It seems like ages ago when the U.S. team began gathering in Cleveland for the five-game stretch (it’s actually 19 days). In that time there have been four matches played in varying climates and conditions, and thousands of miles traveled. Carrying three straight wins and six huge points from two World Cup Qualifiers into this final week, the performance fitness approach is simple: rest, recover and recharge.
“With four games in two weeks, there has been a lot of accumulated physical stress and fatigue,” said U.S. MNT performance fitness coach Masa Sakihana. “The primary goal is to get recovered. At the same time, we have a week between games, so we need to stimulate their systems in order to get ready. A week between games is too long to go easy.”
Since players have had different workloads in the amount of minutes played through these games, the performance fitness focus will center on individualized training.
“On the field we will do speed and agility training. It’s not high intensity; it’s more to keep their systems active. With the Performance Fitness Room set up in the hotel, we can tailor the sessions based on their needs. The players who haven’t played much will get fitness and strength work to keep them ready. They already got in a high intensity session on the stadium field right after the game against Panama.”
From the start of camp on May 26, there were essentially two groups: those that had come off a break from seasons in Europe and those who were still in full form from their games in MLS and Denmark. While there was a gap, it didn’t take long to make up the difference.
“In the beginning, the guys who had a break from their season didn’t lose their fitness level, but their bodies needed to get readjusted to the training intensity,” Sakihana said. “The MLS guys came in with a good fitness, and it didn’t take too much for the others to catch up. After four or five days and the game against Belgium, it came back to them. The tough game against Germany with the hot conditions in D.C. actually helped them improve their physical fitness level and get them ready for Jamaica.”
Ultimately, the two preparation games combined with the World Cup Qualifiers have put the team in a great spot physically, and with careful planning the last five days are teed up to finish the job against Honduras.
“The overall goal is to have everyone ready, but each path is different.”