The much anticipated 2011 season (finally) began with a pre-season training session in front of the prying eyes of a throng of sporting press (okay, seven or eight people huddled on the sideline of the Chiefs Indoor Training facility). And, well, I wish there was more to report on. I really do. After all the build up, there wasn't a whole lot of real news to report. The best I can do is collect some scattered observations, quotes and sprinkle in a liberal dose of optimism. (Maybe by Friday some questions will appear clearer than they are now.)The Basics
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The day began with some stretching and light warm-ups, followed by a rotating 10-v-10 game (there were three teams, each a mixture of starters/reserves/trialists/etc). Then a media scrum (I got a chance to talk with Teal Bunbury, Omar Bravo, CJ Sapong, Michael Harrington, Stephane Auvray and Kerry Zavagnin), which was directly followed by a closed-door invite-only combine.*
• Omar Bravo -- you’re not going to believe this -- is calm, influential and very good. He had a nifty little flick for a goal during the 10-v-10. He should definitely be a player to watch this year. (Snicker.)
• I firmly support and encourage anyone whistling or otherwise referencing "The Wire" when referring to Omar Bravo. (I will vigorously co-sign an Omar’s Coming chant.)
• I spent most of my time focusing on the interaction of the forwards. Thursday, I hope to explore the defense a little more. Bravo spent the the whole 10-v-10 paired with Bunbury. The second team featured Kei Kamara and Birahim Diop and the third pairing was Sapong and Algerian trialist Adda Djeziri. (All three teams played a variation of a 4-3-2.)
• Ryan Smith and Luke Sassano were the only players under contract who didn’t show up. Smith was rehabbing a knee injury at the Swope Park Training Complex; Sassano, also at Swope, missed for undisclosed reasons.
• In case you are wondering, Sunil Chhetri wasn’t in attendance. There hasn’t been a formal announcement as of yet, but he’s not expected to rejoin the team again. Zoltan Hercegfalvi and Nikos Kounenakis also weren’t there. The team released Kounenakis; Zoltan’s loan deal had expired.
• I tweeted during the practice that the trialists, besides Djeziri, were relatively anonymous. There’s a good reason for that, only three of the six were present -- Gambian Omar Colley and the Trinidad Tobago duo of Daneil Cyrus and Sheldon Bateau were not in attendance. No reason was given for their absence. It’s possible they aren’t in KC yet.
• As I said, Djeziri had a decent run. He’s taller than I thought he'd be and he got way up for a few aerial balls. He speaks pretty good English too.
• I had to ask afterwards whether Julio Cesar Santos and Calum Butcher (both defenders on trial) were even at the combine. They both were. Ouch.
• Sapong, much like Bunbury last year, has a lot to learn. At one point during the game, head coach Peter Vermes pulled him aside to discuss his spacing and asked him not to chase the game and get out of position.
• The Birahim Diop Game, v3. The man, the myth, the living legend is fighting for a spot on this team and he did a great job during the session. He scored three times (twice from beautiful passes by Kamara). He looked poised and finished with quality each time.
• I sort of thought the 10-v-10 games would be a little slower and today would just be a walk-about. Wrong. It was played at a really decent pace and featured some decent -- albeit rusty -- action.
• Who is the idiot that asked Stephane Auvray if he spent his off-season in Guatemala? The idiot writing this, that’s who. I know better. He’s from Guadeloupe. He, rightfully, gave me a hard time about my slip up.
• Graham Zusi’s beard is epic. I hope he keeps it.
• I wish I could tell you I had a firm grasp over what the team plans to do about its defense... but I don’t yet. It was hard to sort out the pairings (I spent a decent amount of time watching the strikers and Bravo/Bunbury), but I know that Shavar Thomas played with Mike Jones. I believe Besler played with Santos, but I’m not certain.
• Without a doubt, the fastest feet on the team belong to Korede Aiyegbusi.
• One of the drawbacks to being a burgeoning star? Making your teammates who gave you a ride wait for you to finish your round of interviews. Poor Michael Harrington and Stephane Auvray, they had to sit around and wait for Bunbury to finish his exhaustive set of interviews before they could go home.
• New numbers: Bravo will wear #99, Sapong #17, Roger Espinoza changes to #15, Luke Sassano will don #32 and Jon Kempin is #21.
• I talked with Kerry Zavgnin for a bit (mostly about doing more tactical/statistical analysis this year) and he told me something interesting. At this time last year, the team was just trying to find athletic players to plug into their system. This year, they have brought inonly
players that fit their system. I’ll get more into it as the season progresses, but they’re using a new statistical tracking platform that allows them to pinpoint specific needs. Overall, Zavgnin told me they are much happier with where they are and feel they have a very strong player pool.