CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch can’t recall a season he’s been a part of that involved more games in such a short time frame than what his second-year United Soccer League club has been through the past two months.
Remarkably, FC Cincinnati is 8-2-3 during a stretch of playing 13 games in 53 days since beginning its magical run through the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
And, the Orange and Blue would have been heading into its 15th match in 59 days Saturday at second-place Louisville City had Wednesday’s postponed U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal at Miami FC not allowed for an unexpected midweek break.
So what is the secret to their success? Koch says the support staff on the medical and fitness side are the “unsung heroes” behind it all.
“Obviously we need to make sure to take care of the bodies, and we’re lucky to have a very good support staff,” Koch said. “They are a little more behind the scenes and don’t get the recognition they deserve, but they are truly invested in the players we work with and have been a big part of getting us through this difficult stretch especially.”
The support staff he speaks of includes strength and conditioning coordinator Ben Yauss, head athletic trainer Aaron Powell and his assistant Julie Beveridge, as well as University of Cincinnati student intern Abby Smith, among others.
Powell, a full-time employee, and Yauss, a part-timer, have both been with the club since last year, but Beveridge was a new addition thanks to an expanded budget this season, and Smith came on board as the annual intern.
Both Powell and Yauss said this year has been especially busy with the extra Cup matches, but they’ve enjoyed the challenge. FC Cincinnati played just two games in the tournament last year.
“It’s been a lot of work,” Powell said. “It’s been a lot of extended hours, a lot of thinking outside the box on ‘how can we get recovered and ready for the next game in such short window?’ We’ve added a couple new options we didn’t do last year that have helped the players, and it’s been fun to be a part of it.”
Some of the treatments Powell uses include more IVs after games to help re-hydrate them and give them a leg up on recovery and sending players to cryotherapy saunas around town.
Cryotherapy is a type of cold sauna, where players stand for three minutes in a cylinder where nitrogen gas is pumped in to give them a full-body (below the neck) ice pack experience at minus-200 degrees Fahrenheit. Powell started sending players to places like Griffin Sports Complex and Chill Zone Sauna after the Columbus Crew win on June 14 and following all but one game since then.
“The majority of the players like it I think,” Powell said. “Some see the benefits but don’t like it because it’s so cold, but I haven’t had to twist anyone’s arm to go because they do see how it helps.”
Powell said hot steam saunas also are used, and the team is doing more low-intensity pool workouts to get the blood flowing as part of their regeneration sessions after games.
A second massage therapist was added this season, as well.
“I think there’s definitely been a decrease in major injuries where guys miss weeks on end,” Powell said. “We probably have the same amount of minor injuries, but there are fewer of the big injuries like where Austin Berry was out two months.”
Yauss, who works closely with Powell and his staff, also has his methods to help with injury prevention on the strength and conditioning side.
He is typically at two practices a week, usually for lifting and gym sessions or recovery days that involve more stretching and preventative work. He has daily communication with the players and coaches.
“I help with strength, stability, mobility and fitness so that when we get them out on the pitch they are able to do the great things they've worked on with the technical side,” said Yauss, a 2002 graduate of St. Xavier who worked for the Los Angeles Galaxy. “I’m basically making sure they are fit, strong and able to perform, we're decreasing their chances of them getting hurt and basically putting them in a position to be successful.”
Yauss conducts wellness questionnaires and obtains daily feedback from players on how they perceived each session, using a scale of 1-10 to determine how they feel afterward and how difficult it was.
When he is not there, he sends a text to each player to collect the information. He takes that data and plugs it into an Excel file along with details on how many minutes the players trained and what kind of training load they had. Yauss also tracks game minutes, sleep patterns, mood levels, fatigue and soreness and keeps daily, weekly and monthly totals to help provide the coaching staff a better idea who might need a rest.
“It gives us an idea how much stress we're putting on their bodies,” Yauss said. “From that we can make more strategic decisions on when can we give a guy a game or day off or within a session can we make them the neutral instead of the field player or it's maybe just a less demanding of a day.
"Then some other guys might be the opposite and maybe we need to push them a little more because he's not getting the game minutes.”
FC Cincinnati doesn’t yet use some of the technology implemented at the MLS level, such as GPS and heart monitors, but Yauss said that might be something the club looks at in the future.
Powell uses computer programs like Athletic Trainer Systems (ATS) and Healthy Athlete to track injuries -- how they happened, MRI and X-ray reports, doctors’ notes, treatment, progress updates and more.
All that tracking and extra paperwork means nothing, though, if the coaching staff doesn’t take advantage of the information Yauss, Powell and others are providing. Both Powell and Yauss credit Koch and assistant coach Yoann Damet with their willingness to listen to their input, especially in making decisions to rest players when they appear to be in a “red zone” where injuries are more likely to happen.
“Alan and Yo are great with taking that feedback and applying it,” Yauss said. “My role is to support the coaching staff in a way they are going to take advantage of that and utilize that information, and they do an unbelievable job of actually listening to the players and support staff and making sure we're putting the players in the best situations to be successful and trying to decrease that risk of them picking up those little muscle pulls and strains that sometimes present themselves when you're over-training or pushing too hard.”
Rotating players a must
That’s where the rotation of players comes in -- something FC Cincinnati did very little of last year under John Harkes.
Koch has been known to use various different lineups, sometimes to fans’ dismay, but his trust in the reserves played a key part in FC Cincinnati getting past Chicago Fire SC in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16. At least four regular starters were on the bench for the start of that game but entered in the second half or extra time to provide a spark.
FC Cincinnati midfielder Corben Bone said that rotation has helped keep him fresh and injury-free but noted it all goes back to how fortunate the club is to have guys like Yauss and Powell helping out.
It’s not unusual for Powell and Yauss to get texts or phone calls at late hours and both have been “extremely helpful,” and always available, Bone said.
“It's huge to have resources you can go and use any time of the day, really, at practice or at home to ask questions you need to do to get your body prepared for the games ahead or on game day or after practice,” Bone said. “Our support staff is awesome -- very knowledgeable -- and it’s a gem really to have that.”