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U17 MNT Training Session Examined, Part 2

Published: March 27, 2012
(TopDrawerSoccer.com Managing Editor Robert Ziegler recently spent part of a week in Bradenton, Florida with the U17 Men's National Team residency program. Following is one of a series of articles about what he saw and heard there). 
BRADENTON, FLORIDA – On the 2nd day we werre on hand to watch the U17 Men’s National Team train (Read about Day 1 here), the team started with strength and agility, working to improve explosiveness and core strength through various exercises requiring them to generate maximum pulling power, utilizing some nifty equipment that generates resistance as each player tries to accelerate. Some older-fashioned drills with a medicine ball are also employed to build strength.
While the goalkeepers begin working on footskills of their own, the field players breaking off into 7, 3v1 groups, playing keep away in very tight spaces.
“We cannot have lackadaisical passing,” head coach Richie Williams shouts to the players at one point. His assistant Jim Rooney adds “If you’re reaching
(for the ball), you’re not moving.”
The team then shifts to a somewhat elaborate passing drill that involves a lot of moving and accurate distribution, with players required to keep mental tabs on the actions of several players around them. 
Williams talks with the group after several variations of the passing drill, using the occasion to impart some overall philosophy to the young group.
“You’re going to make mistakes out there, we all do,” he says. “But let’s be learning things. Don’t keep making the same mistake.” On another occasion he talks about being total soccer players. “It’s not just athleticism and technique,” he said. “You have to be smart out there. So often it comes down to your decisions.”
At another point when some of the passing in a possession game begins to suffer, he warns players against being overly elaborate.
“There’s a point when you start to get tired and then it’s even more important to play simple and smart,” he says. “Let the ball do the work. That’s how we want to play.”
The team then breaks into a short scrimmage (maybe 20 minutes). The lineup for one side seems to reflect the players who have been starting in the team’s matches this spring against MLS or college sides. Junior Flores is creative at attacking midfielder while Cameron Lindley and Angel Heredia keep things moving in the holding slots. Rubio Rubin is an attacking force on the left. Defender Ty ler Turner is good in the air and goalkeeper Evan Louro comes off his line well.
The effort in the scrimmage is quite evident, but throughout it, the coaching staff are touching on finer points of positioning, movement and organization. The players then break into three groups (loosely defined: defenders, midfielder and forwards) for some functional finishing training (to coin a phrase).
What I mean by that is the midfielders were practicing shooting on the run from some distance after having a ball laid off for them by a target player (Rooney in this case). The team utilizes defender silhouettes which were doing a good job of blocking some shots, but some of these midfielders can really drill a ball. 
Williams was working with forwards on finishing as well, only they were hitting shots from their own dribbling at the end of the area, alternating which way they would move in relation to the goal before shooting. 
Latronica had goalkeepers and defending playing something like a corner kick goal, with a lot of crossing and heading being worked on. The common denominator of all three groups is that they were training players on how to put the ball into the back of the net.
This day’s work finished with some light calisthenic or warmdown activity, and once again the team scurried off to clean up and get ready for school.
Among other things, players can work in the evening individually on technique or additional sports science-related activities.  One day I was there, the group was having ice baths after school, in tubs set up outside the athletic training offices. This was being done as the group followed the closing minutes of a UEFA Champions League match that saw Chelsea fight back from a deficit to advance in the knockout stages, setting off a wild celebration among the obviously soccer-mad group. 
Players talked about spending some time on the FIFA 2012 video game, while TV in the rooms allows them to watch the big games. Players are given help with their academic work and of course the soccer facilities are all right there, with training daily and games on most weekends. 
It’s not hard to figure out why youth players from around the country want to be here, but the current cycle of U17s could be the last that utilizes residency, as the USSF Development Academy continues to improve, and a way to prepare players that doesn’t take them out of their home environment is increasingly preferred.
Part 6: Exclusive Player Interviews
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