After a team bonding trip that saw the FC Edmonton players survive in the wilderness together, the team are officially back on the pitch and head coach Jeff Paulus is happy with what he sees already.
A common misconception with preseason training is that it involves a lot of isolated running activities. Activities like going on a 20 kilometre run, or doing the beep test and fitness drills on a regular occurrence. But, Paulus has a more realistic approach to getting his players fit.
“All our fitness comes from training and that’s why everything is timed,” Paulus said following FC Edmonton’s training session on Wednesday. “We always talk about the four pillars of football and people tend to divide the physical by itself and the technical by itself. But I don’t believe in that.”
“Yesterday we didn’t want to burn the players out, so we did five-vs-five matches which were three minutes long with two minutes’ rest. And now we progress, so that three-and-a-half-minute game becomes a seven-minute game with less rest. On Thursday we will have four games at 13 minutes with a two-minute rest between games. So this is how we want to slowly build them up to 90-minutes.”
There are many benefits to playing small sided games. Not only are you building up the fitness levels of each player, but you get to see what each player is made of. It showcases their character, their strengths and weaknesses, and it’s a great way for the players to familiarize themselves with each other on the pitch.
“They are playing and competing against each other every day and no one wants to lose,” Paulus added. “There are some naughty and tough tackles in training and it helps keep things competitive. There is no switch in football where you can turn it on and they’re ready. It starts in training.
“We keep them hungry and competitive in training and as I said, no one wants to lose. If we keep that up, then when we step on the pitch it’ll just be like another training session for them.”
The Eddies training schedule is pretty intense. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they train in the morning before heading to The Bridge Advanced Sports Therapy & SPARK Sport Conditioning for their gym work in the afternoon. And on Wednesday and Friday the players come in for a morning and late afternoon session.
“On Wednesdays, like today, defenders come back at 4pm,” Paulus added. “I got the defenders and holding midfield players to come and we will spend an hour with them. We want to focus on getting our defensive shape right, how we want to defend, using the midfield, overlapping runs, our mentality, things like that.
“And on Friday, the attacking players will come in for a session. So it will rotate like that. Four days a week they’ll be a double session of some sort.”
Part of Paulus’ preseason plans are also competing in local and international friendlies. The Eddies will play in closed door friendly against the University of Alberta. The match will be played in three 30-minute halves and Paulus said the purpose of the match is to get everyone playing and build their match-fitness.
In addition, the Eddies will be playing two friendly matches in the Dominican Republic before returning to play two matches against the Vancouver Whitecaps U23 team, which is currently being coached by former Canadian national team player and Canada Soccer Hall of Fame member Nick Dasovic.
“We play in Vancouver on April 20 and then the Whitecaps will come to Edmonton to play on the 28th,” Paulus added. “ [Vancouver] will bring players in from the first-team who need minutes and it will be great for us because we don’t play until the fourth of May. So that game will really set the tone for us before we go to Winnipeg.”
Paulus noted that he is very happy with how things look so far and he is impressed with the attitude and overall pace of the squad. He mentioned that the team is in a good place mentally and the feeling around the camp is very positive. His challenge–like every other manager–will be continuing to create a positive environment for everyone to thrive in.