WAYNE, Pa. – When the 2010 preseason began, Union manager Peter Nowak wanted his players to do three things: run, run, and run some more. To the chagrin of many, they didn’t even train with a ball until later in camp.
Through one week of this year’s preseason, the Philadelphia Union manager has taken a different, kinder approach, setting up full scrimmages on the indoor turf fields at YSC Sports for fans to watch.
“I was quite surprised we’ve actually played as much as we have,” said Philadelphia captain Danny Califf after Friday’s session. “It’s been fantastic. [The coaching staff’s] focus throughout this preseason is going to try to get us fit through playing soccer. I think we’re all stoked about that.”
Nowak’s reasoning is simple. With plenty of new players jockeying for positions on the team, the manager is eager to evaluate them on their skill and creativity rather than solely raising everyone’s fitness level.
“It’s important for them to get the ball,” Nowak said. “It’s fun to be with the ball; running is not fun for anyone. We tried to minimize pure fitness as much as we could. That’s why we needed them to touch the ball.”
While it’s important for the team’s new marquee acquisitions – midfielder Brian Carroll, goalie Faryd Mondragón and defender Carlos Valdés – to mesh with the returning players, even more critical at this stage for Union coaches is figuring out how to construct the roster heading into the regular season.
That means Supplemental Draft picks Ryan Richter, Matt Marcin and Josh Walburn, as well as a handful of trialists that include Jeremiah White – a speedy striker with Philly ties who’s played for six European clubs – are all vying for spots.
“There were a couple of guys we brought in to evaluate and see how they would fit in our system,” Nowak said. “But the financials need to be resolved, too, so it’s not an easy process to get everything in place.
“But we have been impressed with all of them, including our Supplemental Draft picks. Everyone is trying very hard and it’s good to see.”
While the new guys are trying to prove themselves on the field, the Union’s returning players are enjoying a comfort level they did not have during the 2010 preseason. That, Califf predicted, will help the team progress even quicker in Year Two.
“At this time last year, we were just meeting everyone for the first time,” Califf said. “Everyone after every single training session was leaving to arrange housing or getting new furniture or getting their lights turned on. This year, everyone is more relaxed, and really ready to put all of their effort into trying to make us a better team than last year.”
With one week of training in the books, the Union are now prepared to leave for Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday and train in the Sunshine State until Feb. 20. There, they’ll continue to get their legs under them as the coaching staff continues to closely evaluate the players.
“It’s great to get back and touch the ball and have competition,” said Califf, one of the players who impressed Nowak the most through one week of practice. “The preseason is a marathon and we’re just through the first three, four miles.”
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