How was your holiday break?
Joe Willis: It’s been pretty awesome. Back in St. Louis for pretty much all of it, hanging out with my family, so it was a pretty good break.
Do you have a lot of friends who are still back in St. Louis?
JW: Yeah, a lot high school friends I hadn’t seen in a while, so it was good times.
So, when are you leaving for England?
JW: I’m leaving tonight – my flight is at 6:15 p.m.
Are you all packed and ready to go?
JW: Ha! Nope. I am not packed at all, haven’t even started packing. Yeah…I know. It’s going to be a pretty busy day – have to take care of a bunch of stuff before I head over there, but it should be alright.
How did this opportunity to train with Sunderland materialize?
JW: A little while ago, [D.C. United goalkeeping coach] Pat [Onstad] came up to me and told me that there might be an opportunity for me to train with an English team over the break and he asked me if I wanted to do it, and I told him, ‘Absolutely.’ Anytime you have an opportunity to train with a Premier League team, you’re not really going to pass it up.
How long are you over there?
JW: I’ll be over there until – so I fly over there tonight [January 8] and I’ll be flying back on January 16.
Have you ever been to England or any other part of Europe?
JW: I have been. I went to England, actually I trained with three different teams for three weeks right before I got drafted by DC. So basically, this time two years I was over there. That’s the only time I’ve been over there.
Which teams were you training with two years ago?
JW: I spent a week with Tottenham Hotspur, I spent a week with Fulham and then I spent a week in Wales with Cardiff City.
So, you’ve had experience being over there. How would you say living and playing in the U.K. is different from the U.S., if at all?
JW: It’s fun, I like it. It’s pretty similar, to be honest, as far as the way they go about their daily business. It’s a little more high-profile, I guess, but it’s pretty similar.
What are you hoping to accomplish with this training stint?
JW: My goals are really to enjoy myself and take it as a learning experience, try to learn as much as I can from the coaches I have over there. It’s always fun to get a fresh perspective from different coaches.
With Andy [Najar] being over there in Belgium, are there any plans for you guys to meet up and grab a Belgian waffle over there or some fish and chips in England?
JW: Ha, I don’t think so. I haven’t talked to Andy. I’m sure he’s pretty busy, and I’ll be pretty busy over there, so I don’t think I’ll be meeting up with him.
Having played 11 games last season, what goals have you set for yourself for this year?
JW: Really, I’m just always trying to get better. Whatever happens, happens – whether I play or Bill [Hamid] plays or Andrew [Dykstra] plays or whoever, I’m really just trying, always trying, to get better. So, whatever happens will happen and the only thing I can control is making yourself better.
What is the biggest difference you have seen in your game now versus your rookie season in 2011?
JW: Definitely, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with all of it. I’ve gotten to know the guys and everyone in the D.C. United organization and you know, having two years experience now definitely feels a lot more comfortable. I’ve definitely gotten a lot better as a player with the coaching staff at D.C. United and I’m less nervous and more excited now.
What areas specifically in your goalkeeping have you seen improvement in?
JW: I would say that my positioning has gotten a lot better. That was one of Pat’s [Onstad] strong points as a player, so that’s something he’s been able to pass on to myself and the other goalies. Reading the game and communicating – it can still be better for me, but it’s definitely gotten better since I joined.
How proud were you of one of your DC training partners, Bill [Hamid], getting called up again to the U.S. Men’s National Team?
JW: Oh yeah, it’s great. Bil’’s a good goalie and he deserves it, so it’s exciting to see him get called into the National Team. It’s tough having him on the same team when it’s a position where only one guy can play, but it’s also good having strong competition in your spot because it makes me better and helps motivate me to be better.
Now I think the most important question that our fans want to know – how’s the beard coming along?
JW: Ha, the beard is coming along. It’s not quite where I want it yet, but it’s definitely getting there. It hasn’t really been touched since I started growing it [in November], so it’s getting a little wild, a little out of control.
So, you’re pretty much committed to a year of this?
JW: Yeah, I’m committed to a year, but we’ll see. I’m going to play it by ear and see how it goes. I still got, like, seven or eight months left to grow it, so in a few months once it starts getting a little longer, we’ll see. Right now the plan is for the next seven or eight months to keep it growing.