By DENNIS SILVA II | email@example.com
As a third-year player for Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo, Michael Nelson is used to the best of the best in the sport, particularly when it applies to training.
But Nelson, a Katy native and former Seven Lakes High star, had to dive deep into his creativity recently to come up with ways to exercise.
“I have a 60-pound dog, so he was a pretty good weight for some lower-body exercises, some squats,” Nelson said. “The first week or two were pretty interesting.”
Nelson is supposed to be with the Dynamo, weeks into the 2020 season. Instead, because of MLS suspending matches indefinitely as of March 19 because of precautions for the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, the 25-year-old backup goalkeeper is stuck at home. The Dynamo’s season was abruptly halted after two games because of the crisis and Nelson is now limiting activity and movement due to social distancing.
“It’s kind of unprecedented, so I didn’t know exactly how to process it,” said Nelson, who lives in Houston with his fiancée. “It’s tough to wrap your head around. Three days was the initial suspension, then another week, and then suddenly you start reading about the numbers and potential timeline and you see it could be anywhere from weeks to months without practice. That’s when you sort of start getting perspective on how serious the entire situation is.”
Nelson said the first few days, even the first week, of suspended play didn’t feel unnatural.
“And now … I don’t even have a concept of time right now,” Nelson said. “We’re, what, two or three weeks into it? It’s pretty strange.”
Preseason for the 2020 season started in January. The Dynamo had six weeks of training to get ready for its season-opener on Feb. 29 against the L.A. Galaxy. Houston went 0-1-1 to start the season, tying the Galaxy 1-1 before falling to Sporting Kansas City, 4-0, on March 7.
Twelve days after the loss, and five days after a Dynamo home match with Seattle was postponed, MLS announced it was postponing events over the next two months in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance with events involving more than 50 people.
Last week, Dynamo players were shipped weights and a stationary bike from the team to be used at their homes. They are adhering to a team app that has workouts tailored for each player that requires check-in each day.
Nelson said he has mostly been training at home while going for runs at a park nearby his house.
“It’s almost like another offseason period, but to an extreme measure,” he said. “I’ve been staying indoors as much as I can.”
The Dynamo have a new head coach in Tab Ramos, and Nelson was looking forward to a fresh start.
Though Houston brought in Marco Maric, a high-profile goalkeeper from Croatia who is expected to start, Ramos’ preference for an attacking brand of soccer that involves players positioned higher upfield and the goalkeeper distributing to initiate the attack or help defenders break a press fits right into Nelson’s skillset.
At 6-foot-4, 180 ponds Nelson has the athleticism to deal with balls over the top and play well off the line.
“With a new coaching staff, no one’s job is guaranteed,” Nelson said. “The coach hasn’t formed opinions or established favorites for guys he’s really liked yet, and it’s like an audition. I knew I wanted to get off on a good note and start the season really well, which is to bring a good competitiveness and positivity to training and make sure I demonstrate my commitment to the team and my abilities on the field. I felt I did that well, and as the season goes on, I just want to continue to prove myself and if I do that, there might be some opportunities for me this year.”
Nelson, the No. 20 overall pick by the Dynamo in the 2018 SuperDraft, spent the last two seasons primarily playing for Rio Grande Valley FC, the Dynamo’s United Soccer League affiliate club.
In 2018, Nelson made his Dynamo debut in a 2-1 loss against C.F. Monterrey in the Dynamo Charities Cup on June 29 after making his professional debut in a 0-0 draw with RGV FC against Phoenix Rising FC six days earlier. In 2019, Nelson made three starts for RGV FC and posted a 2-1-0 record. He also started and made his season debut for the Dynamo in a 3-2 loss to Minnesota United FC in the Round of 16 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cupon June 18.
Nelson said he has improved reading the game and processing information quicker. The best players see certain patterns or how players are positioned on the field and know what’s coming. He’s starting to get there.
“You’re able to see 2-3 passes in advance based on a player’s body language or body shape or where players are positioned,” Nelson said.
His primary emphasis has been identifying the most immediate attacking threat at all times, while also recognizing what the second and third options might be and being prepared for those circumstances.
“Turning professional is a humbling experience,” Nelson said. “It’s similar to the jump from high school to college, but at an even greater extent. The good high school players go and play in college, and the best college players go and play in the pros. Beyond that, there’s players internationally who come here and are outstanding, having played in some of the best youth academies, and so they see the game at a very high level.
“The difference between the level below MLS is the speed at which players process the game. I’ve learned that while I have the physical tools and whatnot, and I can use those to be a pro, the biggest step is the mental side of the game and the reading and processing the game and certain things. The more experience I’ve gotten, the more I’m able to anticipate things happening and that’s been the biggest jump in my game.”
While Nelson admitted this third season is not end-all, be-all for his professional career, it is crucial.
“It’s big,” Nelson said. “That first year for a goalkeeper is if he can learn and develop. If they see that, the second year you’ve hopefully made some strides and you develop some confidence and the way you carry yourself improves. This third year, it isn’t make or break, but it has to be a different mentality. You’ve been with the team a while, you’ve gained people’s respect now, and it’s time to show you can contribute and show what you can offer.
“For me, it’s time to make an impact, and any way I can impact the team is good. I want to make a greater impact than I did last year, and that can come by playing games, hopefully.”