Jacksonville is really heating up and so too is NYCFC’s preseason…
Following that limb-loosening first hour of practice on a blustery day one, day two was a double session which required plenty of grit and intensity in far more typically Floridian conditions.
The morning session was particularly grueling as the coaches put the players through a series of drills targeted towards conditioning, as well as technique.
Gone are the days where preseason consisted of endless laps around pitches – these days there’s always a ball even in the most hard-running of exercises.
For some newcomers, this will have been one of the toughest mornings in their young careers but everyone stuck to the task and dug in to the delight of Head Coach Patrick Vieira.
Shannon and Sands
Following the morning session, we caught up with Shannon Gomez who endured a tough first season at NYCFC following the ACL injury he picked up in the summer which prematurely ended his year.
Showing no ill effects from that lengthy layoff, the Trinidadian defender has been working as hard as anyone in the first couple of days to make up for lost time.
An erudite, intelligent player, he’s highly thought of by Patrick and the rest of the coaching staff and he provides us with yet another fascinating subplot to follow in the months ahead.
After speaking to Shannon, we caught up with the youngest member of our tour party – academy prospect James Sands who described his invitation to join the training camp as a “dream come true”… look out for that interview on the site very soon.
Whether or not James is old enough to remember his Head Coach at the peak of his powers as a player or not (sorry Patrick!), he’s certainly getting the full benefit of the Frenchman’s experience in the game and is holding his own against some of NYCFC’s illustrious figures.
We Are One
What’s been especially great to see in these opening days is the camaraderie and team spirit which is being fostered in the squad – the mini-vignettes of comedy and mentorship which are taking place in the breaks between drills.
Sands is at the center of some of these episodes – to pick one of many, new goalkeeper Sean Johnson was first over to him after an exercise tailored towards building from the back, putting an encouraging arm around the youngster and providing some friendly advice.
Speaking of Johnson, the goalkeepers are always interesting to follow.
With just one spot up for grabs on March 5 in Orlando, it’s always pleasing to see how much of a team within a team is forged between the stoppers, with a cascade of praise raining down on the one between the sticks when a good save is made from the others standing by.
In his first interview with NYCFC.com, Johnson pledged to bring a commanding brand of leadership with him to the club and he’s been good to his word judging by the evidence of the first couple of days.
That said, the ‘keepers certainly aren’t beyond a bit of teasing from their manager…
Following their morning session away from the outfielders on day three, Vieira collared them and enquired as to what they were doing over on the other pitch.
“Having a nice holiday over there? Smoking a cigar? I know you just splashed water on your face to make it look like you’re sweating!” he laughed, before joining in a rondo with Eirik Johansen, Andre Rawls and Rob Vartughian.
Needless to say, the GK Union couldn’t keep the World Cup winner in the middle for long!
When you ALMOST keep coach in the middle... pic.twitter.com/IHYPh8LZb6— New York City FC (@NYCFC) January 24, 2017
An 11 v 11 game rounded off the third day’s action with Tommy McNamara netting the only goal of the match – sending the team wearing bibs on their forfeit – a run up and down the field in the midday sun.
For once, perhaps the ice baths at the end of the session were a welcome relief.