Friday afternoon I joined a number of Union fans at the YSC indoor facility as the Union provided open access to the team's training session, before they head off to Florida for the rest of preseason. It was an experience I recommend to everyone the next time it is provided.
Open Practice Schedule
Leading up to the noon start time, the players spent time warming up on their own. Most of the first team players grouped in a circle in the corner of the turf field in front of the on watching fans for a game of one touch, with Sheanon Williams leading the way, counting out the touches strung together before one of the two defenders in the middle of the circle forced a mistake. One of the only trialists to join the first teamers in the game of one touch was Coady Andrews. The center back was megged, sending many of the senior players sprinting off across the large turf pitch screaming in delight. They regrouped and just 3 or 4 touches later Andrews was megged again, sending nearly every first team player scattering in the same fashion. Call it hazing or breaking in a trialist it was a funny moment to start the day.
Jim Curtin brought the team together and addressed them before having Fitness Coach Kevin Miller take the team off for a more formal warm up. Following the stretching and jogs, it was time for some soccer skill drills. The first drill was a combination of short touch passing before a long, thirty yard ball to another group of players who went through the same passes and returned it to the side that started. Curtin patrolled the drill encouraging the speed to be increased the longer it went on.
The real action kicked off after that. A transition attacking drill pitted three attackers against two defenders. The play continued until the ball was scored, went out of bounds, or the defense gained possession, in which case two additional players entered from the half way point of the drill giving the original defensive side a 4 on 3 advantage, forcing the attacking players to work back and defender their own goal. For the first group of attackers Sebastien Le Toux and Cristian Maidana were given the extra attacker role for the defensive side, while Danny Cruz and CJ Sapong did the same when the groups switched starting spots.
The last drill to feature the full compliment of players in camp was an 8v8 scrimmage with restricted rules. All players were limited to 3 touches at a time, if they were scored on that reduced to 2 touches, a further goal meant 1 touch, and a third goal resulted in an end to that "game." There were 3 teams of 8 so when a team gave up a 3rd goal the teams rotated giving a different match up. The team not participating at that given time lined the field and provided a passing option to the team in possession. Each goal had two keepers who rotated throughout play.
After the teams rotated several times, the non-first teamers had a small game of crossbar (where players try to kick the ball from the top of the penalty box) with Sheanon Williams leading the way again. Dzenan Catic was the first player to successfully hit the bar, on his first attempt even, followed by Raymond Lee, Aaron Simmons, John McCarthy, Coady Andrew, and finally Hermes Palomino.
Curtin then gave the players an option to practice shooting for those who wanted to practice or else they were done for the day. The group that stayed was the majority of players, with only defenders passing on the added practice. The keepers rotated throughout the drill, with Andre Blake stepping in first.
- Vincent Nogueira and Brian Carroll were the only players missing that were expected to be there.
- Speaking with the players as they were leaving all of them voiced one thought about heading to Florida - they are happy to be done practicing on turf.
- There was an obvious common trait with nearly all of the trialists - size. Palomino, Sylvestre and Andrews are all big guys, and even Dzenan Catic is an upgrade in size.
- The vocal leaders on the field were Sheanon Williams, Danny Cruz, Ethan White, and Andrew Wenger. I was surprised that Sebastien Le Toux and Maurice Edu were not more vocal on the field.
- Physically speaking, CJ Sapong is an athlete of a completely different caliber from the rest of the squad. He will be a joy to watch this season.
- In the 8v8 scrimmage there was a level of physical play from Fred, Cruz, Zach Pfeffer, and Ethan White that took the drill to a more game like level.
- Catic looks like a nice pick up in the second round of the draft. He is a big target striker that is solid with a defender at his back. His shooting is dangerous from his left foot, but average at best on his right.
- Edu was sitting in the middle of the back line during the 8v8 drill, letting Eric Bird play the central midfield role.
- Lastly, everyone remembers when Zach Pfeffer made his Union debut at 15 years of age. He's not the baby faced kid he used to be. He looks stronger and determined to compete for minutes this year. The facial hair he's decided to let grow on his chin doesn't hurt either.