WASHINGTON -- Coaches and players reconvened at RFK Stadium this weekto kick off D.C. United's 2010 preseason under new boss Curt Onalfo,and even ventured outside for a Monday morning session on the RFKStadium auxiliary turf field, despite 20-degree temperatures and amplesnowdrifts that required several hours of shoveling after a weekendstorm.
But for several members of the D.C. squad, preparations for the newcampaign have been well underway for months thanks to injuries,international duty and the simple reality of Major League Soccer'sever-increasing physical demands.
At the close of a long, grinding season, some players prefer to brieflystep away from the game altogether and clear their minds during theholidays. But most profess the importance of maintaining a base levelof fitness throughout the winter to make preseason's workouts lesspainful. That task was straightforward for Troy Perkins, Chris Pontiusand Dejan Jakovic, who were called into camps arranged by theirrespective national teams.
For those recovering from offseason surgeries, the challenge is much greater.
"I work harder during the offseason than I do during the season now,"said midfielder Santino Quaranta earlier this winter. "For me it's achallenge of everything I eat, everything I do on a daily basis -- itmakes it that much easier. It's already hard enough when you're notrunning and playing for a certain amount of time, and I'm injured aswell, so it's like double the amount of work."
Quaranta broke a bone in his left foot during practice last October,requiring surgery followed by four to six months of healing andrehabilitation. He spent late fall and winter shuttling back and forthbetween team-supervised work at RFK and personal training sessions nearhis Baltimore home, and will gradually ramp up his involvement in teamactivities over United's lengthy preseason calendar.
"I agree with Tino on that one," said defender Julius James. "Becauseyou have to maintain your fitness and most of the time it's not withthe ball, you know? So it's tougher to do all this running. You try tobuild up muscle mass to tide you through the season, and you have totry to get better with all this extra stuff. When we're playing, it'sfun -- you're with your teammates and training is hard, but most of thetime [during offseason] you're alone doing all this stuff."
James earned hero status for playing -- and scoring -- in the finalmoments of United's 2009 finale at Kansas City despite a pulledhamstring. But the Trinidadian faced a tougher challenge in theoffseason with his decision to surgically repair a long-naggingshoulder injury that first flared up back in his rookie season withToronto FC.
"I feel really good, because I've had this problem since the beginningof my professional career. It happened to me in Toronto in preseason. Ithink we were in South Carolina and my shoulder dislocated down there,"he said. "It's a lot tighter now. There was some torn stuff and thedoctor said he put some nails in there to staple my stuff together. Itwas pretty loose, actually."
James spent his holidays recuperating in D.C. before returning to theUniversity of Connecticut, his alma mater, to labor through a painfulregimen of rehab exercises to restore normal range of movement in hisshoulder socket. James later joined other MLS-based alums like O'BrianWhite and Kevin Burns for fitness work under Huskies strength andconditioning coach Chris West.
Both James and Quaranta are training this week, but will be kept out ofscrimmages and other full-contact activities until mid-February as theywind down post-surgery recovery schedules -- schedules that can oftenfeel slow and frustratingly restrictive, but usually pay off in theend.
"I'm really happy where I'm at. It's been a pretty long offseason,"Quaranta said on Monday. "I've put a lot of work in here. It's beencomforting to start running and know that they've got it right. And Iknow mentally they've got it right -- going out there today, cuttingand being on the frozen turf, it doesn't feel great, but it's astarting point and it can only get better from there."