BRADENTON, Fla. — It's just two hours away from INTER&CO Stadium, but IMG Academy feels like its own world. With its state-of-the-art facilities, hotel on campus and dozens of soccer fields, it's the perfect place to go when you want a team to focus solely on soccer.
That's exactly why the Orlando Pride took a week-long trip to begin their 2024 preseason. Eating, sleeping and breathing soccer for an entire week, being around your old and new teammates; it's invaluable for a team that is trying to build on their previous season's success.
"I think it's always been a priority of mine, to get the team together somewhere away from the training ground," Pride Head Coach Seb Hines said on Wednesday. "We've got a lot of new players, young players, senior players and just integrating with the players that we already have here, getting to know us a little bit more and them getting to know each other, that's our priority. You spend a lot of time together, and you've got to build those relationships. That's our main goal, along with obviously training and making sure they're fit and ready to go."
Days out at IMG usually consist of breakfast at the crack of dawn, a morning training session, lunch, followed by meetings and an afternoon training session. Those early training sessions, the coaching staff like to get the players moving with drills and team-building exercises, getting the entire roster to have to work together.
One such drill was having the team split into two groups and having them sit down in a circle, backs facing to each other and arms linked, then finding a way to get standing again. It's those simple team exercises that can go a long way in building relationships with the group.
"It's a long season and getting to know each other is a priority," Hines said. "It's a time to build those relationships. Relationships are key. Not only on the field, but off the field as well. We try and embrace this family environment."
It's that kind of environment that led to the team's turnaround last year, finishing just outside the playoffs. With a strong base to build from, the Pride will look to take that next step forward in their development.
“We ended off on a good place last year, and I think if we just continue to do that this year, and start that from game one, I think will be really successful," defender Emily Madril said. "I think it's really good for the new players to come into the team. It's good to be here together with no distractions. We’re basically forced to spend time together, which is a good thing. Building those team connections. I think that'll help us as we go into the season.”