Club Eases Back Into Training Sessions

The squad is currently training in small groups
Published Jul 1, 2020

When New York Cosmos players returned to training for the first time since March last week, they embraced just about every second of it.

When you're gone from the sport you love for such a long time, three months can feel like a lifetime.

Sixteen Cosmos players, plus several who are on trial, have been training on weekdays in small groups at Mitchel Athletic Complex due to following the club’s COVID-19 return to training protocol.

Regardless, the players didn't mind the smaller sessions, at least for the time being. They welcomed being back with their teammates.

"Just being back in a professional environment," team captain and midfielder Danny Szetela said. "Getting on a good grass field and being able to work hard and push your teammates to get better."

When asked what he missed most about training, forward Bledi Bardic responded, "Everything about it."

It's too early to tell whether a team is meshing together because it hasn't played a full-sided intrasquad game. Still, Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes has been encouraged by the players' spirit.

"The most important thing for us as a staff is to see just the attitude and energy level," he said. "You could tell all the guys, whether they are returning players, new players or guys that we're looking at, everybody's excited to be back on the field. There's a buzz about it."

While the size and physicality of the sessions are different, Mendes said that he has liked "the normal banter and talk on the field, even though the training is limited.”

“It's still there,” he added. “It's something you've missed just being on the field working with these great guys, these great players. All the time you've put in, you don't realize until you step back, and it’s taken away for a while and you're grateful to be back. That's the best part of it so far."

After players passed tests for COVID-19, their first training sessions were held on Monday, June 22. Players were split into groups of five. Goalkeepers started at 7:45 a.m. and field players began training in their groups at 8:30, 9:30, 10:30, 11:30 a.m., etc.

This past Monday, they moved into groups of eight with the goal of a regular, full-fledged practice perhaps as soon as next week.

Mendes has used similar drills for each group, but he has tried to spice up the final part of the sessions. He said the big challenge the first week was "to get everybody in and out."

"What we've done has worked well and we're very happy with the first week," he said. "We will keep 70-75 percent of the session the same for each group. We'll work on technical, fitness and passing, things we can do in small groups and individually. We'll try to leave the last 15-20 minutes for some positional things, whether its strikers and finishing, defenders working on some things. That will be tweaked day to day."

While every Cosmos worked out on his own during the quarantine, being in shape is quite far from being in match shape.

"There is big difference between fit and game fit," Bardic said.

Training with colleagues under the watchful eyes of coaches pushes players much more compared to individual workouts. And when you play a 90-minute game like soccer, getting your endurance back to play at a high level is of the utmost importance.

"You're always under pressure," center back Emmanuele Sembroni said. "It's a fast game. You always have to be dynamic, always have to be moving. You have less time to take breaks between [drills]. This is how we are working on conditioning right now, working on our fitness."

There has been no contact between the groups and players can't use the locker room yet.

"So, you didn't see the guys," Szetela said. "After you finished your session you would go. They don't want us interacting. We go to our vehicles, we change, and we go home."

Which is quite strange for the Cosmos, who usually congregate in the locker room and have breakfast and lunch before and after training, respectively.

"It's very strange not being able to go into the locker room," Szetela said. "It's like a Sunday league. After a game you change near your car. I want to change because I have a one hour, 10-minute ride home [to Clifton, N.J.]. I don't want to be sitting in my sweaty clothes. Things are getting better. ... We just have to continue to do the right things off the field so we can stay on the field."

Playing intrasquad games on a full field can’t come soon enough.

"What we are missing and looking forward to is playing on the big field, which is going to make a huge difference because right now it’s a short distance," Sembroni said. "Of course, when you play 11 v 11, that changes everything. That's what you need to get at because the last game we played was what? Seven, eight months ago? So, we have to get back into that."

The Cosmos' last competitive match was in the NPSL Members Cup, a 7-0 victory at Napa Valley 1839 on Oct. 19, 2019.

But Mendes isn't looking back, he's looking ahead to the National Independent Soccer Association fall season, which kicks off on Aug. 8.

"It's going to be a lot of fun moving forward," he said.