The MetroStars have assembled in Ecuador for their second major preseason training camp.
Renan Ibanez/

On location: Eluding sophomore slump

"The Sophomore Slump." Every sports fan knows the meaning of the term and that sometimes the second year for an athlete can be harder than their rookie campaign. Not many know this better than Michael Bradley, Jeff Parke and Zach Wells, who represent the MetroStars 2004 MLS SuperDraft class.

"This year has been much harder so far," mentioned Parke. "More is expected of you every day. Expectations are for you to be a regular contributor, and you need to work harder. It is much more strenuous."

Despite the challenges that await the second-year players, they are all quick to admit that there are some major advantages to having a year under their belt.

"It is definitely easier coming into camp knowing all of the guys," said Bradley. "It all just comes together and you feel very comfortable with all of the guys."

The player's preparation for camp has also benefited greatly from having a year's experience. They knew what to expect, and more importantly they knew how to get their bodies ready for the wear-and-tear of a MLS preseason.

"I worked out with Leonard Griffin and Matt Taylor at UCLA all off-season to get ready," said Zach Wells. "We spent some time playing just for fun, but the bulk of my preparation came working with UCLA strength and conditioning coach Ryan Beckwith. He was key to my preparation."

Last season the three then-rookies, had varying experiences with the "Red and Black." Bradley struggled through an injury-plagued 2004 and never saw MLS action. Wells served as Jonny Walker's backup and saw action in two games, making a total of 8 saves. Parke saw action in 28 games (starting 27), tallying one goal and one assist. Despite this, the players all have similar goals on both the personal and team levels this year, and they are using the preseason to prepare for those goals.

"This year the coaches are really working hard with us to make sure that along with the playing soccer, we are working on our fitness," said Bradley. "To go along with that, I am working to both sharpen my soccer skills and to make sure that my fitness is good."

Using this preseason as a building block, the class of 2004 should be on track for a successful 2005 run.

"We are all working towards the same things," said Parke. "We want to be part of the starting 11 consistently and be big-game players that the team can count on. And of course, we want to win a championship."

Notes From Training

Practice: Morning practice on Saturday was much like the morning session on Friday, as the team did more running. Towards the end of the session, the soccer balls were broken out and the squad played a possession game with one neutral player (Mark Lisi). The afternoon session will again be more focused on playing and less fitness intensive.

The good news for the players was that Guayaquil got some rain for the first time during the MetroStars trip last evening. The rain brought the temperature down to about 80 degrees for the morning session, but by the afternoon it should be back around 90.

Just like home: Some of the players got a little taste of home last night as an NBA game was on TV. A group of players were able to watch the Indiana Pacers down the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-82. The teams and the score were pretty irrelevant to most, as it was the taste of home that was appealing to the viewers.

Ecaudorian quick fact of the day: 'Ecuador' is translated into 'Equator' in Spanish, making the official title of the country 'Republic of the Equator.'

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.