Most of the goals set for a soccer team are done in the short-term. It’s either getting the three points on the coming weekend or making the most of a two-game home stretch. For that reason, when there are no matches to be played in a two-week time period, it can get challenging to keep the focus and the attention level high among the players.
That’s exactly the case with Columbus Crew SC this week. After defeating New York City FC on Saturday, the Black & Gold won’t see the field again until Sept. 15, when they head to Texas to face FC Dallas.
But the coaching staff doesn’t want the players to slow down and take the week easily. On the contrary, the training sessions been held at the Obetz facility have been among the most demanding of the entire season.
“We set the tone in training,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We know there will be no competition this week, but the training has been intense. We have some physical and tactical priorities this week we want to accomplish and the guys have been doing a good job. Recovery is part of it, but it’s time to continue to build on what we’ve been doing on the field and build some of our fitness base. So I think overall we’ll get a lot of positives from this week.”
The training schedule set for this week is actually heavier than the one of a regular game week. The players are working for five straight days, as opposed to four, but will have both Saturday and Sunday off before they show up on Monday for the week leading up to the Dallas game.
Berhalter, however, doesn’t have the entire roster to work with as goalkeeper Zack Steffen, midfielder Wil Trapp and forward Gyasi Zardes are with the U.S. National Team, fullback Harrison Afful is serving Ghana’s National Team and midfielder Cristian Martínez has been called up by Panama.
“From a physical standpoint, we had the week laid out since the beginning of the year,” Berhalter explained. “We know what we want to accomplish now and we can make alterations based on injuries or the status of the group. We’re good to go, we have guys that we are pushing and we’ll continue with the plan.”
The highly demanding training sessions can be exhausting to the players, especially being held during what has arguably been the warmest week of the entire year. But at the same time, they understand the need of keeping sharp and making the most of the opportunity of working on their own game.
“We’re still preparing very hard although we don’t have a game this weekend and this is the right mentality because if we take four of five days off and don’t play, that’s going to affect us in the future,” defender Jonathan Mensah said.
One of the leaders of the roster, center-back Josh Williams is another one to point out how the team can ultimately benefit from the hard work put in this week. While many teams opt to give their players several days off when they don’t have a game on the weekend, the Crew is sweating out at Obetz.
The hopes are the hard work pays off when it really matters.
“Weeks like this can separate us,” Williams remarked. “It gives us an edge come October, November and December. I’m seeing SnapChat and while other guys are on vacation, we’re grinding it out. When you see people on vacation you tend to think it would be nice, but we’d rather not have a vacation and go until November or December. We grind it out here now and hopefully celebrate in the end of the season.”
And according to Williams, the commitment level from his teammates has been a positive. The defender, always a noticeable talker during the team’s training sessions, believes that the players understood that at this point of the season, it’s full pace ahead.
“I always try to use my voice in some manner to kind of inspire when I feel we’re tired, but at this point of the season, we all know we need to grind,” the defender reflected. “If you are going to be part of this team, it’s not easy. The way we play forces us to be disciplined, to be intense in training, to be physically and mentally fit.”