Ezra Hendrickson says Chivas USA need to improve their physical fitness.
Juan Miranda/MLS/WireImage.com

Chivas USA gaining new mentality

After one week as boss of Chivas USA, Hans Westerhof has made his mark on the club.

He's preached attacking while stressing fitness. Possession is vital to the club's success and he's made sure the team gets a healthy dose of practicing that part of the game often in training.

But perhaps most important, Westerhof has worked on the club's psyche and their mental fitness level.

"We've just got to stay mentally fit," Chivas USA defender Ryan Suarez said. "Our bodies are going to take a beating this year but the challenge is just to stay mentally fit. Hans has talked about it on several occasions since he's been here that we're not mentally fit. ... You've got to be stronger than your body. We're trying to adapt to his ways. It's just going to take a little bit of time."

Westerhof has tried to instill mental fitness in part with two-a-day training sessions. This week, Chivas USA had two training sessions on Tuesday and will have another double-day on Thursday. On Wednesday, Chivas USA practices in the morning and then heads down to San Diego for a friendly against the San Diego Gauchos.

It's all part of the new fitness philosophy.

"I said to them, 'When you have a problem with your physical level, it's not easy to improve it very quick.' We need a little bit of time (to fix that problem)," Westerhof said. "What you can do at least is to be mentally a little bit (tougher). You always can do more than you think."

Indeed, Westerhof emphasizes mental toughness and mental strength. He talked about a scenario in which an alert mind would win out against a tired body.

"I said to them 'Imagine we're playing a game and then after the game everybody is (fatigued). And then, three or four pit bulls come into the pitch. What would happen?'" Westerhof said. "I think everyone (would) run unbelievably hard. That's proof that it's in your muscles but it's also in your brain. What we've had to do in the short term is to be mentally hard."

By raising the team's fitness level -- both physically and mentally -- the club will gain confidence and stop allowing soft second-half goals, defender Ezra Hendrickson said. Lately, the second half has been lethal for Chivas USA.

"A lot of the players expressed that they didn't think we were physically fit enough so that's why we've been a lot more fitness," Hendrickson said. "If you look at the games, second halves have been kind of lousy so maybe that has something to do with the physical aspect of our game. We just need victories and whatever it takes to get victories we have to do and if that's what the players think is our problem then we've got to fix the problem."

In their last four games, Chivas USA has allowed 10 second-half goals. The only match in which the club did not allow a second-half goal was against Kansas City, which was the only one of the four Chivas USA has gained a point in. Against Chicago on Saturday, Chivas USA went into the intermission ahead 2-1 but gave up four goals in the second half and were routed, 5-2.

"We hit the wall, every single one of us," Suarez said. "But it's getting better. We're working on our fitness. We have three double-days this week ... all based around fitness."

But Hendrickson said the problem is deeper than just poor fitness levels.

"It's not just physical, I think personally. It's execution, not holding the ball," he said. "We're a team that relies on possession because of our style of play. We like to go forward but you can't go forward if you don't have possession of the ball."

In the end, players said that the best way to boost confidence and mental fitness is by winning.

"We're six points out of making the playoffs and we've got 20 points to go. The West is not very strong. We still have a chance. We're not mathematically out this at all," Hendrickson said. "I try my best to keep the guys positive and keep the morale of the team up. We're just six points away from being in fourth place. It's not over yet."

Luis Bueno 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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