About half of the players came out at 9am to practice - Zach Loyd, Otis Earle, Victor Ulloa, Tesho Akindele, Michel, Kyle Bekker, Fabian Castillo, Walker Zimmerman, Mauro Diaz, Blas Perez, Moises Hernandez, Atiba Harris, and Juan Toja. The new strength and conditioning coach, Fabian Bazan, had them perform a drill where they would squat 50 lbs plus the bar several times and then shuffle between obstacles. They moved on to one-touch pass-and-move drills. The speed has really picked up from a week ago and all players looked sharp.
After slowly jogging around the field, they performed core and ab exercises on the ground as Fabian Bazan barked out the next drill in Spanish. The goalkeepers were also out at this time working separately. Coy Craft was working one-on-one with a trainer on agility as he recovers from surgery.
The remaining players came out around 9:30 and were warming up separately with assistant coach Marco Ferruzzi. At 10am, they took the field to scrimmage against a mixture of U-16 and U-18 academy players. The lineup was as follows:
The senior side dominated and scored at least one goal. I was preoccupied at this time and cannot comment on any particulars. Erik and Olivia took many pictures of practice, so look for those to be posted on the FC Dallas website on Monday.
Catching up with Victor Ulloa
Vic was very kind to take a moment from watching the scrimmage to answer a few questions.
How was your offseason? What were you up to?
Just a lot of time spent with my family. I took a trip down to Mexico to see some of my family I hadn't seen in 7 years. It was good to see them. But other than that, just stayed around Dallas.
What part of Mexico?
South Mexico. The state, it's called Tabasco. It was by the beach. It was a good time to get away from everything and clear my mind.
Over the offseason, were there certain areas of your game or your fitness that you were working on?
Absolutely. They gave us a plan at the end of the season that we should follow. It wasn't mandatory, but I'm pretty sure everybody did. And that's what I followed. There's certain things on a personal basis that I need to get better at so I could perform this year.
Do you mind sharing what those things are?
Sure. I need to be more dynamic, more explosive. I feel like my first three steps need to be a little quicker. So that's what I tried to work on and hopefully it will be seen this year.
Is that a lot of sprinting or agility ladder?
Yeah, exactly. I did a lot of agility and interval workouts so I could work my fitness, get a good base and then work from that. Most of the time, we think that the first two steps aren't important, but watching video, it's important.
You've been watching video of games from last year?
Yeah, we watch. Especially the last few games, the playoff games. The game where we didn't beat Seattle. There's a lot of good things I got from it and some things that I can improve.
I bet this preseason feels a lot different than last year's preseason.
Yeah, knowing that I'm on the team. It's different seeing the guys in the same spot I was last year. What I like to do is give them some advice.
What kind of advice?
I tell them to keep working hard. Don't let anybody break you down no matter what happens. Soccer always gives you second opportunities. Just make the best out of it.
Starting at the beginning of the year you were kind of an untested player, and then you became a serious contributor by the end of the year. How did that progression feel?
Great! It was the best year of my life. If you would've asked me if I would've played that many games, I would never had said, "Yeah."
Nobody thought that.
Yeah, nobody thought that. But I was just waiting for my opportunity and I think I took it well. I'm glad that I was a contributor at the end of the year.
How does it feel when you were on the list of some of the best homegrown players?
I felt pride. Obviously, it shows that FC Dallas is a great institution and it has a great academy program. I would say it was the best when we were growing up, when we were in it. So I think it shows that we have a good academy system and that homegrown players can play in MLS.
Have you developed chemistry with some of the new guys, like Kyle Bekker?
Yeah, more with Otis and Kyle. We've gone to dinner a couple times. We're getting to know each other. Kyle's from Canada, so I'm getting to know a little bit of their culture. He likes the weather here a lot better. He says it's a lot colder in Canada.
I thought you meant because it was colder today, he was enjoying it.
He was. Actually, he was out in shorts and a sweater and everyone else was wearing 3 or 4 layers.
In Pennsylvania, it's a source of pride to go to school in the winter with shorts on.
Oh ok, maybe it's something like that. (laughing)
It's like showing off that you can handle the cold better than anyone else.
I don't like cold weather. I don't know how you can play in Toronto.
You get a resistance to it. What about Juan Toja? Did you know him from before?
Actually, when I played in the academy system, we watched him play. It's crazy now that I'm training beside him. It's an honor for me. He's been a great player. He's been in the national team for Colombia. He's played with a lot of great players.
Have you asked him about some of his experiences?
I've asked him [about] players he's played against, he's played with. How they were. He's played against Messi when he was in the national team. I think [Argentina] knocked [Colombia] out of qualifying for the World Cup. He said it wasn't even Argentina, it was Messi that did it all.
What are your goals for this season?
Keep growing. Keep getting better. Consolidate myself in the middle as the starter of this team. As a team, to win MLS and an MLS Cup.
You room with Danny [Garcia]?
Yeah. We've been living together since last May. It's been fun. We both grew up playing with each other in the academy. We've known each other and been friends for a while. It's a good chemistry between us.
Do you play FIFA a lot together? Who's better?
We play a lot. I think I'm better than him at FIFA, for sure. He doesn't play that much. He loves playing this game called Destiny. He's always playing it. I mean, I'm not into video games like he is. But I do play FIFA.
Would you share your ID so the fans could challenge you at FIFA?
I would. I don't know it off the top of my head, but I'll put it out there [on Twitter].
Who do you got in the game today, Chelsea or Man City?
Ooo, tough one. I think Chelsea will win. This year they've been unbelievable with the new coach, so I have to go Chelsea.
Stephen Keel on his rehab
I talked with Stephen outside the locker room about his rehab progress after undergoing foot surgery. When I told him this interview is for the fans on Big D Soccer, he exclaimed, "I love the fans! They're my peeps!"
I want to know what you've been up to this offseason.
This offseason, I had foot surgery. So I spent a good portion of that rehabbing. It's been about 9 weeks. It was the middle of November, so probably coming up on 10 weeks. When I wasn't rehabbing, [I was] just hanging out with my girlfriend and my family. Pretty low key. Nothing too wild or anything.
What does the rehab process involve?
A lot of work. It's a lot of slow and steady stuff. They cut my plantar fascia here (gesturing to his right heel) and some stuff with the toe. Took out some bone spurs. So it's just massaging those, getting the scar tissue to break down there. And also building it up, cause I was in a boot for 6 weeks.
You've only been walking on it for 3 weeks?
Yeah, probably weight-bearing since January. So yeah, coming on 4 weeks. [I've been] trying to get back to normal activities and once that's good, putting on the soccer cleats and going from there. Also, building the rest of your body up that's been idle for 6 weeks so there's no [problems with] hamstrings or calves or anything. It's a long process, but it's coming along.
I was here last Saturday and I saw you just jogging around the field. Have you stepped up since then?
That's probably right where I'm at right now, the level. Continuous jogging. I think the next step is more quickness, more ball stuff, which hopefully when I'm in Florida, we'll tackle that. But right now, it's just jogging, getting that endurance back, strengthening the legs, and making sure there's no flare-ups with the feet, or anything like that.
You're not expecting to play in Florida, then?
In the games, I don't think so. When I'm down there, if things progress, you never know. But right now, I think the plan is just to continue to do the rehab, seeing how things react in training. Then it's up to the coach and the training staff how they want to proceed with the games or no games.
Have you gotten to know some of the new guys on the team?
Yeah! You know, I'm on a little bit of a different schedule with the rehab guys. I come in a little bit earlier so the training staff can be one-on-one. But, just in passing, or I'll have a little lunch with them. They seem like good guys. Everyone's pretty quiet the first couple of days. Everyone's feeling each other out, learning their names. But they all seem cool. Otis has got some cool tattoos it looks like. He's a really nice kid. All the guys seem real nice. They're respectful. From the bits and pieces I've watching in training, it looks like some good quality out there.
Any specific goals you have for this season, individually?
Just do whatever I can to help this team win. That's it, man.
Whatever role coach has me in, whatever I can do to bring a trophy here, that's the main goal. Anything that comes along with it is gravy.
Who do you got today, Chelsea or Man City?
Ooo, gosh. Chelsea's without Fabregas? I know Costa's out, he's suspended. And I think Fabregas is questionable. It's at Chelsea? ... Chelsea 2-1. Goals by...
Oh, really? (laughing)
Yes, I tell you what. I did predict the MLS Cup correctly. I said 2-1. And I said that Keane and Zardes would get the goals, and they did. They have it on camera. MLS has it on camera. I've been [asking], "Why aren't we showing this?" I'm like a prophet, nowadays.
So yeah, 2-1. Let's see, who's gonna get one? Drogba's gonna score. And John Terry's gonna score on a corner kick. For City, I think... I feel like Aguero might stick one. So we've got that documented. When it's right, I'd like... a promotion?
Promotion to what? You're already a fan favorite. You're a guy that we see out there being visible with the fans.
Well that's cool. I appreciate that.