SANDY — Five games into the 2011 season, Real Salt Lake has been simply fantastic posting a 4-0-1 record with 11 goals scored and just two surrendered.
There are many reasons for the hot start, and arguably the most important is also the least glamorous — offseason workouts.
"Totally crazy stuff from Dan Barlow. Lot of treadmill, weights, a lot of sprinting and running. You got sick of it pretty quick," said RSL midfielder Andy Williams, in reference to the offseason program set up by the team's strength and conditioning coach.
Since Barlow joined Real Salt Lake in 2007 the players have always been required to do some conditioning on their own in December and January, but coach Jason Kreis said the players took it more seriously than ever this offseason.
The reasoning was pretty simple — the CONCACAF Champions League.
Traditionally a slow-starting team, Real knew it couldn't afford a slow start against Columbus in the Champions League otherwise it would be eliminated quickly.
"The big thing was we knew there was a big game Feb. 22, so in all of our minds it was there," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. "There was no excuse that we had an game early, we made sure we were going to be sharp and ready right from the get go and I think that mentality has helped us continue right into the season."
After knocking off a little rust in a 0-0 draw against Columbus in a miserably cold game on Feb. 22, RSL has been flying with four straight victories. It will try and build on the momentum in Costa Rica this Tuesday in the second leg of its CCL semifinal series with Saprissa.
If Barlow's offseason conditioning program continues paying off, you won't notice that Saprissa is nearing the end of its season while RSL is just beginning its.
"I think our early-season form has a lot to do with the responsibility that the players took upon themselves to work very hard in the offseason to get themselves to a level of fitness where we could start right away in on soccer," said Kreis, who made career out of being the fittest player.
Kreis doesn't necessarily think this offseason's regime was any tougher than previous years. Instead, he believes the combination of the early Columbus match and Barlow's experience created the perfect scenario for the players to buy in.
"I think as we move forward every single year we get a little bit better at what we're asking the players to do and we get a little bit better at personally tailoring their workouts to their individual needs," said Kreis.
As important as the offseason was, team chemistry can't be underestimated either.
"You look around the league and you kind of see that you can't just put together a team and think it's all going to work out. It takes time," said Beckerman. "You look at our team we've got this core, and it seems like it's just kind of a continuation of last year, and a continuation of the year before. If you just keep that core together and you're all on the same page right from the get go."
Will Johnson said the team knew what was expected right away, and it's been business as usual this year.
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