For the first three training days of Real Salt Lake’s sojourn to Orlando for the MLS Is Back Tournament, the team was focused on soccer around the clock. Between training sessions, video breakdowns, weight room and fitness sessions, time on the training table and more, there had hardly been much time to decompress.
On Thursday, after a spirited training session under the lights on Wednesday night that went well past 11 o’clock, the team got a well-deserved reprieve. On the first day off of the trip, many players on the squad took to the links at a local golf club to play 18 holes.
“We told them to forget about soccer and enjoy the day,” RSL Head Coach Freddy Juarez said.
The team grouped up into foursomes and quickly found who were the avid golfers and who would be playing their first round, but throughout the team players came back to the hotel laughing and smiling about the good time they had.
While the focus is intently on putting on good performances in the MLS Is Back Tournament, the coaching staff thought it would be necessary to allow some time away from the game to more closely mimic a normal training week.
“It’s tricky. You get with your science department and manage everything on the field. But off the field, there is a lot to manage,” Juarez said. “There is the testing, the weight-lifting, getting rest, proper meals. We are trying to add things in there that allow them the rest period that doesn’t bore them. If we can break it up with something to benefit them without having them do too much, that’s great.”
One benefit Juarez has on his roster is players who have gone through the rigors of competitions in a similar format to the MLS Is Back Tournament. Each team will play three Group Stage matches before advancing to the knockout rounds – similar to the Olympics and the World Cup.
With RSL, Kyle Beckerman has World Cup experience to go along with several Gold Cups, Giuseppe Rossi was the Golden Boot winner at the 2008 Olympics while Marcelo Silva, Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera and David Ochoa – who is out with a thumb injury – have all played in U-20 World Cups. Those are just a few examples of players that have played in this style of tournament throughout their international careers and that experience is valuable to Juarez on and off the field.
“I think it helps. When you have the experienced players that have done that then the young players see them and see how they handle the day-to-day, it goes a long way,” he said. “Their actions speak louder than words and our leaders do a very good job of expressing through their experience of how to handle a lot of these things.”
ANOTHER BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
After Albert Rusnàk celebrated his birthday on Tuesday, it was Alvin Jones’ turn on Thursday. The Trinidad and Tobago National Team defender turned 26 on Thursday and was regaled by his teammates at the team dinner.
On Wednesday, RSL moved its training time into the evening, starting at 9:30 p.m. under the lights at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. With the club’s first two matches kicking off at 10:30 p.m. Eastern (8:30 p.m. MT), Juarez and his staff wanted players to get their body clocks accustomed to later starts. That included pushing meals back to later times, too, as the team adjusts to the schedule.
The results under the unusual circumstances left Juarez happy with the team’s progress.
“They were buzzing. Great session. Great energy,” he said. “We’re trying our best to prepare our guys for the first two games. And those first two games are going to be 10:30 p.m. games. That’s pretty unheard of.”
RSL returns to the practice field on Friday evening in the final build-up to the first match of the tournament on Sunday against the Colorado Rapids. Kickoff on Sunday is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. MT on ESPN.