James Collins felt his Wolves under-21 team still have plenty of improvements to make despite taking victory over Chelsea in their opening match of the MLS NEXT Pro Invitational tournament.
The development squad – minus those who are with Bruno Lage’s first-team in Alicante – flew out to Salt Lake City on Monday ahead of the pre-season competition, which will also see Collins’ side take on US clubs Real Monarchs and Colorado Rapids 2.
But in their first match of the tournament, a penalty from Ollie Tipton and a Lee Harkin finish helped Wolves to victory over fellow Premier League 2 outfit Chelsea, but in spite of the promising start to their campaign, the head coach is setting the standards high and calling for improvements from his young players.
On getting off to a good start
“You don’t beat a team like Chelsea, one of the best academies in the country and in the world, without earning it and I thought we earned it tonight.
“We had to defend well, we had to stick together, we had to show team spirit, we had to show character, and they are all things that we’ve been talking to them about this week, so I thought we did that in abundance.
“I was a little bit disappointed with our play on the ball, and the lads used the Astro Turf surface as a little bit of an excuse, but it isn’t. We’ve got to keep the ball better, we’ve got to pass the ball better, because if you don’t, teams like Chelsea do punish you.
“Maybe we got away with it a bit tonight, but you get what you earn and you get what you work for, and they put their bodies on the line and they worked their socks off, and we should have got a third goal as well, and in the end we probably had the best chances, but I’d like us to keep the ball better.”
On stetting high standards
“They put their bodies on the line, but I would have liked for us to control the game better towards the end. It isn’t easy when the momentum is going against you, but what we did do is show real spirit.
“We had a 24-hour day flying over, we trained in 40-degree heat for two, three days, we trained again this morning because it’s pre-season and it’s not about the results for us, we’re trying to get them fit for the season, so to come out tonight and some of them had to play 90 minutes, and it’s still stifling hot now at 10.30pm, I’ve got to give them great credit for that.
“But we’ve got to set standards high, and I’ve said to them in there that they have to do better, they’ve got to pass better, and show more quality in possession. But the bits of quality we showed were excellent.”
On the first week in the US
“It’s a stunning setting and an absolute privilege. We’re getting paid for this! I have to pinch myself. To come here, with the mountains in the background, and the sun setting late in the day, it’s beautiful.
“And I didn’t have to play in it, so it’s not been too bad for me! The boys were talking about the altitude as we’re quite high up here and by ten minutes they were trying to get their second wind and they couldn’t get it.
“But we hope that ten days up here and ten days working hard will prepare us well for the season and hopefully we can represent the club well.
“There’s quite a few supporters here in gold shirts. I was quite shocked that we’re the other side of the world but they’re popping up all over the place, so it was great to see them, and hopefully they’ve gone away happy because we’ve won the game.”
On team togetherness
“We set four objectives when we came to the players. One of them was to get fir for the coming season, and one of them was to build spirit and unity in the group, and nights like tonight don’t half help that.
“They realised that if you work hard, if you work for each other, if you put your team before yourself – all things you’re going to need to do if you want to be a league footballer or Premier League footballer – then you get results, you get rewards.
“They’re buzzing in there, they’re delighted in there, but that’s only come from hard work and togetherness and going into another game in a day and a half’s time, which will be tough at 11am here, it will be even hotter than tonight, against the local team, it will be a real challenge.
“Hopefully the strengths that they got from tonight will help them.”