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Days Start Earlier, Go Longer for Goalkeepers in Preseason Training

February 13, 2024 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
FC Cincinnati News Release

Every morning around 9:30 a.m., the majority of FC Cincinnati players and coaches gather in the hotel lobby in Clearwater, Florida, and depart for training together. On the road in the regular season, a bus collects everyone and drives them to and from their destinations; in Florida, minivans serve as the mode of transportation to and from the Walter Campbell Sports Park.

The Cincinnati Enquirer's Pat Brennan covered this excellently in 2023 (read that here), and much of it still applies today.

But while most of the team gathers at the hotel lobby, a troupe of goalkeepers has already started their day of training. Director of Goalkeeping Paul Rogers and his band of merry men, including Roman Celentano, Alec Kann, Evan Louro, Paul Walters and FCC 2's Hunter Morse, depart at least a half hour earlier than the rest of the collection to begin their day. They pile into a minivan driven by Kann, head to the field and get to work.

So, by the time the first outfielders minivans pulls into the parking lot, the goalkeepers had geared up, warmed up, and started their day. By the time the FC Cincinnati outfielders take to the pitch, the men between the metal have already worked up a glisten of sweat and are well into personal drills.

It is an inevitable condition of the position. The attention and presence of goalkeepers are required for the larger training sessions, in turn making time for individual, position-specific training difficult to fit in. This is not to suggest that the work on the field with the outfield players is invaluable; it's not, but it is usually presented in the context of the outfielders and less so the keepers in particular. The only option is to create more time in the schedule for themselves by being the first to the field.

"For the team stuff, normally we will do certain things, and it's not really to our benefit," goalkeeper Roman Celentano explains. "That's why we do our work at the beginning. So we're actually doing stuff that's meant for us.

"With team stuff, we will work on different build-outs and pressing, and that's important. But on matchday minus two, we will do some of the finishing, and most of the time, it's a striker having two or three shots in a row not really giving us a chance. It's easy to get upset or get like, 'Oh, we're just getting abused here.' But I just look at it like it's not for me, it's for the strikers, it's for them to get their reps in. So if I can go in there and hold my position and do my best, I'll be happy. But at the end of the day, it's not for us now. So we understand that and know it helps the team, but that's why we have to get out there early, to work on things for us."

First on the field and last to leave.

"There is a pride in it," Celentano said. "It sets the tone of what this group is about."

"We like getting out there, and there's no time for when we hop in with the team, so we gotta go beforehand to get our work in, and that gets us ready to get into the team session, so we feel like we're getting better every day and we enjoy it."

The setup for the keepers is rather simple, but the work done is hardly so. A net, a handful of 'Kwik Goal' mannequins, and a dozen or so soccer balls are rolled out every morning. A GoPro camera is also set up on a 12-foot stand pointed head-on to the keepers, an important tool in reviewing performance. When the time comes to join the main group to work on team collective ideas and implementations, they rotate in and out to give everyone opportunities in both sessions.

The toughest challenge facing a goalkeeper in the group belongs to Kann, who is training to enter his 11th MLS campaign.

At the end of the 2023, Kann stated emphatically, while making clear his utmost respect and support for Celentano, that his goal was to come into camp and win the starting goalkeeper position. As a professional athlete, that is the only way he can approach his work; otherwise, he would have to "get out." Fair play to him. Kann is in the difficult position of being a team leader while not currently in line as a day-one starter. It's a challenging situation.

It's only been made more complicated by the fact that Kann underwent a procedure on his right hand that has rendered him unable to participate in training.

The simplest explanation of his condition is that he can't catch the ball. He wears a hard-shelled brace that helps stabilize the surgically repaired hand, but that will not stop him from helping out. If a ball needs kicking, Kann is there to kick it. A free kick, cross or shot on target for another keeper to work on stopping? The Georgia native is ready to step up.

The joke around the training grounds has become that there will be no better ball-playing keeper in the league once The Orange and Blue break preseason camp. Need a late-game free kick? An extra PK taker? Kann will be as trained as anyone.

But the seriousness of the situation can't be ignored. Not being able to train in full is a struggle that Kann has to overcome daily. He's described it as going 'stir crazy.'

"Obviously, it sucks that (Kann is) not 100% right now, but we enjoy having him in this different role," Celentano said. Alec and (Director of Goalkeeping) Paul Rogers have done a good job working him into the sessions. He's still a big part of training. He does the reps; we modify it so it isn't like he's out of the loop.

"I feel for him as well; he's getting different views on how things are. Sometimes he'll be in a certain position where he wouldn't normally be, and he's able to give pointers instead of just worrying about himself in the session. So I feel like it's been beneficial for everyone to have a different set of eyes on us."

Keepers have a difficult job in the preseason. They need to be everything for everyone. They are drawn in a million different directions to fill the role they play for others in training in ways that might not always be best for their personal development.

But when opening day comes, they'll be ready. Rogers will make sure of that. When FC Cincinnati takes the field in Kingston, Jamaica, on February 22 or at TQL Stadium against Toronto FC for MLS Opening Day on February 25, whoever is between the pipes will be prepared.

"Paul's done a good job getting our feet back under us this preseason," Celentano adds. "Seeing certain reps in certain scenarios makes us ready for when the day comes. So when it's the real deal, it's the real deal, and we will be prepared.

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