MONTREAL – In a way, the first stages of preseason are about striking a balance between improving fitness and working with the ball. Two weeks into the Montreal Impact's preseason training camp, it appears these two priorities are one and the same.
Ball work in small areas has been all the rage during the sessions so far conducted by the new Montreal coaching staff headed by Marco Schällibaum (above). Not only do such exercises sharpen the players’ decision-making abilities, among other benefits, but on the long run, they build endurance and general fitness.
According to defender Jeb Brovsky – who is currently day-to-day with a lower abdominal strain – this could translate into a different Montreal Impact in the latter stages of games. In 2012, they conceded a whopping 28 goals in the final half-hour.
“The difference is if we’re doing fitness, it’s always with the ball and doing intervals,” Brovsky told reporters on Friday. “Last year, our base was long-distance running and getting fitter, but this year, it’s really short intervals, very fast-paced, but everything has to be quality.”
The work on the training ground has so impressed defender Hassoun Camara that it has been taking him back to his time with French powerhouse Olympique de Marseille. Coming to training, he explained, is downright fun, as he feels it will help the Impact control the flow of games and play technical, but efficient, soccer.
“I used to partake in sessions like these, focused on intensity, intervals and physical work with the ball,” Camara said. “We don’t run for fun. We’re not that kind of athlete. Training is truly focused on the way we play and the situations we'll face on Saturdays.”
The Montreal Impact style should therefore feel well-rehearsed come opening weekend in March, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for inventiveness. Rookie winger Blake Smith wowed the Impact supporters that attended Friday’s session as he beat his marker with a brilliantly ad-libbed overhead flick on the right side.
What followed was a mad chase for the ball between Smith and the defender. It was the kind of burst of acceleration that supported Schällibaum’s assessment that the physical work was paying dividends already.
“He’s very encouraging, but he’s also very demanding,” Smith said of the Montreal head coach. “He’ll do whatever it takes to get the best out of you each training session.”