Fans have been hopeful that MLS would return sooner rather than later, and the announcement that players were allowed to start individual workouts this week is a step in that direction. On Thursday, May 7th, members of the media spoke with Colorado Rapids Head Coach Robin Fraser about getting back into the swing of things, his thoughts on fitting in as many games as possible, and more.
What will the individual training look like?
“Many teams started yesterday and we’re going to start on Monday, and how it works is, there’s been extensive research to put the protocol together, with player safety being the absolute priority over anything else. It’s trying to create as sterile and sanitary an environment as possible for them. And it’ll end up being guys with a few balls individually, some equipment—cones, flags that sort of thing—rebounders, and really it’s an opportunity for them to work on their own, do some fitness on their own, be on grass, be on good surfaces, and be safe because they’re not being exposed to others.”
How quickly could MLS move to group training?
“The standard answer to that question in my mind is, I don’t know, we don’t know. I feel like everything now is all so new to us that we’re still trying to navigate these waters and we have no idea when it’s actually going to be safe. We see the country trending toward opening up. We hope that this all goes positively and if it goes positively, then we will follow that trend as well I’m sure, but it’d be really premature to even try to predict I just don’t know, I don’t think anyone really knows... we’re trying to move forward. I feel like we’re taking some steps to getting back and obviously testing is going to be a big part of our ability to get into group training and team training and get back to playing, and certainly availability and testing will be something that will be a challenge in this.”
Does he have an idea of where the players are at fitness-wise?
“We have a really good idea. Chad’s done a great job of staying on top of them and they’ve had workouts to do—they’ve done group workouts together, they’ve done yoga together—there’s been a lot of contact with them that way.
In terms of my contact with them, we’ve had weekly meetings, video analysis-oriented meetings, and while we’ve not been able to make gains on the soccer side certainly physically, we’ve been able to, to some extent, maintain the fitness level and strength based on the work they’ve done with Chad and then hopefully continue to keep their minds sharp with some of the video stuff we’ve done.
Like anything else, like any time you’re first getting back onto the field after a layoff, I think the players are going to be really excited to be on the grass and have a ball at their feet and be out in the sun and being able to do that. But it’s just been piecemeal just putting it together to keep them as ready as they can be and hopefully this will be the next step and then getting them ready for more group stuff and eventually full-team training.”
Fraser later said that they plan to use two fields for training, which allows eight players to work out at a time.
How has Fraser’s day-to-day changed due to the current circumstances?
“It’s been more preparation stuff. A lot of it has been trying to make sure that we do the right things to... get the most out of our players at the moment. And for me it’s difficult as a player to train like you have the game on the weekend when you don’t, and you don’t know when your next game is going to be.
It’s an interesting place to be because you always have a target date in mind when you train. If it’s offseason you know when you’re going to start. If you’re coming back from injury, you have a target date that you’re shooting for. If you’re coming off a game you know when the next game is—there’s always a target date that you’re aiming for. So, when there is no target and the target keeps moving, it’s really hard to keep players engaged that way.
So I think that the way we’ve gone about it has been much more about comprehensively trying to keep them stimulated. And with the work Chad’s done with them it’s about keeping them as fit as can be without, without grinding on them without a start date, and it’s just trying to keep them in a position where once we do start, we can hit the ground running versus starting from ground zero.”
He explained that the video conferences have been important and while the players probably get tired of it, Fraser “can’t help but feel that we’re making gains mentally, which at the end of the day is the most important thing.”
He added that “some days are longer than others. Yesterday, I think I was on conference calls from 11—just for various things and including some player meetings—but on conference calls from 11:30 to basically 9 p.m. It was just one of those days. So much so that I took my chair for my office, dismantled it, put it in my car, and took it home.”
With multi-game weeks practically inevitable, how much of an advantage is having the type of depth that the Rapids currently have?
“I think it bodes well for us. I like the depth of our team, and I like the ability to mix and match, and potentially with even more subs that’s something that’s being talked about. I think we have the ability to push games, kind of game in and game out. I feel like we’re really well-positioned for that and the more I think about what this truncated season may look like, I get kind of excited about that because I do think that we have a number of players—at least two players in each position—that on any day we’d be comfortable starting. I don’t know that every team feels that way, but I think this format could suit us really well on certainly like to think so. Based on what we’ve seen and the quality of what training sessions have been like and when all the players are firing on all cylinders, I feel like it could really help us down the stretch.”
All in all, Fraser believes that the players will have made some gains once they get back on the field and he seems pleased with the effort that’s been made by everyone—from the players to the staff—to keep in contact and keep working during the break in play and training. Hopefully, things go well over the next couple of weeks and we’ll see some games in June.