Gearing up for the Olympic Games, the team travelled to Belgium and Germany to train full-time and play practice matches against international teams. The experience was unique with rapid tests, masks, and quarantines. But, it proved to be safe, and set a precedent for the team to be able to travel and play safely.
For forward Matt Sarmento, it felt like a return to the norm in some ways: “The team is used to being on tour in preparation for major tournaments, so this really felt like we were back,” Sarmento said. “Especially after such an extended pause in competition then getting that first tour under our belts. It really felt good to get back and get competitive games.” Sarmento admits, due to all the regulations and guidelines, it isn’t the exact same. But the important part is to get those matches against strong sides. The team played against France, Belgium, and Germany; all ranked inside the top-12 in the world.
For Head Coach Pasha Gademan, the priority has been simply getting that vital competition exposure. From there, he and his staff are working to nail down the style of play that fits this team and player group. The original plan was to play Argentina twice prior to playing France and Belgium, but with Argentina pulling out due to travel restrictions, the team was forced to adapt. For Gaiman, these training tours are about focusing on the process. He and the MNT coaching staff build on the strengths and work to mitigate gaps. The tours are about perfecting the structures that will have the most success in Tokyo. The practise matches haven’t been all about the wins and losses, but as a competitor, he confessed that he feels the game pressure just the same: “I’ll admit that it definitely felt nice to get that win against France,” he said. “And then at the same time, we had some tough losses where we can expect more from ourselves. After a rough start to the tour, I think the team responded well. Now, it’s about how we can use our performances to set ourselves up for Tokyo.”
The team returned two weeks ago, now centralized in Vancouver, as soon as they complete their mandatory return quarantine, they will be back on the pitch, in the gym and pushing hard for the finish line. The original plan was to stage prior to the Olympic Games in Fukui, Japan and get acclimatized. Due to the state of emergency in several Japanese areas, this early departure has been cancelled.