The Missouri Comets are well into their third week of official preseason and head coach Vlatko Andonovski is pretty happy with where his team is right now.
"They are looking good, they are all working very hard. I'm very pleased with their effort, their attitude, their mentality, they know it's going to be a hard season and they have a tough test in front of them and they need to get ready," Andonovski observed.
Watching practice earlier in the week, it would be easy to describe it as short periods of intense play punctuated with quick intense coaching. Andonovski was running the Comets through short games between two teams and trading players in and out on every break. Occasionally stopping play to point out how a player should have positioned himself, how he could have changed the point of attack or forced an attacker to play the ball differently. Mostly it was younger players but veterans were not exempt from their coach's attention. Overall it was a master class on how to play indoor soccer.
When asked about the intense practice Andonovski replied, "It is preseason; the way we get ready now is how we are going to play. Every preseason is that way, whether it is the boys or the girls. I want them to be in that mode, I want them to go in and out sharp, intense and aggressive. That is how we are training and getting ready."
The Wichita connection
The Comets picked up three players from the Wichita B-52's after they folded in the off season. One of them, goalkeeper Boris Pardo previously played two seasons with the Comets. The other two, defender Kevin Ten Eyck and midfielder Travis Pittman have quickly fit in.
"Amazing, they are hard workers," Andonovski described his new players. "They've come in with the right attitude, the right mentality and they look like they have been here for years."
The first few days, the two Wichita field players were kept together on the same line in practice as much as possible. "I wanted them to feel comfortable," Andonovski explained. "That doesn't mean they will be on a line together later on but I wanted them to at least at the very beginning feel comfortable with who they are playing with. I had (John) Sosa on the line with them also because anyone that plays with Sosa feels comfortable."
The additions of the Wichita players have already strengthened the Comets but another addition may raise the level another notch. According to reliable sources, former Comet Lucas Rodriguez may be returning to the indoor game. Rodriguez has been playing with the Jacksonville Armada of the NASL and was one of the best players for the Comets before he moved to the Armada.
"This year I would say we are ten percent better starting off, in condition shape, than the previous two years which allowed us to move into stage two from the get go," Andonovski explained. "We skipped stage one in the preseason and just started with stage two which is a different level of intensity. On top of that they pumped their intensity to a higher level which makes me very happy."
"I was happy when I saw that the first day but wanted to see how they were going to look on day four, day five and they never backed down," Andonovski continued. "They just kept driving, kept pushing. It tells me that we are going to get into game shape sooner than the previous two years. The previous two years we were ready to go by game three. This year I expect to be sooner than that."
The Comets have been one of the best teams in the league the last few years, winning the championship in 2013-14 and going undefeated last year required the team to get off to a strong start and keep it up through the season. That kind of success starts with the head coach and his expectations but has to be carried through the team.
"It becomes a culture," Andonovski stated. "They know the standards and they know the expectations. They know the minimum level they need to be on the first day of practice. We do testing and if they don't pass the test it's very clear. I don't talk to them; they just pack their stuff and leave."
"It's not a secret, everybody knows it and it everybody gets ready for it. It's not that I am trying to be mean or strict," Andonovski continued." It's for their good; for the good of the team. We have such a short preseason that if they don't come about 75 to 80 percent ready, we won't have time to get ready. We wouldn't be ready until Christmas then. I can sacrifice a game or two but that s about it."
It's not just fitness that leads to success
For Andonovski, it is more than fitness, more than the individual players. "If you break it down player by player, I don't think we have the best team in this league. I don't think we had the best team last year or the year before but I am pretty sure as a team we were the best around," the Comets leader explained. .
"One big reason for that is our chemistry, our atmosphere, our mentality. Our family environment that everyone is willing to do the extra for someone else because he knows when he needs their help he will have another five guys on the field that will do the extra for him," Andonovski elaborated."
The Comets open the season on November the 6th when they host the expansion Cedar Rapids Rampage at 7:30 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.