As the LA portion of the January camp hits the halfway point, the focus of training during the second cycle of performance fitness has shifted towards introducing the concepts of how the U.S. plays under U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The two-a-day sessions continue, while the emphasis gradually changes.
“We continue with the same focus on building a good foundation, but now we start implementing our style of play,” said assistant coach Martin Vasquez. “We are working on group defending and team shape and we are able to utilize the two sessions to accomplish those things we need for the games ahead.”
While there is an increase in the soccer-specific exercises, the process of building fitness remains an important element and impacts the planning of each session.
“Our fitness coach Masa Sakihana takes the first part of the morning session to work on different elements - explosiveness, acceleration, change of direction – and that leaves their legs still heavy. With Masa, Jurgen, Andy Herzog and our goalkeeper coach, there is clear communication on the loads and intensity we can put on them. “
Another tool the coaching staff uses to accomplish both goals are small-sided games, which combine high pace with lots of touches on the ball.
“We play a lot of high intensity games – exercises like five against five or six against six, and put them either in specific areas of the field or as transition games. The competition is very intense, and we start pushing the guys with blocks of anywhere from five to 10 minutes so that it will be high intensity.”
Building the framework of understanding how the team plays starts with functional training, using different exercises for defenders, midfielders and forwards to develop coordinated movements amongst the group.
“When we talk about functional training for defenders, we are working in the defensive half and breaking down how we defend with our back four,” Vasquez said. “Things like how we shift, step up, drop, and also how we build out of the back with the ball. With the midfielders and forwards, we work on combination play on the flanks and the timing of runs for crossing and finishing. There are many ways to accomplish this.”
With any National Team, there is the inherent challenge of getting players on the same page when they come from different styles and philosophies with their club teams. In a camp like this where so many of the players have had little or no exposure to the team under Klinsmann, the process becomes that much more important with an international game only two weeks away. The first step is providing an understanding. Vasquez says they recognize the challenge, and so far the work has been positive.
“It’s the hardest thing to accomplish, but we do it in a way that’s very clear to them. They are very receptive, they respond, and their attitude is great.”