Written by : Aleksi Pahkasalo
February 27th 2017
Professional preparation for training session
A huge difference that I saw from college soccer was the way the staff prepares you for the training session. The session does not start as you step on the field, it actually starts the second you step into the training facility. You immediately receive your kit for the day, then are told the proper pre-training nutrition, you get any special attention you might need from athletic trainers, and then you go into the gym with the conditioning coach where you foam roll, use elastic bands to open major muscle groups, have dynamic stretching exercises and do any final preparation that you need before putting on your boots and getting on the field. This whole process takes over an hour; there is a fine for players who arrive later than an hour before practice to the facility.
Training session under Coach Popovic
The week of training under coach Nikola Popovic, who is a former Benfica coach, was the kind I was used to back in academies in Europe. Starting with a very well prepared warm-up with the conditioning coach, having a few rounds of Rondo, then going into a technique and passing drill, that would build up to the tactical part of practice, and every day would end with a game-like exercise. Every exercise was planned to build up to the next phase of practice, with the endgame there to wrap things up that were learned in the session. The attention to detail was the biggest difference that I noticed from college soccer. The coach demands every touch, every pass, every idea to be done with full concentration. If you over- or under-hit a pass you will hear about it very soon afterwards. The coach had an emphasis on transition during my week there, with the focus on capitalizing the very important few seconds after you lose the ball. The philosophy that Popovic wanted the team to play with could clearly be seen in everything they did; possession of the ball was key. He hated when a side lost the ball for no reason, and loved it when possession was regained quickly. It felt great to train under a coach of his level once again. After the session was over, post-nutrition and recovery was again handled very professionally, with the correct supplements and treatments available.
Decision to leave Swope Park Rangers
After my week with Swope Park Rangers, I had a meeting with Popovic and the coaching staff about my situation and the idea of staying in Kansas City. The main reason I decided to leave was for potential playing time. I hope to be playing 30-35 games this season, and after hearing Popovic’s plans in my case, I was not happy with the role that he was prepared to be giving me. It is always important to remember that football is a game of opinions, and when things don’t feel right in a club and you don’t feel like you will be playing the role that you are hoping to play for a club, then it is smart to consider leaving. I will be returning back to Europe and exploring my options there.