With the first of Real Salt Lake’s pair of Arizona-based training camps almost in the books, RealSaltLake.com caught up with Head Coach Jason Kreis on Monday (aka "Day 9" of 10) to get his thoughts on how his team has managed the preseason throughout the first two weeks. On the eve of RSL’s first exhibition match of the 2011 preseason against Vancouver, Kreis explains why only one number on the scoreboard will matter on Tuesday and what Álvaro Saborío said to make him laugh, among other topics …
What were you looking to accomplish during this camp in terms of fitness and tactics, and do you think those goals have been met?
“We learned from the first day of preseason that we didn’t have to focus a lot of time or energy on fitness, so we haven’t done that. We’ve done essentially two fitness exercises since we’ve been down here and everything else has been about having the guys play and get back into a rhythm.
“Our sole focus on this entire first trip has been on defending and breaking it down from one player, two players, three players, and building it up back up to the entire 11. We’ll go into Tuesday’s game completely focused on that – how we defend as a team – and we won’t critique them on how they do with the ball.”
Have you seen the level of sharpness out of the group that you were hoping for?
“When you talk about ‘clicking’ and sort of the subconscious play and understanding, I think you’re really talking about what you’re doing with the ball, which, again, has not been our focus. I have been really pleased with the defensive work they’ve put in and that there hasn’t been many too many stoppages in the middle of the sessions to get after them and to tell them what we’re expecting of them. Quite frankly, they almost all have a really clear understanding of it now, especially with the majority being here now for several years. We haven’t had to spend a whole lot of time in regards to philosophy of defending and where we want to win the ball and those sorts of things. It’s helped that they all have a real good understanding of each other and where they are supposed to be defensively.”
What are you looking to get out of Tuesday’s scrimmage against Vancouver?
“We just have to be focused on what we’ve worked on as a group and not be overly critical of them or get after them if we feel they aren’t good enough with the ball. We can’t expect them to be excellent on the ball and make great decisions when we have it because we just haven’t spent time focusing on that. We’re going to be very intent on watching what we’re doing as a team when we don’t have the ball and hoping that we’ve got that correct.”
With incredibly meaningful games taking place in just three weeks’ time, will you be placing any importance at all on the result on Tuesday?
“Not at all … although I think that’s probably a little bit of a lie because the one part of the scoreboard we will be looking at is defensively. We’re looking for a zero, and that challenge will be placed in front of the players.
“We’re going to play two entirely different groups between 60-70 minutes, and each of them will have that challenge. The team that goes into the second half of the three periods, we certainly wouldn’t be unrealistic and ask them go chase the game if we’re down; we’re just going to say you’re entering the game at 0-0, and that’s how we have to handle it.”
Have the new players in camp been undergoing a bit of an accelerated learning curve during these first two weeks?
“I think that any of the draftees or trialists that came into our camp thinking that it wasn’t going to be an extremely difficult challenge to try to blend in and make this group probably wasn’t sure what Real Salt Lake is about. It has been extremely difficult for those guys to blend in, and I’m sure it’s been difficult for them to understand so quickly what we’re after, but that’s just the reality of the situation.”
Álvaro Saborío and Chris Schuler both trained on the field with their teammates on a limited basis for the first time today. Do you think that will help them mentally as they progress through the rest of the preseason?
“I think so. They were both really itching to get involved in the training in some way, and in speaking with both of them afterwards they came through with flying colors. ‘Sabo’ mentioned that he’d like to play a little bit tomorrow … of course I laughed and chuckled! But it really was encouraging to see them training a little bit and, even more so than that, coming out on the other side positively.”
Has there been anyone that has surprised you at all with their performance during the opening camp?
“We have some players that are really stepping forward and showing how badly they want it. I feel like it’s all of them, really – I wouldn’t single any of them out individually.”