15/30 INTERVIEW – TAYLOR GRAHAM
Taylor Graham was the centre half for the USL Sounders last season and previously had stints in MLS for Kansas City and New York. The 28 year-old native of Fairbanks, California, was named on the All-USL-1 team last year and made the finalists for defender of the year.
Under quite bizarre circumstances, he played four times for Puerto Ricoâ€™s international side. He was awarded an MLS contract recently and spoke to Prost Amerika from Sounders FC’s pre-season training camp in California.
PROST AMERIKA: Congratulations on securing an MLS deal, how did you find out about your contract offer?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: I started talking with the Sounders just around the holidays, and finally agreed to terms in the middle of January right before the start of preseason. It was a great feeling to get it done before camp started.
PROST AMERIKA: How does this crop of players compare to your previous squads in MLS at Kansas and New York?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: Preseason is a time for any team for players to get fit, mesh with all the players, and try to get rid of some of the rust from the off season. This year with the Sounders FC is different because the majority of players have never played together. That is the nature of expansion teams. So for us, it is more of a challenge to learn the personalities, strengths, and weaknesses of out teammates while trying to get fit at the same time. Thus far it has been fun!
PROST AMERIKA: Do you feel youâ€™ve something additional to prove to fans of those clubs?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: Soccer is no different from other sports. There are certain situations where a player is able to thrive, and others where it is harder to do so. My time in Seattle in the USL has been amazing. I felt comfortable with the players, coaches, and organization as a whole. My times in KC and NY were amazing in some regards, and more challenging in others. I do not feel any pressure to perform for fans in other citiesâ€¦. I only feel the need to perform for myself, my teammates, and coaches.
“Playing with Freddie and Kasey Will be Pretty Special”
PROST AMERIKA: Is there anyone player youâ€™re really excited about playing with?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: Obviously playing with guys like Freddie Ljungberg, and Keller is going to be pretty special, but I am glad that I do not have to mark Nate Jaqua any moreâ€¦. I would much rather have him as a teammate than as an opponent.
PROST AMERIKA: Many fans may not know that youâ€™re a Puerto Rican international. How did that come about?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: Last year I got a call from Colin Clarke asking me if I would like to play for the Puerto Rican national team. I thought it was a joke at first because I am not of Puerto Rican descent, but he said that because it was an American territory, I could play with them if I wanted. After weighing the pros and cons, I decided it would be both an amazing life and soccer experience. My illustrious international career only lasted 4 weeks before CONCACAF clarified the rules regarding who was eligible to play for the PR team.
PROST AMERIKA: Unusually your international manager Colin Clarke, also manages the Puerto Rico Islanders. Did you make any particular allowances for playing with or against your own manager?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: Going back to Puerto Rico in 2008 to play the USL team after being a part of the national team was pretty fun. Colin is a competitor, as am I. During the game we shared some pointed comments to each other, but afterwards it was nothing but smiles. He has done a great job with the USL team, and I expect the same will happen with the national team.
PROST AMERIKA: Tell me about scoring against Bermuda.
TAYLOR GRAHAM: It was the first game for Puerto Rico in about 5 years or so, and everyone was excited to take the pitch. I scored on a header just after half time, and it was a great feeling to both score, and be a part of something historical for the sport of soccer in Puerto Rico.
PROST AMERIKA: How important is it for the seamless transition from community club to large organisation to have USL Sounders making the step up? How important do you see Sounders FCâ€™s community work to the expansion of the organization?
“Great to See How Soccer is Being Embraced in Seattle”
TAYLOR GRAHAM: It is great to see the way soccer is being embraced in the city of Seattle. The number of season tickets sold thus far is a testament to the popularity of the sport in the pacific northwest, and the hard work of the Sounders FC organization. But I cannot help to think that it would have been great to have had some of that support for the past several USL seasons. When people ask me, â€œWhat do you think about Seattle having a professional soccer team now?â€ I cannot help but say that Seattle has had a quality professional soccer organization for the past decade of so. But overall, I am really excited to be a part of the inagural MLS season in Seattle.
PROST AMERIKA: How useful will your command of the Spanish language be on and off the pitch this year?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: It will be quite useful this year with the addition of Freddie Montero and Osvaldo Alonso, players that only speak Spanish. In preseason thus far I have been the team translator, a role that I love and embrace.
PROST AMERIKA: Do you think youâ€™re a better player than when you last tried MLS? If so, in what areas have you improved?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: I think that soccer is like any other profession; experience is the key to getting better, and now I have played for two more seasons. I know that the speed of play is faster at the MLS than the USL, but I think I can adjust myself to these changes.
PROST AMERIKA: What was your reaction to the appointment of Schmetz to the new club?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: I could not have been happier for him. He has done so much for the sport of soccer in Seattle, and for me personally, that I was ecstatic to see that he was hired. I look forward to working with him again this year.
PROST AMERIKA: What players are you particularly looking forward to playing against?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: There are a lot of quality players in the MLS, but a few that I am looking forward to playing against are Beckham (if he stays in MLS), Brian McBride, and Juan Pablo Angel.
PROST AMERIKA: Although a friendly against LA today, how did it feel to put on that Sounders FC jersey against an opponent for the first time in history?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: It was quite special. There were a lot of new faces on the pitch, but the sense of pride for wearing the Sounders jersey for the first time in MLS history was something that no one will ever be able to take away from me. Getting a win was the icing on the cake.
PROST AMERIKA: How do you rate the other players at the club in your position?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: The roster is always changing, and we just acquired Tyrone Marshall who is another center back. All I can worry about it getting better everyday, working as hard as I possibly can, and doing was I can do to make our team better. If I do that, then whatever happens will happen.
PROST AMERIKA: Finally, your close friend Roger Levesque and your centre-half colleague of last year, Danny Jackson, are both still striving for an MLS place. What would it mean to you, in each case, to have them on the squad?
TAYLOR GRAHAM: I will not hide the fact that I would love to see all the guys from the 2008 USL Sounders team to be apart of the MLS team. They are great players, people, and friends, and I know that they are hoping for the best. I will be rooting for them just like all the fans of USL Seattle Sounders.