When Sigi Schmid said Saturday, "there are a couple guys I’m concerned about a little bit that I don’t think came back as fit as I would have liked," some alarm bells went off in with in the Seattle Sounders fanbase. The question asked concerned how the team needed to change training in light of the CONCACAF Champions League series against Santos Laguna that starts a week and a half prior to League play. With 2012 starting off with such a strong opponent it is changing how Sigi and David Tenney (Sounders FC Fitness Coach) manage this year.
Tenney on Friday spoke with Sounder at Heart about the team's plan.
We're trying to balance the whole year is freshness and fitness at the same time. We have to build fitness earlier because we have to be fresh when it comes to CONCACAF. We can't go into the CONCACAF game already fatigued. We have to program in games, we have to be aggressive in some of our fitness as you saw today [Friday] at the same time we have to start pulling back on the reigns a bit earlier too as we can build in the freshness before fatigue starts.
It is a team wide focus. Tenney mentioned that about 20 players a day showed up for voluntary fitness sessions that started almost two weeks prior to the officially opening of Training Camp. At the time 27 were on the roster, with three of those being with their national teams and one still in Trinidad. It comes as little surprise that Mike Fucito was one of those that worked out almost all of the offseason (the list is quite long). Fucito stated his reason;
We want to cause some havoc in the Champions League and I think we've done well in League play but now we want to get over that hump.
Asked about starting off against a tougher than usual opponent he responded.
I think at this stage there is no easing into it. We'll get in our preseason games and we'll get tested early and see what we're about. I like it; it's a good challenge for us.
With that kind of fire, echoed by every returning player that talked to Sounder at Heart it is on Tenney and Schmid to craft this year's preseason in a manner that maximizes the Sounders chances at victory not just for the two leg CCL series, but for a long league season that overlaps the US Open Cup and the next Champions League as well.
Fitness is combined with ball work as often as possible with the Sounders. Tenney says that the high level of offseason training and the nature of the American soccer player influences why Seattle started their official training with the ball at their feet.
We have such a long offseason that we can make the demand that through November, December you're going to take your time off and now we have to start building. That's the time you can build maximum strength and aerobic conditioning and all that stuff away from doing stuff with the ball.
Once you come into preseason you should already have that certain level because you've worked on your max strength and aerobic conditioning. Now we can add the ball in right away because you've already done those things.
It's different than more mature soccer leagues, especially the elite leagues, where the players are already more technical. A background where fitness is more of a concern than technique is likely why Steve Nicols with the New England Revolution used to focus on fitness. The culture of soccer which raised him did things a specific way and he continued that in MLS. But there are also recent changes in MLS about fitness in general, where there is an expectation that players be fit at the start of preseason and where a full time fitness coach is now the standard.
We're in the process of finalizing a GPS system from Australia in the next couple of weeks that will track how much distance our players are covering in training. Those are things that even five years ago you weren't seeing in the league. In Europe and Australia they've been evolving those types of technologies for the last ten years. We seem to be about three or four years behind what they are doing there. It's good that we're catching up in some ways. I anticipate that most teams now have full time fitness coaches. I think most teams have the technology now too.
Rapid advancements in technology, especially out of Australia and Europe are why Tenney joined Twitter recently. His network of contacts stretch from Sydney to Liverpool to Holland, the micro-blogging site helps him keep in touch with the people he knows already and discover the latest in the science of sports physiology.
As you see most of my tweets are science based research and interacting with peers. If Sounders fans can see what I'm up to that way, that's OK too.
After Monday's practice Sigi explained that the Arizona phase of training will see adjustments in how individuals train. Again the goal is to get those 13 or so possible starters against Santos fit and fresh for leg one.
We want to keep them all together right now, until we go through the beep test. The beep test not only measures fitness, but also gives us everybody’s maximum heart rate and so it allows us then to do a better job with the heart monitors, et cetera, to know when to push and how hard to push. So then as we come out of the beep test and go into Arizona, that’s when we then start really differentiating between some people. Some people maybe have to get up for an early morning run, maybe they got to do a workout in the afternoon—a bike workout—and maybe while the rest of the group’s playing, these guys are running. That’s how we make our adjustments and try and bring everybody to the same level.
The team's use of technology, an internationally connected fitness coach and the drive of the players to succeed (Fucito wants his sprint title back, Estrada and Levesque will be pushed on the beep test, Levesque and Scott as older players will be pushed by the youth) is what will determine who is fit and ready for that match. But as much design as goes into the plans of Schmid and Tenney it will be the players who determine whether they are ready or not.