Ugo Ihemelu

The genius behind the machines

Upon hearing the name Afshin Ghotbi, only a few experts and followers of youth soccer in Southern California would know who he is. Now, Los Angeles Galaxy players know that Ghotbi is a synonym of seriousness, professionalism and pride.

To those unfamliar with his work, Afshin Ghotbi, is the 40-year-old director of the American Global Soccer School (AGSS). In Los Angeles, the club is known for its youth training system. John O'Brien, the organization's most famous alumn, trained there before moving to Ajax. Ghotbi was assistant coach of the Samsung Bluewings of the K-League in South Korea before he came to the Galaxy. Under his supervision, the Galaxy are having a demanding preseason consisting of vigorous workout sessions. It's a regiment worthy of a team that has the most wins in MLS.

Ghotbi recently sat down to answer a few questions about the team's overall fitness, who has performed at a high level and the consequences for not training hard during his watch.

How fit were the Galaxy players when they arrived for preseason?

Afshin Ghotbi: The players arrived very prepared. They all passed the physical exams, as we expected. My preseason program is carried out very strictly. Over the course of the preseason, we will increase the intensity and demands.

Do you have a steady preseason or one with increased demands?

AG: We have it planned. It is strict and will get difficult, but the key is to have variations and to relate it all with soccer. After all, that's what training is.

Percentage-wise, what do you expect of the players?

AG: If they are at 75 percent one day, they won't be 100 percent the next day. We push the players hard every day and they constantly improve. Eventually they will be at a level we expect of them.

There is a rumor that Ugo Ihemelu is a machine.

AG: [Laughing] We are trying to determine if he is a human being or if is a he machine. He passes all of the tests with ease. He has great coordination, and a great abilty to accelerate and maintain speed. With the right experience, he could become a key player on this team.

Who else was already in shape?

AG: [Carlos] Ruiz, [Kevin] Hartman and [Chris] Albright arrived as we expected. They were training with their respective national teams. They are very well prepared. Also, no one has any injuries.

Are there some punishments for failing a physical test or the drills?

AG: If a player fails a fitness activity or loses a phyiscal competition I make him do extra push-ups and abdominal work. We want to motivate them and create a fun environment. Each week we have a star and a skunk. These two things actually do a lot for motivation. A player that doesn't push himself has to wear the skunk, a dirty, nasty shirt. It smells and won't be washed for the duration of the season. Whoever pushes himself hardest gets a star put next to his name on our training board.

Rene Romano is a contributor to James Demastus contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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