Phase three of Philadelphia Union’s preseason training is set to begin in Costa Rica, as the team embarked on Thursday morning.
Fresh off a 13-day camp in Orlando – followed by three full days in Philadelphia – manager Peter Nowak’s squad travels even further south for a nine-day camp, which includes three scrimmages over the course of five days. The club will return to Philadelphia on March 4.
“These are a very important two weeks or three weeks right now,” Nowak said during Wednesday’s media conference call. “It’s important for (the team) to recognize that this work is going to pay off one way or another. I think at the end of the camp in Florida, the guys were a little tired. I closed one eye to let them loose a little bit. I can recognize when they are a bit tired, but they’re giving everything they can.”
The Union will play a scrimmage against league-leading Municipal Perez Zeledon on February 26. The squad will then play the U-20 Costa Rican National Team on February 28, before wrapping up with a game against fifth-place Belen on March 1.
Philadelphia went 1-0-2 in Florida, defeating UCF 5-0 and playing to 1-1 stalemates with Orlando City and Florida Gulf Coast University.
“I think it was great work and we’re looking forward to the next game,” added Nowak. “I think we’re going to spend more time developing the chemistry. I think it’s good for us to go to a different place, see different cultures, and play different teams with different tactics. I think it’s going to be very beneficial before the season starts.”
While week one of preseason training at YSC Sports in Wayne, Pa. focused on fitness, the Florida trip was centered on game situations, formations, and individualized work.
“The things we worked on in Florida, I think we improved on that stuff,” explained Nowak. “I think it was more about adjusting, feeling out what’s needed on the field. I think that’s the major point. As I said before we left for Florida, we’ll work on the formations and fitness, individualize the program for each formation, and we’ll try to glue it together and get ready for the season.”
While the technical staff spends time working on tactics, the mental speed of play is often rusty in preseason situations. One of the keys during preseason is beginning to execute the technical staff’s strategies on the field. But Nowak also wants his players to be flexible and adaptable over the course of a long MLS season.
“The most important thing is (going over) the playbook, and the stuff you’re trying to translate onto the field,” explained Nowak. “I think it’s good that the players start to talk about (their individual roles) in different situations. The more they talk to each other, the better, because it’s not only the coaches who are giving the recipe for success, or how you’re going to play, but you also have to be open-minded if different scenarios play out on the field.
“We’ve got to be prepared for different scenarios. They’ve got the playbook, but (it’s also about) how to work with imagination. The last thing you want, really, is to give them a playbook and basically run the schemes (over and over). At some point the players make their own decisions and decide what’s best in different situations.”
The Union’s MLS schedule starts in just a few weeks with a trip to Portland for a March 12 season opener (9:30 p.m., ESPN2). The Timbers play on turf at JELD-WEN Field, and the Union will get a chance to practice on the surface during next week’s exhibition games.
“I think we have a pretty good idea of what to expect in Costa Rica, and how to glue this together," said Nowak. “When we come back, we’ll have another week of training, and make it more dynamic, more fluid, and start to plan the season. That’s the main point right now, playing those (scrimmages) and getting accustomed to the turf in Costa Rica. It will help us get ready for the Portland game.”