It has been quite the year for D.C. United center-back Donovan Pines. After winning the NCAA Men’s Division I Championship for the Maryland Terrapins, Pines opted make the jump to Major League Soccer signing a Homegrown Player contract with D.C. United. In just one season Pines has climbed his way into the rotation for the veteran side earning his spot in the back four rotation for the Black and Red.
Sean Maslin had the chance to talk to Donovan about his strong rookie season, getting the chance to play in the playoffs, developing his game at both United and with Maryland, and the differences between the college and professional games.
Sean Maslin: How are you feeling after a long season?
Donovan Pines: It has been great. It has been a bit of a blur for me since it is my rookie season but I feel like I have learned so much in a short period so it has been a great experience.
SM: Getting the chance to play in a playoff match is obviously a massive moment for you and the team. Have you noticed a change at all in practice in recent weeks in terms of the intensity or the energy?
DP:So I have noticed some differences in my teammates nuances and how they take care of themselves. This is a really important time of the season and in any competition you want to have full focus, get all of the jitters out of your system, and focus on what you have to do. Our practices have gotten a little more intense and you can see players are paying a little more attention to treatment and taking care some of the stuff off of the field so they can be prepared on the field.
SM: How do you think that playing for D.C. United at a youth level helped you prepare for the senior team?
DP: I think it prepared me for taking on the challenge of playing against players who are a few years older than me. At the Academy as a 13 year old I would have to play against players at the U15-U16 level and would have to play against players with more experience and deal with the physicality. So it helped me develop the mindset of playing against players who are at a different experience level. I also had the chance to practice and train with the first team. So it was really good that I was exposed to that at such an early age so I knew how hard that I had to work. It was a great experience and learning developing as a player at the D.C. [United] Academy.
SM: What’s the best part about growing up in an area like in the DMV that has so many teams and players and such a rich soccer culture?
DP: I think the DMV has the best talent in the country. I feel like growing up I was challenged and that I was playing against some great competition in travel soccer. It was always challenging and growing up there were some great teams and some great players and I was did my best to compete with them.
SM: This time last year you were playing for Maryland. What was so special about that team and how great is it to see so many of your former teammates making an impact in MLS?
DP: I am just so proud of that team and what we were able to accomplish last season. To win the title last season we just dug deep and focused what we needed to do at every stage of the season. We knew that we had one of the toughest schedules in the country so we kind knew that we were one of the best teams in the country. So we really worked hard on finding our identity and so then it became a bit of a struggle. But then we worked together and we focused on how we can beat each team. We knew that we had a good defense and we knew that if we can get a goal quick then we can defend the rest of the game. So our goal was always to get a goal within the first 25 minutes and then defend. Most teams in college soccer have one player so who is a threat [on the attack] so if we could shut them down, most college teams couldn’t respond. So some of it was tactical but we also had to come together and realizing that we were brothers and that we were fighting for a title. For me, I was a few years younger than the other guys and I consider them my best friends and my brothers I really wanted them to win something. So I really took it upon myself to give everything I had last year and I am so proud of all of them. Most of the seniors from last year are either in USL or MLS and are doing great. Chase Gasper is doing so well and for me I always competing with him and it is great to see him doing well. But I am so proud of him and I hope he gets the Rookie of the Year because he really deserves it.
SM: At Maryland you had the chance to play under coach Sasho Cirovski, whose has developed so many players that have had lengthy professional careers. In your eyes what makes him such a great coach and how has he helped you personally and professionally?
DP:With Sasho you have to earn his trust and I trust him. With him he always wants to give one percent effort especially during practice and to work your butt off and if he believes in you, he believes in you. If you show that him that you are giving that you have in practice and off of the field then he will doing everything he can for you. He is also a big believer in academics and wants his players to succeed in the classroom as well as on the field. He was a father figure for me and was always checking in on me to see if needed tutoring. In terms of on the field he would check on how I am doing with my heading and finishing. So he always checking in on me to see how I am doing with the things that would make me a more well-rounded player. I always appreciated how much time he put into helping me believe in myself and helping me develop as a center-back.
SM: What has been the biggest adjustment for you in going from the college game to the professional game?
DP: I think the physicality and having to be aware at all times. I was getting pretty good at that towards the end of the season at Maryland. Getting the chance to play for Loudoun [D.C. United’s second division side in the USL] helped because I got a sense of how different things were at the next level. Then moving up to MLS I think you have try to and be at the right place at the right time. You also have to be aware of what is going on around you because everyone is just fast, quicker, smarter and has more experience so adjust to the speed and just where you should be on the field. So I have really been working on being aware of my surroundings.