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U17 MNT Training Session Examined: Part 1

Published: March 26, 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 – As the vans bringing the 31 players of the U17 Men’s National Team to their beautiful training facility arrive, you get the immediate impression that things are all business.

The players are transported from their impressive living quarters at the IMG campus here early enough so that when the clock strikes 9 a.m. (and not a minute later), the training session begins.

On this day, things begin with calisthenics. Other days during the week the athletic trainers put the team through a rigorous strength and agility training session right at the beginning.

Following the stretching exercises, the teams break into four groups of 5v2 keep-away exercises, the staple of training at clubs the world over. At times coaches Richie Williams, Anthony Latronica and Jim Rooney call a brief halt to the passing and chasing, instructing the players to do some more static stretching. The squares set aside for the groups, which include goalkeepers at this point, are very small, making the margin for error on passing and receiving the ball very small indeed.

Next, each of the four groups is put into a larger area, essentially dividing up close to half of one field into quarters. Then a complex passing scheme is worked on, with players passing a moving around a central hub, often with more than one ball in play at a time. The emphasis here is clearly on precision and pace of the passes themselves.

“The first pass can’t be bad,” Williams scolds as one group’s move breaks down. “That sets the rhythm for the whole thing. You have to be focused right from the beginning.”

Later, the quality picks up and the players here from the former MLS and U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder again “THAT’S how you pass a ball,” he said. “continuing a very vocal oversight of the group as they continue the drill.

After this drill, the team’s four goalkeepers move to an adjacent field to begin working with coach Anthony Latronica. Their session on this day focuses on dealing with short-range crosses and shot-stopping. Particular attention seems to be paid to each goalkeeper’s initial positioning prior to executing a catch or save.

On the first field, players are conducting 7v7 passing drills (2 groups), with coaches focusing on players without the ball providing support. At one point Williams calls the group in to talk about mental attitude. He implores the group to not think of a teammate’s mistakes as a cause for feeling beleaguered, but to see it as a chance to do something that helps the team out of a jam. He continues stressing this, suggesting that it can be one of the main determiners of a player’s continued involvement with national teams, both at this age group and older.

The goalkeepers are grafted back in as four teams of 8 are created and a mini competition is played with each team facing the rest, and a championship game ensuing. Instruction from the continues throughout, and predictably the intensity rises for the final game. When that contest is tied at the end of the short time period, Williams orders sudden death kicks from the spot, which go on for a few rounds under Seattle Sounders’ goalkeeper Paul Christenson makes a save to give his team the win.

The team then closes the 2 ½ hours with a grueling fitness session in the hot Florida sun (the team trains Monday through Friday but not always for this long).

After a brief water fight which serves to remind these are 15 and 16-year olds after all, the team loads into the vans to return for showers, a change of clothes and then a trip to a nearby school for the day’s academic work, which lasts until close to 5 p.m.

Tomorrow: Training Day 2
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