Fulham preparing for Crew, MLS stars

ball work, possession drills and tactics -- has come through four friendlies. Manager Chris Coleman has used the club's training sessions to build up the squad's fitness. In the United States this week, though, the shift is on.

"I've been stressing all along that we're working hard on fitness. We've not done a lot of football sessions in training, it's been all physical," Coleman told Fulham's official website after the club's 1-1 draw Saturday with English League 1 side (third tier) Swansea. "It's been really difficult for the guys but we're doing that on purpose because we want to make sure that they're as fit as possible.

"At the moment we're lacking in match sharpness because we've not really had the ball out in training. We'll be doing more ball sessions in America. We've got two tough games there and I think we'll take another step forward in the right direction after that."

The first test for Fulham comes on Wednesday, when the club faces the Columbus Crew in a closed-door match at Crew Stadium. Then, on Saturday, Coleman's men face a real battle against the best of MLS in the 2005 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game, which airs live on ABC at 3:30 p.m. ET.

One thing Coleman is looking to sort out in advance of Fulham's English Premier League opener on Aug. 13 is the competition for places on the front line. U.S. international and former Columbus Crew player Brian McBride is joined by several strong scorers who are all fighting for a spot in Coleman's first-choice team.

"We've got Heidar Helguson, Tomasz Radzinski, Collins John and Brian McBride -- they're our four main strikers. I think that will be enough for us. It's a big season for all of our players," Coleman told FulhamFC.com. "Collins John is a good, young player but he's got to fulfill his potential. Tomasz is on fire at the moment, he's been incredible in training.

"We all know what Brian McBride is like, we saw what he gave us last season. He's an incredible team player, his commitment is 100 percent and he won't change next season," Coleman added. "Heidar Helguson is a really good signing for us, he's got a fantastic appetite; he's a hard worker and is very strong in the air. I'm more than happy with the players we've got in that position."

The matches in the United States should also be a good chance for Coleman to see how returning players from last year have set themselves up for improvement this season and to take a good look at the club's new signings. Coleman has brought in one player at every position this summer: forward Helguson, midfielder Ahmad Elrich, defender Niclas Jensen and goalkeeper Jaroslav Drobny. Despite recording just three draws and a loss in four preseason matches thus far, Coleman is pleased with how things are going.

"The squad is looking really good, really positive," Coleman told FulhamFC.com. "The training they're doing at the moment is absolutely tremendous and I'm delighted with the way preseason's gone so far.

"The international guys are back and they're obviously a bit behind in their fitness work but on the whole it's gone great. We're doing double sessions at the moment and the boys are being overloaded, but we're seeing some great results."

Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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