Photo by James Tinnell
Louisville City FC’s players are situated for this week and the next in cosy villas, while temperatures at IMG Academy, the world-class facility in Bradenton, Fla., touch 70 degrees daily.
“It’s been pretty tough,” joked Sean Totsch, a first-year defender and midfielder.
Of course, he was referencing time after the 6:30 a.m. wakeup calls and two-a-day sessions LouCity players are working through before the 2017 United Soccer League season.
Work and play during the club’s preseason trip are plenty different.
“We’ve been pushing ourselves trying to set the standard for the intensity we want to keep all year,” Totsch said. “It’s been tough, but we know the work we put in now will pay off.”
Coach James O’Connor first took LouCity’s players to the IMG Academy last year, after in 2015 the start of practice coincided with a snowstorm in Louisville. His goals aren’t to find opponents and play games, but rather to build base fitness and implement injury prevention programs.
It’s a slow build to March 25, when LouCity hosts Saint Louis FC at Slugger Field on opening weekend of the USL season.
“The guys have been training really hard,” O’Connor said. “It’s been tough, but their attitude and intensity has been fantastic.”
LouCity returned 13 players who, combined, made starts at every position on last year’s team that finished with the USL’s second-best record. During the regular season, LouCity went on a run of 17 straight games unbeaten. In the playoffs, they won twice before falling in a penalty kick shootout to the New York Red Bulls II, the eventual USL champion.
Then it was on to a lengthy offseason. From mid-October through the beginning of February, most players spent time out of town. But they had the challenge of preseason — and fitness required to stand out — in mind.
“It’s funny to see the reactions of the new guys coming into the team — not really being able to prepare for something like this,” said defender Tarek Morad, back for his third season with LouCity. “Returners kind of have an advantage over them just because we’re been through this once before.
“I think guys want to be prepared not only just because we know how hard this preseason is, but also because we want to be the best we can every day. That’s something James requires of us, and it’s something we require of ourselves, too. It’s about always maintaining a heightened standard.”