Say goodbye to the offseason – the Union's 2011 campaign is underway. Open training sessions began Monday at YSC's brand new, state-of-the-art facility in Wayne, Pa.
Peter Nowak's squad showed few signs of rust. Monday's session was a high-tempo affair with an emphasis on pace and precision – and the execution was strong, especially for late-January. Nick Zimmerman rifled home several blistering shots, Stefani Miglioranzi dictated play in the midfield, and Sheanon Williams showed off his speed, nearly reaching a ball played 35 yards ahead of him.
Players were vocal in calling for the ball and shouting out instructions. One-touch passing was fluid in tight quarters. Hard challenges were common, more so than you might expect at this stage of preseason. The Union technical staff says that's the result of a competitive environment in which players are fighting for jobs and starting spots.
"For a lot of these players, I think "offseason" is a relative term," assistant coach Rob Vartughian told philadelphiaunion.com. "You can tell, if you watched (Monday), these guys didn't take much time off, they worked hard. Offseason only means they were away from us, it doesn't mean they were away from the game. What we're happy about is you can tell a lot of guys did a lot of work (on their own), so we don't have to spend time on stuff we shouldn't have to spend time on.
"They're excited, they're competing, they're fighting for jobs. Any time you have those types of situations, you're going to have guys chomping at the bit, making hard tackles, like you saw."
Union manager Peter Nowak says the intensity level is expected. He says it allows the club to focus on tactics, while the younger players simultaneously adjust to the speed of the professional game.
"The level of play, the speed of play, is a little bit different for some of those (young) guys," said Nowak. "Sometimes they think they have more time on the ball than they have – two or three guys next to you and you're losing the ball. I think they need to adjust to that."
Monday's session began with ball drills, the team using the full-sized indoor pitch at YSC. Supporters watched through plexiglass panels, just yards away from the action. The team moved on to small-sided possession, which led to 5v5 games, and eventually full-field, 11v11 action.
Preseason is a different story altogether for the 2011 Union. No longer an expansion team, the players have experience working together and a stadium to call home from the get-go. For returning players, a normal offseason also contributes to a focused preseason.
"I think it's huge," said Union captain Danny Califf. "When we started last year, guys were still trying to find houses, trying to sort out their lives, getting their families situated. To be able to have this offseason, where you can just relax, recharge, and get ready for a new year – that's a huge thing."
With a recharged squad and new faces on the field, Nowak says 2011 is all about getting right to work.
"Last year was different, because the thing on our mind was to get together as a team, to know where we're going," he said. "There were a lot of things to accomplish before even touching the ball, before we understood what our team would even look like. This year is different – we already have the foundation to move forward."