SANDY, UT - MAY 26: Terukazu Tanaka #53 of Real Salt Lake and Bryan Leyva #21 of FC Dallas fight for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer game May 26, 2012 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
I've been looking forward to this one for awhile. FC Dallas is practicing Monday-Friday this week as they begin their quest to get back to track starting with the game in Houston next Saturday afternoon. It was just a gorgeous morning out there and these training sessions are invaluable to Schellas as he tries to get the team back fit and focused as they hopefully make their run in the next few games. I'm going to try a little different format of including the notes, the format of the practice, what I saw then the post-practice quotes in a separate piece. As always, if there's something I missed that you want to know about, please ask in the comments below.
M*A*S*H Update There's some good news and some not so great news. First off is the good news. David Ferreira was out at training today and rode the bike quite intensely for awhile. Just having him out there is so great to see. A couple more weeks until he starts kicking a ball? Is July 4 a realistic goal for him to return to the pitch? Maybe a little bit early but you never know with El Torito.
Andrew Wiedeman and Fabian Castillo trained fully today with no problems. Castillo I expected, but Wiedeman is a little bit of a surprise to me as he still looked a little bit of ways off at the last practice I went to. Wiede was obviously pretty rusty after 2 months off, but he's just another healthy body that can potentially contribute to this thing when injuries and suspensions hit. Jair Benitez took a knock late in practice today and came out as well.
George John and Zach Loyd participated in all the non-contact drills, but went to the side once the contact stuff started. You've got to think they're going to be included in practice after the weekend. Brek Shea was there but didn't do a whole lot, though he's in shoes now and not a boot so that's a good sign. Ricardo Villar did his normal rehab work while Hernan Pertuz jogged around the field, seemingly in good spirits. Bobby Warshaw is off crutches and into a boot...another month for him? You could make almost a full lineup with the names I just mentioned.
Academy Grads Perhaps the most exciting thing for me today at practice was seeing three of the academy guys, Bradlee Baladez, Jack Coleman and Jaime Ibarra, out at practice today. Baladez will be a junior at South Carolina this fall and was named to the Conference USA First Team as a Sophomore with a team-leading 8 goals on the season. He's a big, strong forward at 6-1 with a build that has filled out since I last saw him and generally plays as the highest up player on the pitch.
Jack Coleman is a sophomore defender at Indiana University who played in multiple reserve games for FCD last season, but amazingly was barely played at Indiana last season and may be transferring this summer. If you had asked me last year who the top prospect on the team that finished second in the nation, I would've said Coleman. He's Drew Moor 2.0. I meant to ask him if he was transferring and forgot.
Ibarra is the starting goalkeeper at SMU and enjoyed a nice 2011 year where he earned the starting spot in goal. I'm not really sure what his pro prospects are but you love to see all these guys out here giving the coaches a chance to see their progress.
Today, and this whole week, is mostly about fitness and team shape. After warmups and a drill working on 1-2 moves, FCD went to a lively 9v9 scrimmage played on a half sized pitch in the most entertaining part of the scrimmage. Hartman's team was Lee, Hedges, Benitez, D. Hernandez, Jacobson, Jackson, Castillo & Sealy/Baladez alternating while Seitz had M. Hernandez, Ulloa, Coleman, Marcelin, Leyva, Guarda, Wiedeman, Luna.
The first half was scoreless, but in the second half the team mostly made up of starters took the lead. A long ball was played up to Baladez who controlled it well and slipped a nice ball to Jacobson making a slashing run. His cross found Hernandez crashing the far post and he headed it home. A really nice goal that earned praise for Hernandez from Schellas for crashing the box.
The second goal was incredibly similar with the combinations coming from Sealy, Castillo and the cross finished off by Jackson. Two very nice combinations and the player from the starters in the scrimmage was overall very, very good. You just wish this kind of stuff could translate to a game, especially AJ getting forward and unleashing his cannon shots on keepers which almost never happens in games but is commonplace in practice.
After the 9v9, the practice moved to the middle of the pitch where another small sided game was played with three zones separated by cones: defense, midfield and offense, with two of the midfield on each team allowed to move into attack. The highlight of the scrimmage was a two-minute double salvo from Bryan Leyva. The first goal was beautifully curled past Hartman far post while the second one, taken less than a minute later, was fired near post past Kevin in a nice changeup for a goalkeeper not wanting to get beaten far post again.
After that there was a short scrimmage just focusing on fitness, all in all probably the most crisp and thorough practice I've seen since April.
Summer School As someone who tracks the academy players & graduates closely, it's fascinating to get a look at the college guys as they come in for what I like to call summer school. Baladez is a player with a ton of potential who still has some work to do to get to where he needs to be as a forward for Schellas to sign him and the most interesting thing about it is most of the work doesn't even have to do with scoring goals.
Schellas took Bradlee aside after the 9v9 game and I asked him what the coach said to him. He said it was all about shutting defenders down, doing the work off the ball to not allow the passing lanes to open up out of the back. It's the same thing you saw being beaten into Bryan Leyva and Ruben Luna last year and it seems to be the biggest hurdle between attacking players doing it in college and coming to do it for FC Dallas. Team defending.
Players working for each other With some guys you see it and other guys you don't. This team is going nowhere if wing players are not willing to drop back to play defense and literally every single player on the pitch has the mindset that getting the ball back is the single most important thing in the game. During the scrimmage, the words "Second Ball" were uttered by Schellas Hyndman more than any other phrase and that's talking about players who are working to get in a good position to win that ball that comes out of the 50-50 challenge and get in the position where if a defender pokes the ball away from a forward, a midfielder will be coming deep to pounce on it.
Fitness Focus It seems like this week is all about getting fitness levels up so that late goals don't happen. Are the late goals a product of poor fitness? I'm not so sure that's the case, but in any case the teams that are the most fit are generally the ones that win the games.
Scattershooting Bryan Leyva is by far the second most dangerous player on the team when given space, behind Brek Shea...Jackson simply has to begin to pass the ball and find his teammates or he's going to find his way to the bench...Bruno struggled big time today, the clock is ticking on him.