Saturday February 16
The team met at DIA at 8:00am for what was supposed to be a 9:45 flight into Dallas. Typical of this time of year the flight was delayed until 11:10 due to severe weather in Texas. We didn’t know at the time that this would only be the start of a long travel day.
Near the end of a fairly smooth flight we were informed that DFW airport had been closed due to more weather problems and we had the pleasure of circling west Texas for another hour and a half.
Once on the ground we were met at baggage claim by our bus and seemed to be on our way until three sets of bags were lost. We spent the next hour on the bus waiting for the bags to be delivered to our terminal. Finally we headed off to North Dallas where we would be able to check into our hotel and get a meal.
The team met following dinner and the players were able to relax for the rest of the evening. To top the day off after the players had gone to bed we were informed that our 1:45pm game on Sunday had been changed to 9:00pm. That would completely change our approach to Sunday’s schedule.
Sunday February 17
The players were informed at breakfast that they were going to have an extra 7 hours to play with today.
We felt it was important that they get some movement in during the morning. An 11:00 pool workout was scheduled and Athletic Trainer Chris Erwin took the group through about 20 minutes of activity and stretching. The pool was a bit chilly due to the rain and the fact that the heater had stopped working but there was no doubt that everyone was awake when we were finished.
Following lunch the players had a few hours to themselves before our 4:30 pregame meeting.
In our pregame meeting we traditionally address the general themes that we want to keep in mind from an offensive defensive and transitional standpoint. We also cover all of our restart assignments on both sides of the ball. They players are given a 5-page packet of notes at lunch that they have to review prior to the meeting and we feel confident that everyone’s roles have been defined well before they take the field.
Sunday’s opponent was Carmel United from Indiana. They are from a region we don’t have much experience with and the focus was solely on imposing ourselves on the game. The makeup of our team lends itself to an attacking pressing style. The goal for the night was to line up in a 4-3-3 and try to get a fast start. With US National Team and college coaches in attendance we felt that controlling our emotions and the energy that comes with playing on a big stage would be very important.
The bus departed at 5:30 and the U-18s were off to a pregame meal before they would watch the first half of our Rapids U-16 game.
We had a good warmup and I felt we were primed for a good start. And a good start it was. In the third minute Patrick Freeman struck and put us in the driver's seat. We were able to dictate the game for the first 25 minutes and had multiple chances to extend the lead. Carmel found more of the game in the final 20 minutes of the first half but we got ourselves to halftime in good shape.
The talk at halftime was about finding possession and smothering any hope of Carmel getting back into the game. The response was tremendous. Edson Chuchon doubled the lead for us in the 47th minute and Zach Paul put the game out of reach a minute later winning the ball with great defensive work and converting the turnover. We were able to manage the game fairly well in the second half which was very important since we had a less than a 10-hour turnaround for our next game.
Our biggest challenge would be managing the schedule that had been modified due to the weather. We arrived back at the hotel a few minutes before midnight just as the pizza delivery driver got there. Since we would not have the ability to eat a proper meal prior to the next game we had to be a little inventive.
Monday February 18
The 6:30 breakfast came very early after a late night. Gear was distributed after a quick meeting and by 7:15 we were on our way back to Pizza Hut Park.
The challenge would be to get a spring back in our step after a very limited opportunity for rest and nutrition since we last played. Our Athletic Trainer spent extra time and detail with movement and stretching in the warmup to try and minimize injury risk.
Our opponent was Metro United from the St. Louis area. We felt we had to put a premium on possession and make sure that the game was full of good soccer and didn’t become an athletic contest.
The game began as a good battle with both teams finding early chances the best in our favor with Omar Haner clipping one off the crossbar. We conceded a soft goal in the 25th minute and really made the game tough on ourselves by never really getting a handle on the ball. A turnover and a missed tackle ended up costing us another goal on what was literally the last kick of the first half.
The halftime focus was on finding better possession and avoiding falling into the pitfall of throwing everyone forward. We needed to play good soccer to open them up and find the goal that would get us back in it.
As they have in every game thus far our team responded. Two minutes into the second half we were back. Omar Haner finished well from 10 yards out after a scramble in the box and we were one goal away with plenty of time.
After the goal we never really found the game though. In the 52nd minute bad habits were magnified by tired legs and we conceded another goal on the counter attack with it our hopes in the game. The 1:3 result would stand.
The response to losing especially your first loss is a very important developmental opportunity for the team. We will have to take the lessons learned and improve on the training field this week.
We watched our Rapids U-16s battle the same club before having a little Texas barbeque. Following lunch we had time to go back to the fields and support our local Colorado neighbors Rush and Real for a half before heading to the airport for our flight home. The flight was on time and the long weekend concluded at 7:00pm at DIA.
Our Rapids Youth Academy players have come a long way over the last 2 months and it is exciting to see this group mature. We’ll keep you updated on their progress in the future right here at ColoradoRapids.com!