA: Chivas USA had a rough start to the season, but hasn’t lost in the last four league games and is coming off a 3-1 defeat of Columbus. This is Martin’s first season as a head coach, how has he kept the team’s spirit strong?
JUSTIN BRAUN: From day one, I think the team has always believed in the system and the style of play he’s tried to instill in us. Even when we going through some tough times he was sticking to that system. We’ve had a couple guys who have come in and helped us out. The team has been in good form of late and things are starting to click. We’re over that adjustment period and now we’re a new team from a couple of years ago under Preki. It’s a new style.
SA: Preki was a great attacking player but emphasized defense as a coach. Martin played primarily in a defensive role yet has instilled an attacking mindset. How has this changed your game?
JB He wants to go offense first and defense second. For me it’s good, I can get a lot more chances and not be so worried about the defensive side of things.
I have a lot more freedom in the attacking third. He wants me to go at players when I can and not always look to pass first and not work so much when we don’t have the ball. That way I’ll have more energy for when we have the ball so I can go forward and attack people and create chances. It’s been working for me so far as far as getting goals and the team doing well of late.
SA: What else about your game is different?
JB I think my technical stuff has improved a lot. I’m looking forward a lot more to combine, whereas maybe before I was a little more timid attacking-wise. I’ve worked a lot on my first touch and getting set up to make that next pass. That’s been a big help in my game so far. I’ve definitely been a more dynamic player this year.”
SA: Preki spotted you playing for an amateur team at Home Depot Center in a tournament. With that unconventional background, how long did it take you to feel confident at the pro level?
JB That first year and even last year I was kind of finding myself. This year I think I’ve found myself as a player. There have been a lot of changes for sure. There’s definitely an adjustment to the level and the speed and taking on the things to be a good pro.
SA: A lot of the veterans who were on the team when you came aboard in 2008 have moved on. Which teammates helped you the most get up to speed on the pro game?
JB Ante Razov was a big one for me. He kind of took me under his wing and helped me through things, along with Sacha [Kljestan]. He’s kind of a young player but he was established at the time and had a lot of experience. It seems like those two took me aside and told me little things I could do to help me improve.
Also, Preki. He was the one who found me and was always there trying to help me out when things weren’t going well or if I was struggling. He had good advice and helped me become a better player.
There are a lot of guys now who haven’t been with Chivas as long [as me]. I’ve definitely increased my leadership role. I’ve tried to step up more and take responsibility for things. I’m not a vocal leader but more a leader on the field and in my play. By working hard that makes other guys want to work hard as well.
SA: What has changed to get some good results after struggling so much the first half of the season.
JB We’ve been working for each other and recently one of the big things I’ve noticed even though we’re more offensive under Martin, the difference is that we haven’t been giving up as many goals.”
SA: So will that be the key to making a strong push for the playoffs?
JB We have to continue to be tight and organized and not giving anything up. Right now, we’re taking it one game at a time and trying to get points every time we step on the field. Anything less than a win is going to be hurting us. We’re going out there with the mentality we have to win to keep ourselves alive and get that playoff slot.
We just have to worry about ourselves and not what other teams are doing. If we go out and do our job we’ll come away with a playoff spot.
SA: And I guess you’re not too upset that the Galaxy has been stumbling of late.
JB No, not at all. They’ve done well but it’s nice to know they’re a team that can lose, too.