The Crew resumed training at The Home Depot Center on Thursday.
G. Alegria/Major League Soccer

LA weather sweet as Crew train for Cup

The happiest person running around the sun-splashed practice fields at The Home Depot Center was Columbus Crew equipment manager Rusty Wummel.

No longer would he have to spend a few more hours each day washing the cold-weather gear that Crew had donned for the better part of a week.

Gone were the hats, gloves, long underwear, winter sweatpants and jackets that the Crew had been accustomed to while working toward MLS Cup.

On the last day of training Tuesday in Columbus it was 32 degrees with a dusting of snow. That three-man Crew logo? They were all wrapped in scarves.

But when the players gathered around coach Sigi Schmid Thursday morning they knew they weren't in Columbus anymore.

"This is awesome. You can't beat this," goalkeeper William Hesmer said.

"SoCal weather" is how defender and Cardiff-By-The-Sea, Calif., native Frankie Hejduk would describe a sunny cloudless, blue sky day in Columbus.

Now he was experiencing it again.

"This is the beautiful life," he said after the 90-minute training session.

The temperature was in the low 70s, a level the Crew hadn't experienced in more than three weeks but Schmid said that should not be a factor when the Crew face the New York Red Bulls at 12:50 p.m. local time Sunday.

"We'll be OK fitness-wise. We feel very good about our fitness as a team where we feel if we're not the fittest team in the league, we're in the top three or so," he said. "The weather might slow the game down a bit. I thought that roof gives us some shade in there, doesn't it? It's also supposed to cool down before Sunday. That will help."

The Crew like to push the attack and have players such as Hejduk, Brian Carroll and Robbie Rogers who have boundless energy. To get acclimated to the weather, the Crew arrived on Wednesday, a day ahead of the Red Bulls.

"That's the reason we came out here early to get used to it," defender Chad Marshall said. "I don't think it will be a problem Sunday."

Schmid said the team has no injuries among its players expected to be on the lineup card Sunday but that Thursday's practice was needed to get the kinks out from a long day of travel on Wednesday.

Unlike the Red Bulls, who are chartering everywhere these days, the Crew's commercial flight was delayed out of Columbus, causing the second leg to be rebooked. The team landed in Los Angeles about 90 minutes behind schedule.

"Yesterday with the flight and our flight got delayed -- we don't have the possibilities of charters like the Red Bull does; we have to wait in terminals -- we had to get the flight out of our system," Schmid said. "I don't think we were as sharp as we will be tomorrow but I thought it was good.

"That's one of the reasons we wanted to come out a day early, as well, to get acclimated to the heat, get used to the heat a little bit. You've got to drink more water and so forth. When it's colder you don't hydrate as well."

Schmid, the former UCLA and Los Angeles Galaxy coach, still maintains a home in the area and was thrilled to be back on familiar turf.

"I feel happy to come back here. The Home Depot [Center] is a special place because I was coach here when it opened," he said. "It's obviously in the neighborhood where I grew up as a boy before The Home Depot was here and played soccer all the time. For me, that makes it very special."

Schmid was the focus of much of the media attention Thursday since he was bringing his first team to the MLS Cup in his old stadium since being dismissed by the Galaxy in August 2004 while the team was in first place.

He said this is not about him.

"I can't play. It does nothing to pay attention to me," he said. "What's important at the end of the day is our team. Our team has been good about maintaining its focus all season and I'm sure it will get it done for Sunday as well."

He also deflected suggestions that New York, as the eighth seed, is the underdog against the Supporters' Shield winners.

"When you're playing a one-game championship I don't think you can call anybody an underdog because it's one game," he said. "The beauty for the fan in soccer is that the team that dominates isn't necessarily going to win the game and that's a big frustration for coaches. You can dominate a game and not win.

"In the game of soccer you can't call one team a favorite or an underdog. I know the press likes to do that but when it's just one game anybody can win one game."

As he spoke, smiling and relaxed players hung around the fields a little longer than when the temperature was 40 degrees colder just a few days and several thousand miles ago.

"This is perfect. I grew up in this. I grew up training on all these fields. It's like being back home. It's really exciting," said Rogers of nearby Huntington Beach. "It's good to be out here three or four days before the game. For me this is normal. When I'm back in Columbus it's abnormal."

Craig Merz 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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