Things have changed for FC Dallas defenders Drew Moor and David Wagenfuhr since their days playing for perennial NCAA contenders Indiana and Creighton University, respectively.
After both turned in solid 2005 MLS seasons, they got a chance to train with Middlesbrough FC of the English Premier League for about 10 days. They played mainly with the reserves, but they also got a chance to train with the first team.
It was the first chance for both young defenders to train with a club overseas, giving them a glimpse of what it takes in a different league. Late season FC Dallas transfer and former Middlesbrough player Mark Wilson still had an apartment close to the club's training ground where the two were able to stay for their trip.
The two Hoops took time to talk about their trip after returning to Dallas.
MLSnet.com: Talk about the experience and some of the players who you had the chance to train with.
Moor: Being able to train at the facility that Middlesbrough has and to be around the players that we watch on TV was really cool.
Wagenfuhr: [Veteran forward] Mark Viduka was a really nice guy.
Moor: Yeah. He was the first guy to come up to us and wanted to know more about us and where we'd played. He was just a real nice guy. After that, I started to notice that it was primarily the first teamers, the name guys, who were the nicest to us. They would actually talk with us, ask us questions and try to learn more about us. Maybe it's because they've already made it and don't feel threatened by guys coming in to train, but it was surprising and cool that those were the guys that talked with us the most.
As far as playing, mainly we were with a reserve selection, as well as whatever first teamers weren't playing at the time. This is one of the busiest times of the year for them with league games on the weekend and cup games midweek, so this wasn't their intense training where they have everyone together and playing. Instead, the sessions were more focused on the guys who weren't playing while the first team guys did their recovery work and got ready for the next match.
Wagenfuhr: But we still got a couple of sessions with some big-time first teamers like Viduka and [defender] Gareth Southgate, which was pretty cool.
MLSnet.com: Talk about the differences in training between Middlesbrough and FC Dallas.
Moor: I wouldn't say that the atmosphere, coaching or the way that they train is that much more intense or different than what we do over here.
Wagenfuhr: Over there it's more about playing, and maybe this is because we weren't with the first team that much, but we didn't work that much on shape or very many tactical things. It was mostly just playing, a lot of small-sided stuff. There was no down time at all. We were always doing something and as a result, the training sessions were a little bit shorter than what we are used. That and it's 25 degrees outside.
Moor: Training was quick and intense. They don't go out there and mess around. The coaches go out there with a plan and they do exactly what they had planned on doing that day and in that session. The coaches' job is to get every one of those players prepared in case they are called upon, and I think that there is a thinner line over there between being in the first team and not. If the guy in front of you gets injured, that's somebody's chance to step in and shine. And it may just be a little chance, but it's still a chance to get into the first team and make that their spot.
It's the same over here to an extent, but I feel that with the players that they have at their disposal, all the foreign players and the depth of their squad, everything was just a little bit more intense.
MLSnet.com: Did you prefer the shorter training sessions as compared to the longer ones which you are more accustomed to?
Moor: It's nice to get out there and know what your primary focus for the day is going to be. There really isn't a lot of times when guys are standing around not doing much. When it's dragged out a little bit, I don't feel that you get the work in that you can if it's a quick, intense, in and out thing. It's quick, but it's meaningful.
Wagenfuhr: I think that since [FC Dallas head coach] Colin [Clarke] and [assistant coach] Steve [Morrow] both played over in England that the training sessions weren't that different. We did a lot of the same type of drills with the same focuses and played the same games with one or two small changes for the most part. I thought that you could tell from our usual training sessions that those guys had played over there, done these drills and they obviously worked so they're now using them with us.
MLSnet.com: How much did it help you adapt to the atmosphere over there knowing that you were accustomed to the drills that you were doing?
Wagenfuhr: I think that it helped a lot because you knew what you were going to do; you knew the games so you didn't really need to learn that much from that standpoint and you could just focus on playing. Of course, it also helped that they spoke English so you could understand all of the directions and instructions, which made it a lot easier as well. So, all of that made it a lot easier to adapt as opposed to if you went somewhere else where it may have taken two or three days just to adjust, (with Middlesbrough) it was pretty seamless.
MLSnet.com: Who ran most of your sessions?
Wagenfuhr: Malcolm Crosby, the reserve team coach, handled most of our stuff and he was a really good guy. He'd get out there and play some 5-v-2 with us before training and the guys seemed to really like him. It was good.
Moor: He was really into it and he was good with the guys so that got them into everything a little bit more. He'd get in with us at the start but once we got into the games he'd step out, but he was constantly talking and giving instruction, though he did step in goal a few times, and he's not real young so that was pretty funny. He took good care of us so that was a definite help.
MLSnet.com: You stayed at Mark Wilson's flat while you were over there; how much did that help you adapt?
Wagenfuhr: We weren't really sure what to expect when we went over because we hadn't had the chance to talk with Mark that much as this [Middlesbrough trial] came together so fast. We didn't know if there was going to be sheets on the bed, a sofa or even a TV to keep us entertained. But once we got there we were more than pleasantly surprised.
Moor: It had heat, hot water, a big kitchen and everything worked. It of course wasn't fully furnished, but it had TVs, separate bedrooms for us and all sorts of stuff that made things much more comfortable. It was nice not to have to go back to a hotel room every night, we could go have our own space and just relax after a hard day at practice.
MLSnet.com: Did it also help to go as a pair rather than individually?
Wagenfuhr: Definitely, without a doubt. I think that really helped. If you would have gone by yourself, you'd have been the new guy, the outsider who doesn't really know anyone so that would have been tough. Also, with the way that some of the younger players look at new guys as direct competition, they're not always willing to help you out or show you what is going on and what the norm is. But with two of us there, it was definitely a lot easier.
MLSnet.com: How did you fill time spent away from the training ground?
Moor: [Watching] TV, a lot of TV. We watched the entire first season of "Lost", which I bought on the way out there.
Wagenfuhr: It was awesome.
Moor: The thing is though, with the facilities that they have, and the things that they have at their disposal, weight rooms, kitchens, there wasn't as much down time as there could have been. We got to go there in the morning to eat breakfast and then you train and you all have lunch there afterwards, so it is more like a business type of setting, they show up early and are there most of the day.
Wagenfuhr: That's true especially for the younger guys and the reserves, more so when they had two training sessions. But for the older and more established guys, it was show up, train and then have a nice lunch there before going home. That's one of the differences between over here and over there is that they would spend more time together, especially after practice, so it was interesting to see that. I think that the weather plays a big role in that as well because there is only so much time in which you can really get anything done.
Moor: The sun comes up around 8 a.m. and it's down by 3:30 p.m. it seemed. But I would love to be able to have the academy and the facilities that they have over here because I think that you can take better care of your body and perform better.
MLSnet.com: How does the Pizza Hut Park complex compare with those at Middlesbrough?
Wagenfuhr: I think that our facility, once everything is done on the inside, will be just as nice as any of their facilities, and in fact nicer because it'll be in the center of Frisco. All of theirs are out in secluded areas of town down long driveways and somewhat hidden away, but I'd prefer to be in the center of things like we are because it's better for fan support. It's easier to support a team that you can drive by and see where they are practicing, you feel a closer connection to them I think.
MLSnet.com: What games did you get to see live during your time there? Describe the atmosphere inside the stadiums.
Moor: The first day that we got out there we saw Middlesbrough play at home to Fulham and Middlesbrough won late 3-2. We also saw Sunderland play at home to Birmingham City the next weekend. This was my first time going to a game in England and the atmosphere, even in these games that didn't really mean that much in the standings and weren't sellouts, was awesome. These weren't derby games or games against the bigger clubs, but there were still more than 30,000 fans there each time and the fans were singing the whole game even though it was freezing cold and one of the games it was pouring down rain, but that still didn't phase anybody. I always see that stuff on TV, but it was a lot different when you are actually there, so that was pretty cool.
MLSnet.com: Are there any individual moments that stand out for you from your time over there?
Moor: During training one day we were playing a small-sided game and my team was playing Dave's and I was playing in the back with Middlesbrough's captain Gareth Southgate which was real cool. That and just being able to go to the games, that was the best part for me.
Wagenfuhr: Especially that first game, the Middlesbrough-Fulham one, that was an incredible game. It was 3-2, it was an exciting game and it was just awesome to see the fans get into it.
Moor: I'd love to play in front of fans like that everyday because it really gives you a lift.
Wagenfuhr: I think that we're getting there, but I think what helped the atmosphere inside the stadium was the roof. You weren't getting wet when it was raining and it also helped with the echo and made you feel like you were a lot more packed in there, and that helped a lot.
Scott Joiner is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.