You can sense the players are being pushed to their physical limits right now.
After an evening of thunderstorms and pouring rain, the sun was out in full force on Thursday morning, blanketing the training field in an overwhelming and seemingly radiating heat. The only thing being used faster than the team’s allotment of water and sports drinks was the sunblock.
Following the usual stretches and warmups, head coach Matias Almeyda divided the team into four groups, each with a goalkeeper. Two teams would play a game while the other two completed long-distance runs and body-weight exercises. Then they would switch. Then they would switch again, so on and so forth.
The game field was about 40 yards long with a dividing midfield line and two normal goals. There were also four pop-ups goals on the outskirts, two on each half facing the field at a 45-degree angle.
Scoring could take place in two ways: No. 1, complete a pass from your own defensive half into the small pop-up goal in your offensive half. Or No. 2, score past the opponent’s keeper while all members of your team had crossed the midfield line.
The drill was built to emphasize possession and proper distribution to the flanks, as well as the willingness to move forward as a unit. On numerous occasions, there were goals rescinded because one member of the team had failed to get across the line in time. Moans and groans ensued every time.
Throughout each game, Almeyda would blow his whistle and change a rule to which the players had to adjust. He’d say no more than one touch; no more than two touches; no fewer than two touches. Anything to throw them a curveball and test their ability to adapt.
As the games passed by, and there were a lot of them, the players began to tire. Almeyda handed them another challenge: if a single member of the team walked – or anything he deemed less than a jog – it would be an immediate turnover. It didn’t matter where the ball was or who was in possession, if someone was walking, you would hear a whistle and a name. The ball would then go to the other team.
Almeyda often reminded the players of his mantra, ‘Todos corren, todos juegan’.
Everybody runs, everybody plays.