Dec. 9, 2004
By Jason Halpin
Aside from the too-small beds at the Chelsea Village Hotel, (former Santa Clara University and current) San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper Steve Cronin enjoyed his time spent training with English Premier League club Chelsea FC, and in his brief stay in London, he believes he's found a new focus for his training in the United States.
"There were definitely days training with San Jose where I felt like I could take a little bit more time and take it a little bit easier, but now I understand from being over there that if you want to make it to where you want to be, you have to give it everything you have every day," said Cronin.
Cronin, who just completed his rookie season in MLS, trained with Chelsea from Nov. 20-Dec. 5 along with New England Revolution forward Pat Noonan. Cronin had never trained with a professional team outside of the USA, and prior to traveling to England, didn't really have any expectations.
His main goal was just to get an idea of what it's like to play with the first team at a top European club, and after the trip -- arranged through the players' agents at SportsNet -- Cronin said his mission was accomplished.
"I hadn't done anything like it before, so I didn't know what to expect," Cronin said. "I was just kind of hoping that I'd have a chance to train with the first team, and I got that and it proved to be a pretty valuable experience.
"Eventually, everybody wants to go play in Europe, so I wanted to kind of get a feel for how it would be."
Noonan's stay was similarly successful, though it didn't quite meet the 2004 Budweiser MLS Scoring Champion's expectations. Noonan had hoped to train more with the first team, but instead, he only spent two days with the top players at the club and the rest with the reserve team.
"I figured I'd be in more of those trainings or that the reserves weren't going to be as young. The reserve squad was guys who were ages 16-20, so I was obviously the oldest one out there in those trainings, and I felt a little more mature than them. But they're still very skilled players for that age," Noonan said.
Still, the time Noonan spent with the first team was valuable to the 24-year-old striker, who said he admires the intensity and professionalism the players show in practices. He also said the skill of the English players was impressive.
"The two days with the first team was worth it because I got to see what first team training is like, and I got to meet the manager over there, (Jose) Mourinho. He's obviously done a great job there. First in the league right now, and they have a great team. So, it was good to get those two trainings in.
"It's basically, 12, 13 guys ... or however many are out there, who are on the same page and have the same mentality. They all want to win. They hate losing in practice, as well," he said. "It's a job for them, as well, and they don't want to lose that job, and they're at one of the top clubs."
Another thing both players noticed is that despite the widespread belief that there is a gap between the quality of play in the professional leagues in Europe -- and England, in particular -- and the quality of play in MLS, players from the USA's top professional league are by no means fish out of water with the big clubs across the pond.
"Players have shown they can go over there and play. I think European clubs have taken notice of that," Noonan said. "That pays respect to MLS and the players that are being brought into it. I think we know we can compete, and with the national team's success and recent form, we can compete with the best."
Noonan and Cronin are just two players taking part in the ever-growing tradition of MLS players who spend time in the offseason training with European clubs. While few such training visits are designed as trials, they are helping to build MLS into a league that could one day rival the top leagues in Europe.
Successful visits help improve the view of European coaches of the quality of MLS players and also help improve the players' ability.
"It can't hurt for any American player to go over there and give it a shot. More guys are starting to do it," Noonan said. "Being around and seeing what their mentality is and what they go into trainings expecting of themselves and their teammates, I'll take back to the Revs."