Players report for physicals
Getty Images

Bobby Rhine: What preseason is really like

This week kicks off the beginning of the 2011 preseason for Western Conference Champions FC Dallas. We're kicking off our coverage with commentary from former player and current TV analyst Bobby Rhine, but stay tuned to throughout preseason for daily training recaps, behind-the-scenes videos and photos and interviews with your favorite players that you can't get anywhere else.

WATCH: FC Dallas players report for physicals

One thing as obvious as their pale skin from a lack of outdoor summer training is the excitement players have for the first day of preseason. What are they feeling as two months of rest and relaxation draws to a close?

This is what I recall.
Walking into the locker room to see the guys for the first time in a while is the best part of preseason. Most guys will show up well before they have to in order to share stories about what they did over the off-season, while also swapping stories from the rumor mill. It’s a special bond that teammates have and one that, quite frankly, you cannot get anywhere else.

READ: FC Dallas announces 2011 preseason schedule

In my career I played for every single coach that has ever been in charge of our Dallas club. Some loved using the early weeks to focus on fitness, while others preferred to allow players to build their fitness by playing. The honest truth? Players love the latter.  
I can remember a specific preseason when we trained incredibly hard. We spent 17 days in a remote part of Mexico doing intense training – most of which were spent on fitness.

There were several teams from the league that had chosen the same training location, and I can remember how our team would spend an hour or more running and sprinting while we could see another team nearby working on everything else. That’s a story that many of us laugh about now, but back then it was no laughing matter.

The truth is there’s always some doubt (fear even?) in the players’ mind that has them wondering which fitness route a manager will take.
Another thing I remember vividly was looking around at incoming players and trialists, wondering who was there to try to take my job. That’s always the reality for a player in every preseason. Competition is natural and necessary. In fact, I know many coaches that never want players feeling a sense of security or level of comfort. Situations like that add a lot of tension around camp, which of course makes for some great battles during training.
And as for the veterans? They usually prefer to play their way into fitness and sharpness, because most of them are well aware of the demand that will be put on their body during the season.

The veterans are the guys who don’t panic when they see a rookie or a trialist shine during exercises early in camp – they know the season is a marathon, not a sprint. It always seemed to me that rookies and young players would typically arrive incredibly fit, and then fizzle out three or four months into the season.

The muscle soreness and mental challenges laid out during training camp are what build the kind of character needed in the most difficult parts of a long season. When the team begins to face adversity, they’ll reference what they went through back in preseason just to have the opportunity currently in front of them. You can’t underestimate all the effort required to build a team from Day One.

In the end it’s the clubs with strong leaders that are able to steer the ship through the rough waters of the regular season. The experience this FC Dallas team collected on their way to the 2010 MLS Cup is invaluable, but this preseason they face a new challenge – an expectation of success.

An expectation to compete for a championship.

This is uncharted water for FC Dallas, and it all begins today.

I can’t wait to watch every step.