I caught up with John via telephone on New Years Eve 2003, while he was back in my neck of the woods -- California -- during the Holiday break. After some technical difficulties on the part of this interviewer, I began by asking how his vacation was going...
O'Brien: Yeah, good. Home with the family, back in L.A., just training with myself, doing some conditioning.
AUSA: Did you get anything good for Christmas?
O'Brien: Yeah, I got this nice little flashlight that fits on my keychain, I'm pretty excited about that. I also got some things for my new house, some housewarming presents.
AUSA: How's your fitness and recovery effort going?
O'Brien: Going well. I played a game with the second team the last week before Christmas break, against FC Twente's first team (an Amstel Cup game). It was a good game to come back in. So I'm fit, pretty much, playing games, practicing, training some here, with weights, that type of thing, so hopefully fitness is not an issue when we start up again in January.
O'Brien's return to competitive action, with Young Ajax during
controversial loss to FC Twente in Amstel Cup competition. [Photo: Ajax.nl]
AUSA: So would you consider yourself 100% fit?
O'Brien: Yeah, I'm 100% fit, like I can partake in training. Obviously, we have the second half of the season coming up and we have about -- well usually it's a month, now it's kind of shortened -- we have about two weeks to get fit, so that should get me in game condition. I'm not that right now, but I'm fit otherwise, I have no problems. I can do everything wth no pain or anything.
AUSA: And you're going to be training with the first team from this point forward?
O'Brien: Yeah, before I came back I was training with the first team. The coach just wanted me to play with the second team.
AUSA: Can you tell me a little bit about that game? I didn't see it, but apparently the goal was based on a referee's error.
O'Brien: Yeah, I actually didn't see it either, I came out around the 70th minute. That was the deal; I was either gonna play a half or 60 minutes, just kind of tell the coach when I was tired. And it was 0-0 when I was in there, and I came out in the 70th minute. The Twente fans were yelling some things the ref didn't like so he (suspended) the game, and we went into the locker room for 15 minutes. On the way back out, I was talking to a guy in the hallway, an old teammate of mine, and he said they scored. So I didn't see what happened, but supposedly, when he stopped the game it was a throw-in, and when he started the game again he gave'em a corner kick. And off of that corner kick they scored. So, that was it. They tried to protest it, but... no deal.
AUSA: What are your short term goals? Obviously your long-term goal is to get your place back in the first eleven, but do you have any interim goals that you'll be able to judge your progress by?
O'Brien: No, I think that's pretty much an interim goal, to get back into the first team. In January I already start games, so then I can play.
AUSA: So are you expecting to be in the first team selection when the season resumes. Not necessarily in the first eleven, but just being selected for the team, for league games?
O'Brien: Yeah, well it depends on how many fit players we have. If we have 20 fit guys then I could be out of it. But in preseason, I'll be with the first team. It's a good chance to go out and show the coach what I can do, and that I can still do it (laughs).
AUSA: Where do you expect to play if you play?
O'Brien: Probably left-fullback. That's the position these coaches usually use me at.
AUSA: Let's talk about the U.S. game coming up in Amsterdam... What do you expect that game to be like for the U.S. players?
John O'Brien pursues Frank de Boer in USA's previous game against Oranje,
prior to the 2002 World Cup. [Photo: Scott Bales/YCJ]
O'Brien: Ah, you know, the U.S. team won't be thinking about results, really. It'll be a good experience for a lot of the players to play against a team like Holland. It'll be a tough game for sure, playing away and them having the European Championships coming up. A lot of the players are gonna have to prove themselves. So, I don't know, it'll be a good experience, should be an important game. No expectations.
AUSA: And do you expect to be a part of that team? Have you had any insight as to whether that's gonna happen?
O'Brien: Yeah, I talked to Bruce, and I should be able to be on the team then.
Too bad for those of us going along on the Rendezvous in Amsterdam trip that the Netherlands-USA game wasn't scheduled a couple weeks earlier. It would've been a nice mid-week event. Oh well, we'll have to console ourselves with the likely prospect of seeing the American Ajacied back in action with the Ajax first team. Fingers crossed, and best wishes to Johnny O!