Image: San Antonio FC
San Antonio FC recently embarked on a longer-than-normal away trip as part of their preseason, and as good as the on-field results were, perhaps they built something even better off the field.
The trip began with a drive north to play FC Dallas on Feb. 11, a match they won 2-0. After that, they trained in Phoenix, Arizona, for five days before a short trip to Tucson for a see-saw 3-3 draw on Feb. 17 with the New England Revolution.
“(The trip) gave us two very good games against MLS opposition,” said SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell.
On a normal day in San Antonio, the team will practice and eat lunch together before going their separate ways, Powell said, so most of their time spent together is on a pitch.
On a day away though, it’s completely different. They’re not with their family or friends anymore; they have each other and that’s it. Especially in preseason, that time spent on the road together is exactly what the team needs to build chemistry, particularly off the field.
“You can see the partnerships, the communication, the laughter…they share stories together and it brings people closer and that’s really one of the purposes of those (trips),” Powell said.
With 16 players returning from 2017 though (plus at least two in Alex Bruce and Ethan Bryant who trained with the club before earning roster spots), there’s sure to already be chemistry amongst a good portion of the squad. Even if the team consciously tries to open up and let the new guys in, it may still be difficult to compete with the chemistry between returning players.
However, some additions to the team can reconnect and dust off chemistry built at other teams before coming to SAFC. Such is the case with goalkeeper Diego Restrepo and defender Darnell King, who played together with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2016. The two were roommates on away trips back then and are once again at SAFC, but this preseason trip was their first long stay together.
Restrepo said the extended time away with just the team is a nice change from players’ regular routines. They eat every meal together, live together and even watch soccer together. Though King mentioned away trips leave the players only each other to lean on, there’s a refreshing upside to it as well.
“It’s better when you can have that intimate conversation with those guys, when it’s just the brothers around,” King said.
Make no mistake, the team still develops chemistry on the field on these kinds of trips, it just plays a less prominent role because of how much easier it is to find harmony off the field. The two aren’t mutually exclusive either; Restrepo said something like a joke shared between teammates on a trip like this can translate into confidence and comfort on the field.
Both Restrepo and King said their most worthwhile memories from the trip involve the youth getting comfortable around the other players on the team. An “initiation” of sorts, King said the younger players were required to sing in front of the more senior members of the squad who they’ll be working with and learning from as a way of getting more comfortable together.
“We have great older guys on the team who can take the younger ones under their wings and just show them the ropes and get them comfortable,” King said. “You don’t want it to be a separate group, you want it to be a big family throughout the whole year.”
Restrepo singled out one young player who he witnessed grow during the week: Bryant, the youngest of the bunch at only 16 years old. Restrepo said Bryant grew in confidence and was comfortable voicing his opinions in team meetings just like any other player by the end of the week, something which Restrepo doesn’t think he would’ve felt comfortable doing himself at that age.
With all the bonding happening particularly on trips like last week’s, it’s no surprise King said the team needed to become like a family. Powell, the man who has brought all the players here, echoed that statement and said part of the club culture – even the culture of Spurs Sports and Entertainment as a whole – is being like a family.
“The more together they are, the more like a family they are, the more they’re going to work for one another,” Powell said.
With 2018 still young, the club has a lot of work ahead of them, but thanks to this trip, they’ll approach that work more together.