Over the course of the 2009 season, Seattle Sounders FC found themselves unsuccessful against the league's roughest teams. Against the three teams coach Sigi Schmid considered the most physical -- New England, Houston, and Chivas USA -- Seattle posted a 1-5-3 record.
"That's not enough," Schmid said after the season ended.
To that end, Sounders FC have turned their eyes towards increasing the physical strength of their players. As the team's fitness coach, David Tenney has been responsible for developing a strength program that will see Seattle's players through the 2010 season. Maintaining speed and power throughout the season is Tenney's primary focus.
"(Soccer) is much more than a power game than it used to be," Tenney said. "You have to be sure to maintain speed and power over the course of the season."
Tenney wasn't able to implement a full training program in the club's first year of existence, simply because the team was still being assembled in January and February. However, with the bulk of the roster already in place, Tenney is executing a measured offseason conditioning regimen. According to Tenney, who spent the previous two years with the Kansas City Wizards, the offseason is the only time to effectively build strength.
At the conclusion of the season, Tenney conducted a final audit of the players with the help of Omegawave, a system which essentially takes a physiological snapshot of a player's body. The Sounders became aware of the Portland-based company's product after the team saw another Omegawave client, Chelsea FC, using the tool at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. According to Tenney, FC Barcelona credited Omegawave with helping make decisions on when to rotate players on the club's successful European Cup run in 2009.
The system has allowed Sounders FC to individualize regimens designed to address each player's weaknesses, which can be anything from core strength to muscle mass or weight loss. Tenney corresponds regularly with each player by e-mail.
About 10 players have stayed in the area and go through regular workouts with Tenney at the club's facilities. For some players, the aim is to increase speed, strength, and quickness. For others, the goal is to prevent injury.
"My message to all the players is to identify weaknesses and then build them back up," Tenney said. "They don't have to come into camp in the absolute fittest shape. It is nine-week preseason and a nine-month season. Then they are ready to come to preseason and add another gear."
Tenney has another goal -- improving performance during back-to-back matches. In 2009, Seattle went 1-1-6 in league matches after less than five days of rest. Recently, Tenney travelled to Holland to observe his counterparts at the Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, SC Heerenveen and Ajax Amsterdam. Not only do those teams have rosters about the same size as Seattle's, but all three clubs competed in the Europa League (SC Heerenveen was knocked out at the group stage). The trip offered Tenney a chance to see how those teams training during the congested schedule.
"Specifically, I was interested in seeing their weekly training rhythm and how they deal with a crowded schedule," Tenney said. "In MLS, you see teams that really struggle with the twice-weekly schedule. In Europe, that happens all the time."
Solving that issue could mean the difference between a playoff spot and an early exit. In 2009, Seattle finished two points behind the league-leading Columbus Crew. By instituting a new training program designed to maintain strength and stamina over the course of the season, Tenney and Sounders FC hope they can leverage their conditioning to improve on that finish.
Andrew Winner is a contributor to MLSnet.com