The first two weeks of preseason is never fun. It is generally about getting the fitness necessary to make it through a season, and therefore means a lot of no fun conditioning.
"Luckily there was no track involved this year, last year there was," center back Michael Parkhurst said this week. "This year, at least we did it on the field."
Columbus Crew SC opened their preseason with one day at home for testing before heading to Lakewood Ranch, Florida, for two weeks. They returned to Columbus for three days this week.
"The trip was great. It was really good," head coach Gregg Berhalter said of the first leg of the preseason. "The guys worked extremely hard. We were fortunate to have almost 100 percent participation throughout the camp, which is rare in that type of environment with a lot of fitness and a lot of hard sessions."
Berhalter said this first portion of the preseason was focused on conditioning, but also teaching and going over the team's system. At the conclusion of those two weeks, it appears things went well.
"I'm extremely happy with where we're at," winger Ethan Finlay said. "I think that we had a good majority of guys who came in really fit. The first camp is kind of a get to know you, get that base fitness and I think we accomplished that and more and I think we're very happy about it."
One thing that may have made this part of preseason a bit more enjoyable for the players is the lack of standard conditioning drills. As Parkhurst stated, there was no track. Instead, everything the players did helped them improve their fitness, but also focused on soccer.
"It might be an extra run or two built into the functional drill," Finlay explained. "So you're working on the movement, the ability, and the technique but then maybe on the side you've got a little running of some sort that gets the guys' heart rate up who's going to have to make those long runs back and forth.
"If you ask any player in the world, they'd much rather be doing functional fitness than just go run without a ball."
Not only does this help to get the players ready for soccer quicker, but also keeps them from focusing on the conditioning. When a player is working with a ball and with other players, he won't think so much about the conditioning he is also doing.
"The more that we can integrate the ball, it just gets your mind off the fitness," Parkhurst said. "And you're willing to run and willing to run a little bit more knowing that it's part of the game rather than just watching the guy in front of you run as far as he can."
In their brief stay in Columbus, the players were given Saturday and Sunday off before picking up training this week. They had two normal training sessions Monday and Wednesday and a high-intensity practice on Tuesday.
As they prepare to head to Austin, Berhalter believes they are pretty close to on target in terms of where they wanted to be at this part of the preseason.
"From a fitness standpoint, we're right there," Berhalter indicated. "From a tactical standpoint, we still have a ways to go, but the progress is good. In terms of the new guys learning what we're doing, we feel confident with that. So we're in a good spot right now."
For the players, it will not only be a change of scenery after two weeks in Florida and three days of indoor training at SuperKick, but it will also give them a chance to play some competitive games and stop playing against each other.
"There's situations that come up in a game that you just can't train and it's good to get those situations and look at them on tape, go over them," Parkhurst said. "So we need that experience. And also the game fitness. It's just different than other fitness. Those things are really important, especially for those first couple of games.
"I think everybody's looking forward to playing somebody else. We're tired of kicking each other and we want to kick somebody else a little bit."