Fire welcome better conditioning from fitness specialist

Experienced Briones has Chicago in improved condition

Two weeks in to Fire preseason, a roster has begun to take shape, bad
touches and off-target strikes have gotten better and the overall
fitness level of the club is higher at this point in time than it has
been in recent years. A lot of credit for the latter goes to new Soccer
Fitness Specialist Alvaro Briones.

A long-time friend of Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos, the two first
worked with each other while both were with Mexican club Monterrey from
1989-91 -- de los Cobos as a player, Briones in a similar role to the
one he holds today. The two began a coaching partnership with a short
stint at Club America, but their recent history has them together -
throughout every move de los Cobos has made, Briones has gone with him.

"After so many years working together, our relationship is excellent,"
said Briones. "He is very professional and our work is based on constant
communication. The way we've built our partnership together, we've
become a very strong pair and teams have embraced that."

Recalling the days when he used to teach fitness theory at Universidad
Catolica in his native Chile, "el Profesor" brings as much animation as
fitness knowledge to the training pitch. The result has been receptive
players taking more enjoyment in tireless workouts.

"El Profe is a trip," said veteran Fire midfielder Logan Pause. "He's
extremely knowledgeable when it comes to conditioning for a season and
he's been adding great atmosphere to our training sessions. Overall,
he's just been a great addition to the club."

With over forty years of fitness work, Briones' resume is a heavy one.
Since 1970 he's worked with players from 15 different clubs across
Chile, Mexico, El Salvador and the United States. Most recently he
worked with de los Cobos in helping the Salvadoran national team regain
respect through CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.

Though the idea of a fitness specialist in soccer now seems elementary,
when Briones started, it wasn't the norm. Now different philosophies
among players towards fitness and training keep Briones busy.

"It's never easy to enter a new team and bring in new ideas," said
Briones. "You always encounter the conflict with the club's expectations
of your work and justification for what you're doing. With that, the
onus is always on me to prove to them that there is a reason they
brought me in and so it's important to have the courage to develop good
chemistry within the team and be consistent in my own work."

Winning players over when making them do sprints isn't easy, but Briones
has found a way to get the players in line with what he wants them to
do, all while carrying a great attitude.

"I have two philosophies when I come into a new group," Briones
remarked. "First, I propose a fitness plan that will eventually benefit
the player for his career and second I try to become a psychological
mentor. I say that because soccer is not always about the fitness
aspect, players also need psychological support and I try to provide
that."

Lacking fluency in English, Briones relies heavily on hand motions,
humor and Assistant Equipment Manager Allan Araujo for interpretations
and instructions. Despite the language barrier, his good humor comes
through to all the players.

"He's always cracking jokes during training," said veteran goalkeeper
Jon Busch. "Profe's good because he knows when to be serious and when
taking a light-hearted approach is appropriate. He also has a strong
respect for the players and that translates in any language."

As the season inches closer, the challenge of pushing conditioning
levels up is academic for Briones, learning English is a bit more
difficult, but a challenge that he welcomes whole-heartedly.

"Everything that is new is difficult, but I think I'm capable of
overcoming the language barrier. I take it as just another challenge in
my life which I know I can beat. Of course what matters most is not what
I say, but how I transmit my philosophy to the team and we're doing
well so far."

Jeff Crandall is a contributor to MLSnet.com.