THE DARK SIDE: "Inside the New Team With Fernando Clavijo

THE DARK SIDE
By Arturo Rivers

This Week's Edition: "Inside the New Team With Fernando Clavijo"

Most people will agree that a soccer team will take time to mold together to start showing some results on the field. In some instances a season or two are granted to a coach to be able to transmit his idea of the game into his players....heck in some instances four years are granted to a coach to deliver results.....see Ricardo Lavolpe in Mexico or Marcelo Bielsa in Argentina as examples.

One of the biggest changes at this point into the 2005 MLS season has to be the mentality of everyone in Rapids training camp. It is the Dark Side’s opinion that a quick look at the team’s interaction during an entire week of training can give the viewer a better idea of what to expect of a group that just got back into the groove of kicking the ball around. That is what I intended to find out with my own eyes as I took a day to go down to Rapids training camp on Monday.

At the conclusion of Monday's session I was able to grab a few minutes with Rapids Head Coach Fernando Clavijo. I took the opportunity to pick his brain ahead of the Rapids' Wednesday departure to Ecuador.

The first thing I asked him was what his reaction was after the squad's first week of training.

"So far I’m impressed more than anything with the mentality of the players who have arrived into camp with a totally open mind ready to absorb everything new in this team. You can see the positive environment that these guys have already created during the last seven days Clavijo told me.

Any Public Relations department can spin the words in a press release to give any situation warm fuzzies but it's actually seeing the actions of veteran players in camp that often prove more important.

"I was talking to Jeff Cunningham the other day and he told me that for the first time in a long time he was feeling butterflies in his stomach before training said Clavijo. "He said to me: Coach every morning I wake up nervous because I want to go to practice and play the game."

With an inspired Cunningham in the Rapids attack there is a lot to look forward to with this team that based on their acquisitions so far can promise more goals then the previous season (not that this is a very difficult task).

The Rapids were quick to point out to me that emphasizing an overall positive environment will hopefully trigger more production from all of the Rapids players.

"It is very important for me to be able to create this type of positive environment in which the guys have fun doing what they do without forgetting that it is a job but always enjoying it added Clavijo whose idea of a friendly atmosphere in the locker room and at training appears to go hand in hand with a rigid work program that will focus constantly on fitness this season.

"I have been fighting to have a fitness coach ever since I was a player and throughout my time as a coach but there was never enough budget to get someone who specializes in soccer fitness explained Clavijo. "Everyone talks about the importance of a person specialized in that area but in the vast majority of times that duty falls into other peoples' roles that are not prepared for that discipline. I’m not prepared to train the team in that aspect (fitness) my field is not fitness my field lies in the technical area!"

And with the geographical advantage that the Mile High city has blessed its teams with such an area of expertise seems like a perfect fit for the Black and Blue.

"It is not the same to run every day at a high altitude as it is to train specifically with the altitude in mind. With the first approach you just kill yourself every time you go out running and with the second approach you actually take advantage of the altitude factor Clavijo said.

"Now that we have secured Jose Carlos de Leon as our Soccer Fitness Coach we have someone that is considered one of the best in the world who has worked with some of the greatest teams in South America and has prepared them for important competitions like Copa Libertadores as well as someone who has experience at the National Team level. For the first time we have designed an entire plan for a specific fitness program that will let the players and the team peak at the times we need them to peak during the regular season."

What about the different stages that the team will go through during the preseason? Clavijo was clear as far as his specific goals for the upcoming trips around South America and the USA:

"Results are not important for us at this stage with the Ecuador trip even thought I always like to win said the Uruguayan native. "We cannot see the wins and loses as the final goal of the Ecuador trip the main objective in February is having everyone together away from distractions for those two weeks. This will be a time in which I will be able to continue evaluating some of the players that are currently with the team and still trying to make our roster as well as a time to bring in some of the players that I’ve scouted during my previous trip to South America that we are looking at for the Senior International roster spots."

"The month of March on the other hand with our games in the States will focus more on the results and the soccer specific aspects of the group as well as finalizing the team that will kick off the 2005 season."

When I pressed him about some of the players he was referring to for bringing into camp Clavijo shared a couple of interesting names with me.

"Martin Morales from Uruguay is left-sided midfielder that possesses a very offensively-minded game and will be training with us in Guayaquil. I will also bring in a "number 10" from Cameroon who played for the Under-23 and full national team that is currently playing professionally in South America he added. "Another playmaker that will train with us is a former Argentine national team midfielder that played in Spain and England Cristian Colusso."

"All of these players have already performed at the highest level in their respective countries and around the world and none of them is over the age of 27. They want to come and make a career in MLS not just finish one."

"Another left-sided midfielder Arnaldo Quiroga also from Argentina is one we are looking at. There's also an Englishman and a French player as well that might be training with us."

"They are always the same positions that we are trying to add depth to forwards a number 10 (playmaker) a left midfielder and a defender."

"I’m aware that we will not be able to sign all of them -even if I wanted to!- so our evaluation of these players needs to be very specific and very concise to make the right decisions for the team not only to select good players but players that will be able to adapt to the group and the style of the team."

The pool of names that Clavijo shared with me denotes a specific scouting process that has characterized him throughout his years. So much in fact that the ’94 World Cup star was also scouting in South America on behalf of Major League Soccer evaluating the performance of some of the names that the league is looking at for potential signings. That was news to me.

So with all of these potential players in mind Clavijo takes off with the Black and Blue tomorrow to Ecuador where stage two of his preseason with the Rapids begins. One thing is for sure about this trip: it's ripe with potential.

Arturo Rivers' The Dark Side column runs weekly only on ColoradoRapids.com. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's and not necessarily those of the Colorado Rapids or ColoradoRapids.com. Send any questions and comments to Arturo Rivers at thedark_side1@yahoo.com