With Brian Crookham
This Week's Edition: "Solving The Preseason Puzzle"
Preseason has started. Players report on February 1 and don’t get to play for keeps until April 1 (or April 2 in the case of the Rapids). What is the point of 8 weeks of preseason you ask? Fitness and team formation are the themes and it takes some time to sort out both.
Remember those days of high school/college three-a-days where you ran until you puked and then maybe a little more? These days preseason fitness has become a precise science. The straight ahead running of the Cooper Test has been replaced by a variety of exercises designed to simulate real soccer movements and strengthen muscles that you actually use during these movements. At times watching a Rapids fitness session in preseason may look a little more like dance class than professional soccer practice.
The quality of work done in preseason can go a long way to prevent injury throughout the season. Players will always have to deal with injuries that are the result of contact but the goal is to minimize the chances of sprains strains and other nagging injuries that can cost players several games unnecessarily.
This process is complicated by the fact that players come in to camp with a variety of fitness levels. Many have been able to keep a good fitness base through winter workout programs. Some went directly to the surgeon when the season ended in November and come in less fit than they would like to be. Players who have gone overseas to train or have been in with their national teams seem to be ahead coming in but they may need to find a time for regeneration.
The challenge is to have some consistency while still trying to get everyone in a place where they can survive a 32 game season by the time preseason is over.
Since in most cases the fitness portion is often left to specialists coaches can spend most of their energy on selecting a final roster and trying to find a mix of those players that will be able to perform well together over the course of the season.
How do they get to that final mix?
The schedule has to allow for fitness work both with and without the ball opportunities to train in real soccer environments and must provide an adequate number of games to challenge players game-fitness levels while allowing the coaching staff to evaluate them under realistic conditions.
Although the goals can be simply stated many factors influence the final schedule. When scheduling preseason trips you have to consider the availability of opponents quality of training facilities and accommodations general climate of the area and even things like the altitude of the sites (believe it or not professional soccer players can get cranky when they are in poor conditions with no contact with the outside world for a couple of weeks at a time). When possible you would like to schedule opponents that replicate the different styles of play you will have to deal with throughout the year.
With the schedule set the biggest task at hand becomes forming a team that can put a competitive product on the field. Some teams come into the season with only a few question marks and a couple of players to replace. Another off-season full of player movement leaves this year’s Rapids team with more than a few questions to answer over the next six weeks. That’s ok it can be done. Last year San Jose’s Dominic Kinnear did a remarkable job with a team that had its share of question marks. Not only was he able to bring in players that helped he also moved existing players into roles that maximized their value to the team.
There are a lot of players to choose from. Just before the Mexico trip the Rapids had as many as 40 players in training. Trades are still an option as well. The two long trips in Florida and Spain will give the staff their best opportunities to narrow down the field.
Since we haven’t been able to see much of the goings on with the team to this point I think we should play a little game together to kill some time until the season starts. Over the next month you should print out a Rapids roster do some scratching and adding and form your own version of the team. There should be some reports on both first team and reserve games for you to look through. If it would get you into the spirit go ahead and iron your initials on your Rapids t-shirt while you play.
Unless you are drooling on your keyboard as you read this you can probably come up with the following without much trouble:
-The Rapids will play with at least 3 backs at least 3 midfielders and at least 1 forward. Add the goalkeeper in and you have 8/11 of your system solved. The hard part is the other 3/11 especially since the insertion of those 3 will both influence and be influenced by the style of the other 8.
-Four at the back? Does Pablo play on the back line? Three in the back are we wasting wide defenders that could get forward in a back four? Do we have wide players in the midfield that can help out or do they need cover all of the time?
-Five in midfield? Do we have 2 flank players who can go from box to box for 90 minutes? If so which players take on a holding role and who has more freedom to go. If it is four who is the odd man out in the center? Can Mathis pull the strings? Maybe it is a 4-3-3. How would that effect what qualities we need in the backs?
-One target forward? Two forwards? Which pair would compliment each other there? How about three a la Dallas? The Rapids seem to have plenty of front players on the roster. Who is going to score the goals now?
Consider these things as well. It is a World Cup year. Pablo and Cornell Glen will likely miss 6 weeks or more. Does this affect who you play and where you play them? Does it affect the number of players you keep at each position? Will the players you choose be able to adapt while up a goal down a goal up a man down a man or will major changes to the lineup be necessary in these situations?
You get bonus points if you can figure out what the entire 28 man roster should look like.
I will be working on my version and may even get off the fence and give you my choices when the team returns from Spain next month. Until then have some fun with it. The season is almost upon us.
Brian Crookham's "Stoppage Time" column runs exclusively on ColoradoRapids.com. Brian is the Assistant Technical Director for the Colorado State Youth Soccer Association and serves as color commentator for Rapids broadcasts on Altitude TV. 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 or comments to Brian at StoppageTime@att.net