There were a lot of new faces (and new hairstyles, but we’ll get into that) when the Union kicked off preseason Monday morning at YSC Sports in Wayne.
Actually, preseason started late last week with players reporting for physicals and strength training sessions, but ball work featuring short sided drills, mini 7v7 matches and more was on display.
This year’s preseason roster features 35 players, but three weren’t at today’s practice as goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi, midfielder Brian Carroll and defender Carlos Valdes were absent from today’s proceedings.
Mbolhi is the obvious one as he’s been with the Algerian national team for weeks helping that nation chase an Africa Cup of Nations title. Speaking of which, Mbolhi and the Fennecs (Foxes) sit on three points with one more group match against Senegal this Tuesday.
For Carroll, it was personal reasons but the elephant in the room was the whereabouts of Valdes given the swirling rumors of a desire to leave the club. Valdes did appear later in the day at training but in street clothes to meet with team officials, one of which was technical director Chris Albright.
Following those discussions, Albright did confirm that there is an “negotiation ongoing” for the FIFA World Cup veteran. MLSSoccer.com writer Dave Zeitlin explains the situation perfectly which you can check out here.
The other 32 players in attendance today looked sharp in ball work and what we think fans coming out to Friday’s open practice (12-2 p.m.) will see is that every player is extremely fit. No one came into camp sluggish which certainly will make things interesting as the thinning of the herd happens before Monday’s flight to warmer temperatures in Clearwater, Fla.
Union midfielder Danny Cruz said as much today in an interview with media members:
“Everyone has bought in [to what head coach Jim Curtin] wants from us,” Cruz said. “So everyone even the guys on trial came in really fit and ready. It’s going to be a big preseason for us, and things are hopefully going to go in the right direction; we know what we need to do and it’s obviously playoffs or bust for us this season.”
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) January 26, 2015
If you haven’t seen the complete list of players in camp, you can check that out here.
So earlier we mentioned hairstyles as we figured you may not recognize some of the players right now. So the rundown of new-do’s is as follows:
- Union goalkeeper Andre Blake is working the low fade
- Forward Antoine Hoppenot looks as though he’s taking tips from D.C. midfielder Chris Rolfe
But our personal favorite was captured by Delco Daily Times reporter Matt DeGeorge:
Austin Berry sporting the "high school basketball" look pic.twitter.com/FIaYZf8eae
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) January 26, 2015
Last but not least…
Given the impending “Snowmageddon” set to befall the Greater Philadelphia Region, Tuesday’s training session could be canceled at YSC Sports…however the snow did bring about this pretty sweet offer for fans (click the graphic to learn more):
And if there is a cancellation of training for Tuesday, Union defender Ray Gaddis has the right idea of what to do given the long months or rigorous training ahead before the March 7 opener against Colorado at PPL Park (4 p.m. ticket link?)
This weather out here today is so disrespectful. But it's okay I am going to be inside all day with bae. Which is Netflix.
— ray gaddis (@raygaddis) January 26, 2015
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com
In preparation for a Major League Soccer season, a lot of time and consideration goes into what the players need to play at such a high level each and every week. As fans you see the finished product but as coaches we have to assemble a plan that gives our players the best chance for success. During the preseason we have several things we want to work, some of the key areas that we focus on are the following:
- Building a strong aerobic base and alactic energy system
- Improving movement quality off the ball
- Building a strong base of strength
- Implementing a solid nutrition program
- Focusing on acceleration and deceleration (both with and without the ball)
- Implementing a recovery plan
- Stress and fatigue management
- Assessment and movement screening for each player
It’s naïve to think that every player is going to arrive in camp in great shape. One of the great things about preseason training is that you get to spend quality time (5-6 weeks) on the road with the players and find out what they excel at and what areas they may need to improve upon. Every athlete I have ever come in contact can improve in at least 1-2 areas. As the fitness coach it’s my responsibility to work with the coaching and medical staff to try to identify what areas may be lacking and develop a plan to ensure that every player is progressing towards the end goal which is the chance to play at a high level each and every week.
Below are five (5) key fitness/training related areas that we focus on during the preseason:
1. Individual screening, assessments and testing for each player
One of the first things we do is look at each player individually and screen them. It is my job along with the medical staff to screen each player so we can assemble an individual plan for the guys. To accomplish this we came up with the following plan:
Functional Movement Screen
This is a seven point screen that was created by Gray Cook and Lee Burton. This has been around since 1998 and is currently being utilized by thousands of coaches across the world. The goal is to look at fundamental movement patterns to identify what areas players may be deficient in and to identify any major asymmetries that may exist. It’s simply a screen to try and identify any limitations in movement that may cause an injury down the road.
- Breathing patterns
- Pelvic alignment
- Omega wave testing: This provides detailed information on players cardiac, metabolic and central nervous system readiness.
- 10 meter and 30 meter sprint times
- Vertical Jump testing
- Transition speed: Change of direction drill (30 yd. test to assess transition/change of direction speed)
- Beep Test
Upper Body Test
- Lower body assessment: single leg squat test
2. Developing the aerobic and alactic system
During the course of the game certain players can run as much as 6-7 miles. In order to be able to sustain this kind of effort a strong aerobic base needs to be in place to play at this level. In order to progress the players each week we attempted to develop their aerobic system by incorporating as much movement with the ball as possible. We did not go out and run at a steady state for 60-75 minutes but rather the technical staff did an excellent job of incorporating as much work with the ball as possible. Players really like this because they are working on their skill with the ball while at the same time we are building their aerobic base. We have to remember we are training soccer players not cross country runners.
An efficient aerobic system is critical for the success of our players. To accomplish this we monitored the players by watching their heart rate as well as their recovery between movements and drills. An addition to making sure that the players have a strong aerobic base it’s critical that we make speed (alactic system) a priority in the training. A strong aerobic system will help the alactic (speed) system work efficiently. In order to do this, players need to be alert and fatigue needs to be low to improve speed. All of our speed work is done in the beginning of the training session after our movement prep and before fatigue may set in. Intensity is high (runs of 10-30 yards) and recovery is long (1-2 minutes) when we try and improve a players speed. As the season progresses we will increase the distance of the run (30-60 yards) and manipulate the recovery times to get the adaptations that we are looking for.
When it comes to speed players will run faster without the ball than with the ball so implement speed training early in the session without the ball to ensure that players are running at top speeds.
3. Build a solid base of strength
As a strength coach I am always looking to make our players stronger. I believe it’s one area that is often overlooked with soccer players. During preseason there is so much to accomplish in a short time that strength training can sometimes be pushed to the side. I am very fortunate to have a coaching staff that understands the role that strength training plays in the development of our players. With that being said we try to focus on BASIC movement patterns that would allow our players to build a solid foundation for the season that we can build upon. Below are some of the basic movement patterns that we try to focus on during preseason.
Single leg strength
- Body weight squats to a bench
- Hip hinge pattern (deadlifts, reaches)
- Rear foot squats
- Hip extension patterns
- Goblet squats
- Front squats
- Pulling patterns
- DB rows
- Band rows
- Several variations of push ups
- DB bench press variations
- Overhead pressing
Anterior core training: Roll outs
- Turkish Get Ups (Starting with the lowest progression and advancing)
- Supine (lying on your back) to prone (stomach) to quadruped (all fours)
Note: We do not perform any crunches with the players.
4. Nutrition and Hydration
At the end of the day nutrition and the quality of food that our athletes consume plays a critical role in how they will recover and perform on the field. I truly believe that if you have two athletes with the same skill and aerobic system the one with the better nutrition will outperform the other athlete on the field.
I try and keep it very simple for the players when it comes to nutrition. Everyone is different and my goal is to provide simple yet effective recommendations based off of what I have been able to learn from experts in the field of nutrition. Experts worth reading, in my opinion, include Robb Wolf, John Berardi, Brian St. Pierre and Catherine Shanahan to name a few.
- Eat real unprocessed food as much as possible
- Learn to cook simple nutritious meals
- Consume quality meats, fats and carbohydrates on a daily basis
- Buy local food whenever possible
- Make hydration a priority by limiting the amount of sport drinks and energy drinks
- On a daily basis consume 5-6 servings of vegetables and fruits.
Always have good healthy snack options with you for when you get hungry. This can be as easy as having a bag of homemade trail mix with you in case you get hungry.
At the end of the day training is easy. I don’t mean it is easy to train for 2-3 hours each day but rather when we train we cause a disruption on our body that signals a response. It’s that response that helps us grow and adapt. If we want to reap the benefits of a particular training session we MUST develop a good recovery plan for our players. As I have stated above everyone is different and some players respond to one recovery method while another player may not respond to that particular stimulus. To keep things simple we try and provide a few options to the players. Here is a short list of some of the strategies that we implement with the players:
- Post workout nutrition
- Chiropractor treatments
- Breathing techniques
- Quality sleep every night
- Contrasts in water
- Foam rolling/stretching
The MLS season is very long and demanding. Injuries can‘t be prevented but we can reduce a player’s chance of getting hurt. As the fitness coach my number one goal is to do everything possible to keep the players healthy and provide to them the necessary tools that can keep them on the field. I truly believe what the players do off of the field is just as important as what they do on the field. If you are a coach at the high school or club level don’t try and implement all of the strategies above right away. Educate yourself on a few of the tips listed above and read as much as possible from experts in their field. The more we can educate our players the better off they will be when it comes time to play the game.
Good luck with your training!
Union strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller is also a featured panelist in the Sports Doc blog http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc on Philly.com. For best practices along with additional health and fitness tips, check out: Philly.com/Health