VALENCIA SPAIN (Exclusive to ColoradoRapids.com) -Colorado Rapids Assistant
Coach John Murphy talks exclusively to ColoradoRapids.com about the latest happenings from
the club's preseason trips to England and Spain in his latest column. Check it out below!
This edition: "My Report From England and Spain"
Hello to everyone back in Colorado!
Glad to hear about the improving weather in Denver but there isn’t too much to complain about here on the Mediterranean coast. Our stay here in Spain has been fantastic and will culminate with our match vs. Valencia tonight. More about that later…..
We are in the last days of our European tour and are growing as a team on and off the field. Despite missing all the comforts of home these trips are invaluable for getting 28 players and a half dozen staff members on the same page in preparation for the upcoming season. You can see the difference at training each day as we sharpen our touches and as the combinations between players get that much better. But it is also noticeable off the field as well; guys playing cards in the hotel lobby or just talking over a cup of coffee. It is enjoyable for the coaches to see individuals from different countries and backgrounds having a laugh and growing as a group.
Since leaving Denver on March 8th for London we have taken in quite a bit. Our visit to our partner club Arsenal exceeded everyone’s expectations in regards to facilities and more importantly in how we were treated by the club. The staff of Arsenal could not have done more for us during our five day stay and no request was too small to be accommodated. From retrieving a lost guitar at the airport to taking a player to the hospital for a multiple hour MRI or to setting up two quality matches at their stunning training ground our London partners certainly showed what class is all about.
We should have known what we were in for when Arsenal chairman David Dein flagged down our team bus on the first day to climb aboard and welcome us to the club personally. Players such as Terry Cooke and Jovan Kirovski who have knowledge of both British and European football were blown away by the simple but sincere gesture of one the most influential figures in the G -14.
Jet lag was a serious issue early on and the first training session was used to get the boys on a European time frame as quickly as possible. They weren’t too happy about that initially but appreciated it later as each day their energy returned. Our daily routine in England started with breakfast at the Sopwell House two sessions at the training ground with a team lunch in-between the sessions at Arsenal and an evening meal back at the hotel.
The food at the training ground is specially prepared with top class athletes in mind as the coaching and medical staffs oversee the implementation of the menu. The sessions were light but sharp as we just had a few days before back-to-back friendly matches on Monday the 12th and Tuesday the 13th.
Local English club Barnet was up first and we racked up a 1-0 win. Danny Gargan scored a great goal off of a driven Nico Colaluca corner kick and we were in control throughout. The passing was crisp and movement off the ball was outstanding. The final pass or shot which normally takes time to improve throughout the pre-season was the only missing piece in a strong performance. Some of our young boys (John DiRaimondo and Kosuke Kimura) put in a good shift while 2nd year pros Jordan Harvey and Colin Clark were particularly sharp.
An even better performance was put in the next day vs. Millwall in another 1-0 win with the goal coming from Niko Hernandez. This time around we created several chances and if not for some fine goalkeeping by our opponents we could have added to the tally. Roberto Brown Herculez Gomez and Jovan Kirovski combined well up front and Brandon Prideaux and Greg Vanney were active in passing out of the back. The movement and combinations in the final third were keeping Millwall off balance all day and if we can build on that effort we will be fun to watch this season.
British media were all over us during our stay and our sidelines were pretty busy. However some spectators were more conspicuous than others. When Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and his entire staff watched not one but both of our friendly matches it meant a great deal to all of us and provided extra motivation during our daily workouts on the pitch. Mr. Wenger was good enough to speak with several of our players (Bouna Coundoul in French and Kosuke Kimura in Japanese) and take an occasional picture. Both sets of staff maintained their distances during their colleagues' daily work out of mutual respect but we had the chance to talk after our 2nd match. Mr. Wenger spoke with Fernando and was complimentary of our team and was impressed by the energy and work rate of the entire group.
After spending five days here it is obvious that this relationship with Arsenal is going to grow and get stronger over the next couple of years. As our organizations get to know each other the partnership will group and impact literally thousands of fans and youth players let alone the teams themselves. It just leaves me wondering how much better a future trip will be as they certainly could not have done any more for us on or off the field.
Staying up until 2:30am can be fun sometimes but getting up at 2:30am is not – EVER! Unfortunately we had to be up and out of our hotel early to Heathrow airport for our trip to Spain. Needless to say everyone’s internal clocks were thrown off again as we traveled south to Valencia. After a connection in Barcelona we settled in at the team hotel 20 minutes outside of the city but within walking distance of the Valencia training ground. What a set up! Eight flood lit training pitches for all of their teams to practice under the same location. All the fields are immaculate and the grounds staff take special pride in keeping the entire complex pristine for players and staff.
As an aside it has been interesting to see the contrasts in the clubs we have visited this year. Arsenal and Cruz Azul keep their doors closed to the general public and maintain that a professional environment is key to their preparation. Valencia similar to Pachuca want a "family" atmosphere around the club where people of all ages are walking the grounds often wearing the colors of their team.
Dozens of people have watched our sessions everyday and have been friendly but respectful to our work on the field. The media has covered us very well with the build up to our friendly match with Valencia filling up the daily papers more each day.
Our promoter Miguel Salazar of EU Study Tours of Miami has been tireless in his efforts to balance the soccer preparation with some local trips to the city. Despite his efforts walking the streets of Valencia during the Fallas Festival has been nerve wracking for me personally. I have never seen (or heard) so many fireworks in my entire life! Not the nice cute ones that we used as kids on the 4th of July I’m talking about the stuff that make you want to hit the deck when you hear them detonated……but they love it!! The coward that I am prohibits me from doing so but I will adapt (wads of cotton have helped…) as it is worth it just to walk around and interact with the locals. They are just great people with a real zest for life. Spain is an amazing country with so many different regions and traditions. I have been several times and always want to come back as you can’t beat the combination of good weather great food and wine and of course a fantastic soccer culture.
We attended the Valencia vs. Racing match on Saturday and perhaps it was the early kickoff (6pm rather than the usual 9pm) but the hosts were off and lost 2-0. I have a feeling that the poor result and with the upcoming FIFA international weekend approaching that we will see a strong Valencia side tonight. But that is exactly what we want and with the type of players we have we will be up for it. Bottom line they love a challenge.
Three years ago we arrived in Guayaquil Ecuador for pre-season and the next day had to play powerhouse Emelec before 30000 fans in their "introduction game". Most foreign opponents would have laid down and been the good guests but not our guys. The 0-0 draw was respected by the fans and the local press and we gave as good as we got. I believe that we will put in as good or a better effort tonight. American players love to perform in this type of environment as we don’t get the chance too often in our domestic league. Regardless we will need to put in our best as they will be playing before 25000 locals looking for a positive result. All of us are looking forward to it.
In closing our fans should be know that we have been and continue to develop some fantastic ties in world football over the past two months with Pachuca Cruz Azul Arsenal and Valencia. The front office staff that travels with the team have the sole purpose of strengthening these ties and throughout the last two years have done a great job that is tangible to the team today.
These partnerships help us in many area such as the growth with our Rapids Academy structure marketing strategies and even first team activities such as quality preseason trips and high level international matches. As a further example we are in the process of starting an exchange of professional coaches for our summer Academy programs that will directly benefit all participants. In addition our complex at Dick’s Sporting Good Park will attract top teams from around the world for training matches and promotional tours. That will only be a benefit not only for our organization but for the local soccer community.
More importantly though all Rapids fans should know that it has been a productive pre-season and the team has stayed relatively healthy and they are moving forward as individuals and as a group. The additions that we made during the off-season will fortify a strong returning core and I look forward to seeing us go week in and week out against MLS competition.
If the atmosphere that we will experience tonight can be duplicated or even improved upon at our new stadium in 2007 I know that we will be tough to beat at home and as we go on the road. That’s it for now but I will be speaking with all of you soon after our season opener on April 7th vs. DC United. I hope to see you there for that historic first game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park!!!
Rapids Assistant Coach John Murphy writes his "Murphy's Law" column exclusively for ColoradoRapids.com. Check back to the website for future installments in the