It’s time for Major League Soccer teams across the country to start ramping up preparations for the 2024 season, and your Loons are no exception. The players have just completed their first week of preseason training, and it’s only going to get more intense from here.
Interim Head Coach Cameron Knowles is running all training sessions with help from additional MNUFC2 and Academy coaches, including former Loons forward Fanendo Adi. The daily routine has followed a typical preseason schedule, with a focus on regaining sharpness during early training, spending down time resting and recovering, then going straight into gym and fitness sessions. Despite a long offseason, the squad has arrived in fine form already.
“The energy and the effort from the group in the last two days have been really good,” Knowles said of the team. “They've come in at a good standard of fitness. So we're able to get to work right away. The performance staff was saying that the average standard on the testing was higher than coming in last year, so obviously the guys have applied themselves in the offseason with their training programs. I know that there's been a good group of guys that have been working together as well in the offseason that have stayed here.”
Among that group of players was none other than club captain Wil Trapp, along with several younger members of the squad. Trapp recently spoke about the importance of helping his more youthful teammates find their footing and grow into full-fledged professionals.
“I think for the young ones, it's now time to assume more of a leadership role, assume more responsibility as to what you do off the field, what you do on the field, and how you contribute in the matches,” he said. “Of course, there's always a learning curve. But I think for these young guys, it's taken the mantle more and saying, ‘You know what, I'm a leader, too, in whatever capacity I have.’ Because we need all 11 guys, we need all 25 to 30 players to really make a run at the trophies that every team wants to win. It's not just about staying back, observing and being quiet. You need to start to find your voice and see what that is.”
With a young squad and a few lingering questions, leadership is more valuable than ever in this Loons locker room. Preseason makes for long days and tired legs, but it’s this period of relentless work that ensures the entire team is ready to go by February 24.
It was the first week of training at NSC for several new faces in the locker room, and suffice it to say, they’re ready to get to work. Minnesota-native Caden Clark is back home, prepared to ply his trade in front of friends and family for the first time since he was just a teenager. He recently spoke about his journey home in the latest episode of Sound of the Loons.
More recent newcomers include Jordan Adebayo-Smith, Hugo Bacharach, Alejandro Bran, and Derek Dodson, all of whom were present at training this week. While Bran is still waiting for proper paperwork to be filed before joining his teammates fully, the other three players are right in the thick of things, battling for their spots and beginning the process of learning how to play with their new team.
With these five new faces, the Loons have added two defenders, two midfielders, and one forward to the depth chart. Players like Bacharach and Clark offer some flexibility as well, having performed in a variety of positions throughout their young careers. One way or another, these new Loons are primed to leave their mark on the 2024 season.
In addition to the first-team regulars, several MNUFC2 players have returned to Blaine early and are currently gaining valuable experience and exposure while training with the first team. Coach Knowles acknowledged the youthful spirit of his current squad, thankful for some familiar faces to lead the way.
“The default is that you lean on the more experienced players and the older ones,” he said. “But it's also helpful that there are players in this group that are younger, that have worked with me for the last two years or have worked in the academy. It's fortunate that they understand the things we're doing, the expectations in the way we work. We've also got a strong veteran group that can help lead the group as well.”
Though the Loons are heading to Tucson for a 10-day trip, this is no vacation. As Coach Knowles alluded to, the expectations remain high, and with three exhibition matches planned during their time in Arizona—including one against CF Montreal—there is plenty of work to be done.
“On the first day, we told them that even though some things have been unexpected, the expectations on the field don't change,” Knowles said. “And the expectation is that we prepare for the start of the season, work hard in the preseason and get ready for that first game. There's different staff and different roles, but, ultimately, we have to put that to the side, ignore the noise and just get on with the work because the season doesn't wait.”