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With all the buzz surrounding Orlando City’s two Designated Player signings this week, you’d be forgiven for looking past the hard work being done at the Orlando Health Training Ground at Osceola Heritage Park.

But this is perhaps the most important time of the year for a soccer team. The Lions, returning from their offseason holidays, are two weeks into a six-week boot camp readying them for the steady grind of a Major League Soccer season. We spoke to Orlando City Strength and Conditioning Coach Fabian Bazan to get the inside scoop on how he prepares the Lions for the marathon to come. 

The first step, says Bazan, starts right at the end of the previous season, when the players head home for the winter armed with individualized fitness plans. Rather than keep them in peak shape, these plans are designed to actually ramp down the players’ bodies from the harsh environment of the season, allowing them to recover and prepare to build back up for the following campaign.

Upon arrival at training camp, Bazan puts the players through 7-10 sessions of assimilation back into the daily routine of professional soccer. This is especially important for new players, who need to adjust to Orlando City’s methodology and fitness techniques. Bazan says he focuses a lot on building up lower body strength during this period, with an emphasis on the quads and hamstrings, muscles which need reinforcement to prevent injury.

After these initial sessions, it’s time to start building towards game fitness. Bazan runs a series of stress tests on the players, including the infamous “beep test,” a non-stop back and forth sprint between two sets of cones designed to test the players’ maximal oxygen consumption. That was the focus of this past week, with the beep test taking place during Friday morning’s session.

The next couple weeks are built around increasing the players’ fitness loads, with the sessions gradually becoming longer and more intense. Bazan says that while this phase is physically strenuous on the veterans, it is actually most difficult for younger players, especially those from the academy who are not used to working at this level. The Lions’ first preseason games will occur during this period, with Orlando set to open up their scrimmage slate against Minnesota United on Thursday evening.

Finally, the players are ready to begin regular-season training in the build-up to the opener. Intrasquad scrimmages and other soccer exercises are common, not just to get the players ready for games, but to give the coaching staff a chance to evaluate their progress ahead of the season’s first match.

Orlando City is set to open its season against CF Montréal at Exploria Stadium on Sunday, February 27 at 1 p.m. By that time, you can be sure that Bazan will have the Lions ready to go.