MLS preseason allows teams an opportunity to sharpen their skills after a long offseason, gain critical match fitness, and build chemistry in preparation for the regular season. This February, D.C. United continued their tradition of spending preseason in Florida, participating in two training camps in the Sunshine State over the last three weeks.
The first preseason camp took place at the world-class IMG Academy facilities in Bradenton, Fla., and gave the team a chance to shake off the offseason rust, get important touches on the ball, and gain match fitness. Players are eased into the first camp in order to prevent injuries and ensure that the players’ bodies are gradually acclimatized to the physical rigors required for peak performance throughout the eight-month regular season.
United’s first training camp also provided the team their first taste of competition of the year. The Black-and-Red faced the Under-17 U.S. Men’s National Team (6-0 win), Philadelphia Union (2-2 draw), and Swedish top-tier side Jönköpings Södra IF (3-2 win). The friendly nature of the games provided Ben Olsen and the coaching staff valuable freedom to test out new tactics, while also giving the entire squad important minutes to sharpen their individual skills and collective chemistry.
After a week in Bradenton, United returned from camp for a few days of much needed rest and the annual A Day to Unite event, where players unveiled the 2017 secondary jersey. The Black-and-Red resumed training at RFK before flying to Clearwater, Fla., for their second preseason camp.
Since arriving in Clearwater, Olsen and his staff have started to push the physical limits of the players through a heavy fitness regimen that will prepare the team for the long MLS regular season. United also gained additional match experience by participating in the 2017 Tampa Bay Rowdies Suncoast Invitational, which offered a more competitive environment than the first camp’s friendlies. D.C. took on the Montreal Impact (4-2 loss) and Saint Louis FC (3-0 win) from the United Soccer League (USL) in the preseason tournament. The Black-and-Red concluded the invitational against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday (3-2 win).
Another fundamental purpose of preseason camp is to allow players time to immerse themselves with one another and to build friendships and comradery leading into the season. Players were given plenty of off-field time with each other between training sessions in both camps. They had the opportunity to explore Sarasota Bay with kayaks and paddle boards in Bradenton, and have had Clearwater Beach at their disposal throughout the second camp.
Team building exercises were also incorporated into training sessions, with the most notable moment coming when the coaching staff set up a lighthearted egg toss competition. Tossing an egg back and forth until a player inevitably has to deal with a broken egg and messy yolk seems like a simple game, but the fun memories made in preseason can be the glue that keeps the team united throughout the season.
After a strong showing in their final preseason game against the Philadelphia Union, the Black-and-Red can optimistically look toward their season opener against Sporting KC at RFK Stadium on March 4. After an impressive second half of the 2016 season, Olsen and the team will be itching to get back on the field and conclude their 21-year tenure at RFK Stadium on a high note.