AIK in USA – Day 2

Photo: Michael Orr

AIK’s second training session in Portland was more involved than its initial practice. Despite lasting just about ninety minutes, after yesterday’s nearly two-hour long session, Andreas Alm had his side playing much more aggressive possession games, 10v10 full-field work outs, 4v4 half-field games and finally an extended set of corner kicks.

Alm was again missing Helgi Daníelsson as the Icelandic international rested a slightly injured back. “I got a little knock on my back in the game [in Japan] so I haven’t trained fully here. I’m hopeful to train fully by the end of the week and hopefully play a part in the last couple of games at least. I won’t do anything tomorrow [against Chivas USA],” Daníelsson said after training. Defender and vice-captain Nils-Eric Johansson also sat out today after picking up a thigh injury in yesterday’s session. Unlike Daníelsson, who dressed out, Johansson wore a sweats and a coat.

Celso Borges - Photo: Michael Orr

Aside from Celso Borges, Alm was happy to report a mostly clean bill of health: “We are lucky in that way, we have no big injuries.” Regarding Borges, the Costa Rican forward conducted a similar routine of running and agility drills, though today he was allowed to introduce a ball into some of the agility exercises. Later he worked on juggling the ball, though appeared to be bothered more by that activity than with any of the previous running. Regardless, Borges will not be available in this week’s tournament.

No doubt Alm would prefer to have the services of a player of Borges’ quality up front. “Our strikers haven’t scored in the five [pre-season] games we’ve played so of course we’d like to see them create chances and score. That’s not a detail because we have to score, but still, it’s something we’re working on,” Alm added. Indeed, the need for difference makers in attacking positions was a focus of several off-season moves. “Most of the guys who have come in are quite young. We’re hoping one or two of them will really bloom and score a lot of goals,” explained Daníelsson.

Unlike yesterday’s session, which featured quite a number of missed shots (admittedly, by players all over the park, not just forwards), today’s half-field games saw Ivan Turina and Simon Lundgren repeatedly beaten for goals. Nicklas Maripuu and Lalawelé Atakora were particularly active in the games while Crespo Kamara found the back of the net on more than one occasion. Today Alm stayed in the middle of the proceedings, directing his team when they weren’t quite up to par and watching closely from the sideline the rest of the time. He was surely pleased when, after numerous attempts failed to net a positive result (at least offensively), Kwame Karikari finally scored during corner kick drills. That goal seemed to embolden others to do likewise and several more goals came from Atakora and Robin Quaison corners.

The artificial turf at Jeld-Wen Field has caused no problems for AIK apart from a few players slipping from time to time. Unlike many clubs that visit Portland (or the Pacific Northwest for that matter), AIK is quite used to turf. “Every team has to train and play on this all pre-season because there’s so much snow in Sweden. I think this year almost half the teams in the league have turf as their home ground. We always play a lot of games on it so there’s no excuses. This is as good as it gets for turf, so you can play good football on this,” explained Daníelsson. In fact, Alm went as far as to say, “It’s better than being on natural grass. Nothing to complain about. It’s the other way around – it’s perfect.”

Andreas Alm - Photo: Michael Orr

Looking ahead to Monday’s game against Chivas USA, Alm said, “The rules say that we can use four substitutes during play and we can change the whole team at half-time. The goal is, if they don’t look jet lagged, they will play like a normal game. We can then make changes from sixty minutes and forward.” It is clear that Borges and Daníelsson will be absent against Chivas while Johansson’s status remains unknown. It is likely that even the slightest discomfort will see him sit out until Thursday, as well. Many players are still suffering from jet lag, according to Alm, but he expects his team to be ready come Monday evening: “I think some of the guys still wake up at 3am. But it doesn’t matter. You only have to be awake for ninety minutes because that’s the most important thing.”

A quick note about coverage and attendance – all three Portland Timbers matches will be live-streamed through their website. Live audio should be available for all three of AIK’s matches, starting with tomorrow’s game against Chivas USA, but video is unlikely to be accompany it. A Timbers representative said today that the Portland-AIK match on Sunday March 4 is almost sold-out already. At least 15,000 tickets have been sold to all three AIK matches, as the games are part of the Timbers’ season ticket package, though the actual attendance figures to be much lower for the three games not involving Portland.

Finally, AIK were without much of their gear for yesterday’s training session. With their luggage stuck in transit on Iceland, the team relied on adidas for borrowed shoes and sweats for their first practice. That is the reason for incorrect numbers accompanying players in yesterday’s photographs. By today’s session, the missing luggage had arrived and players were back in their normal numbers and taller players like Turina were able to wear correctly fitting clothing. Though Alm joked about it after today’s practice, the luggage issue was a sore spot for the club.

Michael Orr
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