With the MNUFC Development Academy’s fall phase in the books and winter training and the spring phase ahead, we sat down with U14 captain Cullen Connaker and U13 captain Merrick Schaefer to find out how things have gone so far and get to know them a little better. Both play center back and they agree on several important things: their favorite movies are comedies, their favorite subject is math, and they’re both fans of Sergio Ramos — no surprise there, given their position.
MNUFC: Have you always played center back?
Merrick Schaefer: No, I used to be a forward for my last club, but [Coach Seidel] changed me to center back, and I just work there.
Cullen Connaker: I’ve kind of played everywhere. When I was young, I played left forward. And then gradually as I got older, I went through the midfield. And I liked it, but I didn’t like it a ton. So then I tried center back, and I liked it. It’s fun playing as a stopper. So that’s what I developed into.
Merrick: It’s not much of a goal scoring position, so you don’t get much attention, but it’s more fun when you can make slides and tackles.
MNUFC: Why do you think center backs make good captains?
Cullen: I like being able to see the field and tell people what they can do. Or just give them information and pass the ball to anyone.
Merrick: Probably because you can see the whole field. And you know where everybody is going, and you can see where everybody is standing. It’s an easy leading position where you can see what’s going on.
MNUFC: What was the best part of the fall phase for you?
Merrick: I learned a lot [about playing] center back. Because when I came to Minnesota United, I didn’t know much about center back. I just tried out the position. And I learned a lot in terms of where I should pass the ball and receiving. So once you learn the position, it’s a lot more fun to play, because you can start making plays and do cool stuff.
Cullen: One of the better moments for me was being able to play in the big stadium [at the National Sports Center]. I also like playing other MLS teams, just to see how good the other MLS teams are compared to us.
MNUFC: How have you seen your game grow over the last few months and what do you want to work on heading into winter training and the spring phase?
Cullen: I think I’ve gotten more aware of better competition and how to play better, and not just, like, kicking it up the field. Being able to possess the ball, and control the ball, and be calm with the ball. And controlling yourself and where to go, a lot. I think Coach Carter helped me with that, a ton. I want to work on being able to find a lot of better passes. Like, instead of if I can find the right back, maybe if I can slide it through the midfield and beat other players. And just working on opening up and finding it quicker, so then I have more time and options instead of, you know, when you take your time and everything closes down.
Merrick: I make good passes sometimes, but I need to make smarter decisions, probably. Just take a longer look and not just go right away with the first thing I see.
MNUFC: How did you cope with all of the travel?
Cullen: Michigan was a long trip. We left at, like, 8:00 a.m. and got there at 11:30 p.m. A lot of us bring cards. Or just talk, or play on our phones. We have homework sessions, too.
Merrick: It was a good time to bond with teammates. We started to get to know each other a lot more, which helped us in the games, where we were more comfortable passing the ball to each other and working off of each other.
MNUFC: How do you see your responsibilities as captain of your team?
Merrick: Not just on the field, but off the field. If anybody is messing around, I have to keep them in line. And if anybody is doing something they aren’t supposed to be doing, just keep them doing the right thing. And then also, on the field, every time I pass the ball, telling the next player what to do. Or every time I get the ball, expecting people to help me out, and then helping them out, too.
Cullen: Make sure at practice everyone is doing what they need to do, not messing around or not taking it seriously. Because where we are now, you don’t not take it seriously.