Philadelphia Union officially kicked off preseason training on Monday ahead of their second season in Major League Soccer. Manager Peter Nowak’s squad went through a two-hour training session at YSC Sports in Wayne, Pa., the first of five sessions this week, all of which are open to the public.
“I think we have been waiting for a long time,” said Nowak. “It was a busy offseason, so it is not only the coaching staff but also the players who are ready to come back and start practice. So far, so good. We’re trying to find the rhythm for our camp (in Orlando) next week.”
While players are still finding their legs, it would be difficult to tell as a casual observer. Nowak, too, was impressed with his club’s fitness and competitiveness, especially so early on in preseason.
“The intensity was always good – I never questioned the intensity,” he said. “The preparation for more detailed work needs to be put in right now and we need to give the guys who are new an understanding of our concept – what we are trying to accomplish as a team, the way we play, the way we do things. The new guys are trying to impress the coaching staff and trying to figure out how they are going to fit on the team. The intensity is not a problem and I hope it never will be.”
Among the new faces in camp: Brian Carroll, Faryd Mondragón, Carlos Valdés, SuperDraft selections Zac MacMath, Michael Farfan and Levi Houapeu, Supplemental Draft selections Ryan Richter, Josh Walburn and Matt Marcin, as well as several trialists (trialist names are not released, per club policy).
Of all the new faces, only Carroll has the perspective of coming from another MLS club. The four-time Supporters’ Shield winner was acquired from the Columbus Crew on November 22 in exchange for a second round pick and allocation money.
“The competition level is very high right now,” said Carroll, who has also won two MLS Cup titles. “Everyone is flying around and getting used to one another, getting back in shape, just getting comfortable with the ball again. It's really fast. As we go longer through the preseason the play will still be fast, but as far as the amount of running to get the job done, maybe it will slow down because guys will get used to one another, feel more comfortable and be sharper.”
Another newcomer, Mondragón, doesn't have MLS experience on his résumé, but nobody on the roster is more seasoned. The 39-year-old ‘keeper is fresh off a stint with Bundesliga side FC Cologne and has played in several other top leagues, not to mention 50 caps with the Colombian National Team.
“I am very happy and very comfortable,” Mondragón said after training. “Everyone has been making everything feel very, very easy, so I am very happy to be here. I think we have a good squad, very balanced. I think we have two, three players per position and that is very good.”
While Mondragón may very well carve out a leadership role in short order, the club’s captain, Danny Califf, is taking care to ensure that the club’s new and old faces come together quickly.
“I think we went through some changes in the offseason, some faces left the team, some new guys came in,” he said. “But I think, overall, guys have come in and worked hard, and you can tell that everyone did stuff in the offseason, which is always nice so we’re not starting at ground zero.
“It was a long offseason and it’s nice to be able to have that time, but I think everyone was itching to get back and not have to run on your own and do all that training on your own. You get to come out here, be competitive, and do all the things you love to do. It’s a fantastic job and to be able to start up again and get those competitive juices flowing on a bigger scale – it’s fun.”