For all teams in Major League Soccer, life in the bubble is an adjustment. For some, another adjustment has been to the heat and humidity of central Florida.
While temperatures in the mid-80s are nothing new to Real Salt Lake, the 80% humidity at Tuesday’s training session called for an emphasis on water breaks and an urgency to utilize cold tubs after the afternoon session. The key to Freddy Juarez and his staff has been to control the controllables and keep the players focused on the task at hand – winning each game as it comes along on the schedule.
Although some adjustments have been made and the weather conditions are a topic of conversation, the team has focused on how to be ready to combat those conditions when the players take the field for the first time on Sunday against the Colorado Rapids.
“So far, we’ve been preparing as best as we can for the heat,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said. “Freddy has done a really good job of keeping us focused on what we can control.”
The first two training sessions for RSL have come during the late-morning heat and while that presents some challenges, the team has also avoided the stormy conditions that roll through Orlando in later parts of the day that have cause lightning delays to training sessions for many teams. It also has allowed the players to become more acclimated to the humidity that will surely be a factor when games kick off.
In addition to an emphasis on hydration, rest and taking care of their bodies, Juarez has stressed the importance of mental strength in preparing for the matchday conditions.
“It’s more mental than anything else. We trained in the heat in Salt Lake, so it won’t be any different there. The humidity is where it becomes a mental aspect,” he said. “There are going to be highs and lows in each game for either team. I think the important part is when we are in the lows – when we are suffering a bit - we need to suffer together. It’s going to take mental strength.”
On the field, there may be some tactical adjustments as well. While teams may come out flying in the first parts of their matches, the fatigue that inevitably sets in during any match will likely be amplified by the heat and humidity. Controlling the tempo of the match and being smart and calculated in possession and being disciplined on the defensive side will be key to finding success in the tournament.
“I think there are ways for teams to use the heat or their fitness or their tactics as an advantage. Teams that are more organized and disciplined I think will have some success in this tournament,” goalkeeper Zac MacMath said. “That’s one of the things that we’ve stressed so much is being organized and disciplined and trying to control what we can control throughout the game. Hopefully that puts us in position to win games.”
All matches in the tournament avoid the hottest times of the day. RSL will kick off its first two matches at 10:30 p.m. in Orlando (8:30 p.m. MT) with the third Group Stage match starting at 9 a.m. (7 a.m. MT).
THEY SAY IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY
Tuesday was Albert Rusnàk’s 26th birthday. Typically, RSL sends players through a birthday tunnel before training in which teammates will splash the birthday boy with water as they run through the alley of players. Because of the weather conditions – and out of caution during the pandemic - they decided to forgo that tradition at training.
Later in the evening, Rusnàk was serenaded by the entire traveling contingent at the team dinner at Shula’s Steakhouse at the team hotel.
RSL will train late in the night on Wednesday to get more acclimated to the kickoff schedule of the first two matches. In preparation for the late kickoffs to come, the team’s entire schedule has shifted to best suit the players’ needs, with team meals and treatment sessions all coming later in the day.