July 24, 2010
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State men's soccer seniors Colin Givens and Spencer Thompson had the unique opportunity to train with Toronto FC of Major League Soccer (MLS) from July 5-8. The training included workouts at both Toronto's game and training facilities. Toronto FC sits in third place in the Eastern Conference and is coached by Preki, a two-time MLS MVP, member of the 1998 United States FIFA World Cup squad and a 2010 inductee into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame. The experience was facilitated for Givens and Thompson by MSU head coach Damon Rensing and assistant coach Kylie Stannard, who have developed a relationship with team scouts as well as TFC assistant Nick Dasovic.
The experience is sure to benefit the Spartan duo as they prepare for the 2010 season. Last season, Thompson earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in the Spartan midfield, while Givens anchored the defense as a second-team all-conference honoree on an MSU squad that advanced to the NCAA Championship for the third-consecutive season.
Givens chronicled their training experience with a daily journal from Toronto.
Our first day started off with Spencer and me joining the team in the locker room and changing into gear. The practice field was 30 minutes away so we all got on the bus and road over together. The session had a very professional feel, which I really enjoyed. We started with very quick laps around the field and some footwork. Then we moved right into a triangle passing drill that really tested our technical ability from the get-go. It started tough with that being our first touch of the ball, but we settled down and got our rhythm. It felt like 90 degrees outside, so it was a really difficult to keep up the intensity. Once we were through with our 6-v-6 one-touch possession, it was right into a round-robin four-team 6-v-6 tournament.
I thought Spencer and I held our own. The game is definitely a lot quicker with much more movement off the ball, but technically we looked pretty solid. It was exciting and eye-opening to see how much movement there was from the other guys. After three games each, it was the end of the session. It felt like a really quick serious session that was just oven an hour long, but I enjoyed the intensity of the hour which made for a very productive practice. It will take a little time to get used to the tempo of the game, but I think Spencer and I got better today, for sure.
Today was a really good day for me and Spencer. It started with a nice, quick warm-up and then into half the team doing ladders and agility activities, while the other half did a really challenging one-two touch passing triangle, which I thought Spencer and I did a lot better on today than we did yesterday because we knew what to expect. We went into 1-v-1s to goal and I stayed on defense the whole time. It was good to go against guys like Chad Barrett, because I definitely held my own and didn't allow a goal. It was great to know I can hang with these guys and defend them 1-v-1. The coaches had a lot of positive feedback to me on my 1-v-1 defending. Spencer defended well and also got a go at attacking. He looked really solid going to goal, scoring some nice goals. After that we went into the hardest drill ever which was a 3-v-2 to goal transition game that was lead by Preki. It was soooooo exhausting, but Spencer and I did really well in it and the coaches again had nothing but positive things to say about our performance.
We were hoping the practice was going to be over then because we were ready to pass out (haha), but we then went into about 15 minutes of full field. I played right back and Spencer was right mid on the same team. It was good to finally have some space to run and there wasn't a guy on your back as soon as you touched the ball. Spencer and I didn't do much in the scrimmage because we didn't have to, but we didn't look out of place. We defended well in the scrimmage as we were playing against many of the first team guys. Then, after all that, we did some sprints and fitness at the end. It was a good day to finally play with some confidence. We were not nearly as anxious or nervous as we were yesterday, so we showed really well today.
Wednesday was a regeneration day for us and the team, so it wasn't the most challenging day. It was refreshing to see that even the pros have to do some of the stuff that, although it's annoying to do, still has to be done. We started the day off with a 20-minute run down the beach and along Lake Ontario, which was a really nice part of Toronto. When we got back to the stadium, we split into two even groups. Spencer and I started in the same group together in their turf room. The turf room was a very small room with turf that was just about the size of a small soccer tennis court. It was great to get in there with 12 guys and do a really tightly-spaced technical session. We did a few one-touch drills for about 20 minutes and switched to the weight room where we did a bike circuit going from just riding the bike slowly to picking up the speed and going hard for a minute on-and-off for 20 minutes. After that, the whole team joined us in the weight room and we did a quick two-round circuit involving crunches, pull-ups, and lunges. Even though it was quick, it was very challenging. To end the session, we did styrofoam rollers on all of our muscles as a cool down. Today was a good day to talk with some of the pros about their everyday lives and things that are different in the pros compared to college.
Thursday was a day that focused on their gameplan for their game on Saturday. It started with a good jog and dynamic stretch and moved right into a challenging, technical one-touch passing drill that made a shape of a bowtie and had you pass a ball one touch to your left and fill the gap to your right. It was a good drill and made you think on your toes and definitely tested us mentally and technically. After getting a few good touches on the ball, we went into a ladder agility warm-up that worked up a good sweat in the 90-degree weather. Preki set up a good full-field fitness/finishing drill that had you rotating clockwise from playing the ball out wide and combining with a give-and-go down the line and a first time cross driven in low and hard for a first-time finish. The drill was set up to follow your pass, and when you had the one-time finish you sprinted across the field and did the same thing over again just on the opposite side of the field. Spencer and I split away from the team as they were working with the starting lineup with shadow play and we worked on reflex finishing with the goalies. Being two days before their game, the session concluded because the extreme heat and sun was taking its toll on the guys. We ended with a long stretch.
This experience was one-of-a-kind. Not many players in our situation get the chance to train with a professional team in a professional environment. Not only did we get to see the difference between college and the pros, but we are now able to hold ourselves to higher standards and bring that to Michigan State and the rest of our teammates to have a great season this upcoming fall.