How will the shortened preseason impact planning?
In the past, players have looked at preseason as a time to ramp up training in anticipation of hitting near peak fitness in early March. However, the 2018 preseason is a unique one as the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League and MLS regular season loom on February 20 and March 10 respectively. With only 28 days between the player report date and first CCL match with Toronto FC, new head coach Anthony Hudson must get his side up to speed, and quickly. This leaves little room in the margins when it comes to fitness.
“We want an incredibly strong preseason physically [and] tactically,” Hudson said. “We want the players that we lead into that first game in a really, really strong position”
To do this, the players were asked to report on January 22 already in top physical condition. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Hudson so far, it’s that he has a focus on three things: organization, professionalism and of course fitness. In fact, the new boss cemented just how serious he was when he sent a note to the first team clearly outlining the player’s physical expectations upon report date.
“We don’t really have the luxury of a honeymoon period, given the fact that we’ve got a four-week preseason. We need to focus on the process and making sure the players come in as fit as possible, making sure we are ahead of the game in terms of how I want to play,” Hudson said.
During camp in Arizona, the team will participate in four friendlies – two against MLS sides Sporting Kansas City and Columbus Crew SC and one against both Phoenix Rising FC and Sporting Arizona. Fans should expect Hudson's new-look side to use these matches primarily to integrate new players and to measure levels of match fitness.
How will the players adapt to coach Hudson's new system?
When outlining the plan for 2018, Hudson and Executive Vice President and General Manager Pádraig Smith made it very clear that they would be bringing in players to fit their preferred tactical set-up, not the other way around.
“The key for us has been to identify players that fit how we want to play,” Hudson said. “All of the new players are players that are going to help us in that regard.”
Hudson, who deployed an attack-minded, three in the back system while with New Zealand, will look to maintain a stout defensive structure, while maintaining robust attacking options on offense. Having players who understand the communication needs, positioning and cohesiveness required to make this system work will be vital to the Rapids success early this season. Getting the X's and O's down is almost certainly at the top of the priority list during the first camp in Casa Grande, Arizona.
“Preseason is such a vital part in preparing the team and its players," said Hudson. "This is the time we have to get the environment right, the standards right, the expectations right, build the team spirit and build the cohesion in the group. The only way to do that is hitting things head on incredibly hard with a plan with everyone pulling in the same direction. Preseason is absolutely crucial."
It's worth noting that newcomers like Jack Price, Deklan Wynne, Tommy Smith, Kip Colvey and Edgar Castillo have experience in this formation and will be invaluable in helping the squad adapt.
How will the team mesh with so many new faces?
If you’ve been keeping up with the Rapids in the offseason, you’re well aware that there have been several changes to the first-team roster. In fact, since November the Rapids have brought in eight players and five draftees, as well as a new head coach.
“As soon as the decision was made and I was added to the roster, I was just super excited to get out here and get to work,” said newcomer Kip Colvey. “I’m looking to make a huge contribution this year.”
Returning Rapids veteran, Eric Miller will prove a vital link between returning players and the newcomers, particularly on the back line.
"All of the new guys that have come in have done a really good job bringing in a new energy to the group and bringing a new level of focus," Miller said.
Rapids' captain Tim Howard sounded optimistic when speaking about Anthony Hudson, as well.
"I was blown away by meeting him (Hudson) for the first time,” Howard said. “Listening to him speak and give some of his experiences and his thoughts on how he wants his teams to play tactically and what he expects of his teams, I was pleasantly surprised. At my age, I was like ‘I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen the good and the bad,’ and obviously I’m delighted to hear his ideas. It gave me more optimism and hope than I already had.”