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U.S. Men's National Team: Anatomy of a Practice

When the U.S. MNT Summer Blog isn't enough for you, we provide for the first time the inside scoup from a U.S. MNT training session.

Tuesday, May 29

9:40 a.m. – Final players roll down to the lobby and pile into the last van as we head to practice. About seven vans in all take the players, coaches and staff to The Home Depot Center. As usual, there are vans beating others off the line, at a stop light, or some just zooming past others on the way (under the speed limit of course). What can we say…everything is a competition.

9:50 a.m. – Pretty quick ride as we seemed to hit all the lights (that’s our story and we’re sticking to it).

9:52 a.m. – The players trickle out of the vans and head to the bench on Field 1. One-by-one they put on their cleats and begin to warm-up with a light jog across the field. Near the sideline, assistant coach Peter Nowak and Michael Bradley compete to see who could pass a ball between Ante Razov’s legs about 20 yards away. Peter goes first and is barely wide. Michael splits it right down the middle. Youth beats experience…this time.

9:54 a.m. – As the players warm up individually, the coaching staff talks through the set-up for practice and then Nowak and Mike Sorber head to far side of the field and begin laying down cones.

9:55 a.m. – The Men’s National Team isn’t the only team training here today as the Women’s National Team players walk by on their way to Field 3 (the one closest to the Avalon St.). The Women are in Residency as they continue to prepare for the FIFA Women’s World Cup later this summer and are practicing at 10 a.m. (they’ll also train again at 2:30 p.m.)

9:56 a.m. – The players inevitably end up warming up in groups of two or three. Right now we see Kamani Hill with Charlie Davies and Lee Nguyen; Sacha Kljestan and Benny Feilhaber; Ante Razov and Carlos Bocanegra; Jay DeMerit and Frank Simek; Jesse Marsch and Michael Bradley; Oguchi Onyewu and Clint Dempsey.

9:58 a.m. – As the players continue to get loose, we’re noticing it’s a bit chilly out today…well, chillier than yesterday, that is. Where’s the sun?

9:59 a.m. – After their quick, initial warm-up, the guys are now stretching in midfield for a minute or two. The balls are then out and the guys pair up again to knock ‘em around.

10:04 a.m. – Head coach Bob Bradley brings the guys together in the center circle and is talking about what they’ll be doing today and what he’s looking for from today’s practice. It’s just the field players as the keepers are warming up with Juergen Sommer, who’s in for his first ever MNT camp as a coach. After the quick pep talk, trainer Anthony Slater leads the guys in a light jog around the field. (Andrew has his shoes today after forgetting them yesterday and going barefoot.)

10:08 a.m. – As the players jog, the ‘keepers are actually hitting the ground already as Juergen strikes a line of balls from close range, first to the players left, then their right as they move across the goal mouth, stretching to make save after save in rapid succession. Brad Guzan is first, then Tim Howard followed by the vet, Kasey Keller.

10:10 a.m. – After the run, the guys get in a circle to stretch, led by Andrew in the middle of the circle. Interestingly, Sorber and Peter are also stretching. Possibly playing today? Guess we’ll see.

10:11 a.m. – While the action on the field is slow, MNT General Manager Pam Perkins is busy on the phone near the sideline working on flight details (probably for Copa America).

10:12 a.m. – Just noticed a guy we haven’t seen before on the field with U.S. gear on. After inquiring, we’re told it’s Dave, who works with Athlete’s Performance. He’s also better known as the “heart monitor guy.” All the players are wearing heart monitors today and David will be following their progress on his laptop from the sidelines.

10:13 a.m. – After stretching, Carlos Bocanegra quickly asks trainer Bruce Snell for what looks like some pain reliever cream, rubbing it in his thigh.

10:14 a.m. – We finally get into the meat of the practice. The 16 field players are broken up into two groups of eight. One is taking part in a passing/trapping drill. Basically the guys run with in a square, always moving in a counter-clockwise direction, taking a touch and giving it back (as we write, they change direction, going clockwise as well). As they go through the drill, they’re always changing up their rhythm a bit. Bradley and Sorber are running the drill, while Nowak has the other guys partner up and do some juggling near the endline.

10:20 a.m. – Bradley blows his whistle and the groups switch locations. But before they do, looks like there was a bit of a competition with the juggling and two of the four two-man groups lost: Gooch and Dempsey, and Bradley and Feilhaber are the four that dropped down to do a few pushups.

10:23 a.m. – Davies and Jonathan Bornstein just lost in the juggling competition. We know because they’re down doing pushups. They start again, this time juggling just with their head…and the duo almost lose again, as they’re all over the place (we hear Nowak yell, “Where you going” in his classic Polish accent). Luckily for them, they recover and get under control and keep the ball off the ground.

10:25 a.m. – After a bit more juggling, Sacha and Marsh end up the winners as everyone else is down doing pushups.

10:27 a.m. – Guys grab a drink and then are back together, moving over with Anthony once again to do some agility and footwork. Guys are in three lines and doing some sprints.

10:31 a.m. – Players using almost an entire half for the next drill where there are four two-by-two foot boxes in each corner. The teams of eight can score points by completing a pass into one of the boxes (that’s a pass from a guy outside the box to a guy inside the box). Nowak is playing all-time offense (he’s wearing red). Early on yellow takes a 2-1 lead as Boca feeds Dempsey. Bob telling the guys good so far, but there needs to be more talking. Umm…Nowak can definitely still play as he gets in good spots and sprays perfectly placed balls with one and two touches. He hits a great one-time ball to Jonathan Spector in the corner and puts it at 3-3. Another yellow score, then Marsh responds to for blue and a 4-4 tie.

10:38 a.m. – Bob blows his whistle after about seven minutes to talk through a couple points about moving without the ball and spacing.

10:40 a.m. – Some fans accumulating at the top of the fence here near the parking lot to take in the session. And also the first reporter has rolled in – Luis Bueno, who says he’s looking to speak with Bob, Ante and Beas.

10:43 a.m. – Preki just showed up and sat down on the bench. Chivas must not have training today (usually it’s at 10), so he decided to take in practice.

10:48 a.m. – Took a few minutes to watch the newbies (Hill, Nguyen and Davies). They’re holding their own, just a bit inconsistent, which is too be expected. Nguyen especially had a couple nice touches.

10:49 a.m. – Bob blows the whistle to end the drill…and we totally lost score. Wasn’t exactly announced each time they scored.

10:51 a.m. – Both goals are pulled up to the 18-yard lines and it looks like they’re going to play 9v9 (that’s with keepers) on the shortened field. Same teams with Kasey as blue’s keeper, while Howard is with the yellow squad (Guzan may split time with Howard).

10:54 a.m. – The yellow team hold onto the ball for the first 90 minutes, keeping possession until DaMarcus Beasley unleashes a shot from the left side that is just over the bar.

11:00 a.m. – No goals yet after a little more than five minutes, but some opportunities on goal by Bornstein and Dempsey, who is later taken down on a challenge and stays on the ground for a bit due to the collision. As Dempsey shakes it off, the team takes a break to get something to drink. Guzan is on the side still going through drills with Juergen, but it looks like he’ll swap with Howard sometime soon.

11:03 a.m. – During the break, we notice there are now about five or six reporters lined up on the far side of the practice field.

11:05 a.m. – Game is back on. The newbies connect as Nguyen slips a nice ball through for Davies, but his shot is saved.

11:09 a.m. – Action is stopped once again, and still no goals yet. Some good defending by both squads, with Frank Simek holding his own against Dempsey one-v-one after the Fulham midfielder got loose early. During the break, Gooch asks Anthony if he can take off the heart monitor (yep, still go them on), and Anthony replies, “preferably not.” Gooch keeps it on, despite saying it is bothering him (probably tight across his huge frame). All three coaches can be seen taking a minute to talk to some players: Nowak talks to a handful of players; Bradley pulls aside Davies to talk to him; and Sorber discusses some thoughts will Nguyen. Before they start up again, Guzan comes in for Howard.

11:11 a.m. – Right after restart, Hill gets through and almost tallies the first goal, but his attempt is parried over the bar.

11:18 a.m. – The game finally ends, although no goals. Dempsey hit a drive after a bit of a counter, but his attempt went high.

11:25 a.m. – Fitness time. Guys can’t be loving this.

11:27 a.m. – The players are running around the field for 30 seconds at full strength, then 30 seconds of a slight jog over the course of several minutes. As the players push themselves, Dave (“heart monitor guy”), Nowak and Anthony are in midfield overlooking a laptop relaying all the information from the monitors the players are wearing. Not the most intense fitness the guys are put through, but a good start to keep the Europeans in shape as they are out of season.

11:31 a.m. –That was it for the fitness and the guys (especially Gooch) are happy to take of the heart monitors. Bob tells the guys they have about 10 minutes on their own. As the MNT puts the finishing touches on their session, the WNT players walk by as they’ve just finished the first of their two-a-day.

11:34 a.m. – As guys splinter off to either take shots, pass the ball around or just stretch out after the 90-minute session, Bob takes the chance to continue coaching, talking to Ante at midfield. Appears they’re just talking about positioning on defending.

11:40 a.m. – A few guys (Bradley, Kljestan, Feilhaber and Bornstein) are working on some resistance training with Nowak and Anthony. The players are strapped into the resistance trainer with the waist belt and then run forward as either Nowak or Anthony holds on to the other end.

11:41 a.m. – On the other end of the field, Hill, Davies, Razov, DeMerit, Nguyen, Gooch, Simek, Spector, Marsch and Dempsey are doing some crossing and finishing. Gooch is laying a lot of balls in from the left flank (with his right foot), while guys are running two at a time (near and far post) and looking to finish on Kasey, Timmy and Brad.

11:45 a.m. – Guys move on to a strictly shooting drill now, with Sorber playing them a ball straight on from the endline. Lined up about 20 yards out, guys are attempting to take two touches, one to settle, the second to strike on goal. Razov has hit a couple rockets. DeMerit is struggling. The defender walks to the bench and jokes he had to give up as he was “just embarrassing himself.” But he also says he wasn’t getting the best service.

11:50 a.m. – Finally finished with everything, the players make their way to the bench and switch from their cleats to their runners or sandals. Most of the guys grab bottles of Gatorade in the coolers at the bench, and some get ice wrapped on any areas of need. Bob heads over to talk to the reporters.

11:51 a.m. – The media contingent is now in a frenzy as the guys start picking up gear and walking toward the parking lot. The requested players stop and talk to the reporters, some being patient to wait for one interview to end before theirs can start.

12:20 p.m. – Yep, Kasey Keller still talking to the media. The field is but a ghost town now as all the rest of the staff and players left long ago. Kasey is talking about his situation next year, and what his options are in Germany, the U.S. or elsewhere. Finally no more questions, and it’s off to the hotel.