SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Interim Canadian soccer coach Colin Miller told his young squad early on at camp that he wouldn't accept "any fluff" from his players.
Miller wants commitment and concentration. And effort.
The players got the message. So much so that Miller had to rein them in during a spirited scrimmage Wednesday that saw fullback Andres Fresenga limp off after being the victim of a pair of take-no-prisoner tackles under the Arizona sun.
"If they've got that fighting spirit in them, so long as they monitor that and we keep a lid on it, I think we're all on the right lines in terms of what it means to put the jersey on, whether it's in training or not," said Miller.
"I hammered that home Monday morning when I spoke to the whole group. I don't accept any fluff."
Fresenga was scythed down first by Doneil Henry in a thumping tackle in the opposition penalty box and then by Terry Dunfield in his own penalty box.
An irate Fresenga limped off after the second challenge, throwing his shoe at the sidelines in frustration before putting an ice back on his foot. Had it been a proper game, Dunfield might have been trudging after him in the wake of a red card.
It was an example of Dunfield showing some trademark teeth in midfield. The Toronto FC veteran is not there to put chocolates on opposition pillows.
Midfielder Emmanuel Gomez was also doing a painful dance after being caught in a tackle. Still nursing the knock, he got a double whammy when star midfielder Dwayne De Rosario yelled at him for not moving enough.
"With young players, there's a tendency to be 100 miles per hour all the time," said Miller. "The lads, with the greatest respect, are not match-fit so we can't go 100 miles per hour. Certainly not over two internationals in such a short period of time."
Goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld missed training for the second session in a row. He had an appointment with a chiropractor for a sore back. Miller says it is just precautionary, however.
With a limited squad and friendlies Saturday against Denmark and Tuesday against the U.S., Miller has to manage his talent.
On Wednesday, he opened the scrimmage with a team that consisted of Roberto Stillo in goal behind a back four of Ashtone Morgan, Dejan Jakovic, Henry and Nana Attakora. The midfield was Russell Teibert and Nik Ledgerwood on the wings with Dunfield and Kyle Bekker in the midfield. Tosaint Ricketts and De Rosario were up front.
It's a fair bet that many of those will figure in Miller's starting 11, although he plans to use his bench to the maximum with just 19 outfield players in camp.
Toronto FC rookie Bekker impressed during the scrimmage, sweeping passes long and short all over the field.
"He's quality," Miller said approvingly.
Ricketts scored twice in the scrimmage, although the first goal was almost certainly offside. He headed to the bench early, nursing what seemed like a minor knock to his left hip.
Morgan looked good to go, motoring up the flank. And De Rosario, who missed part of last season with a knee injury suffered on international duty, showing flashes of his trademark speed and guile.
The D.C. United star is also clearly taking a leadership role. When Fresenga went down the first time, De Rosario came over to check him out. And after the scrimmage, he made a point of going to all of his teammates to shake their hand or make contact.
Miller is in full teacher mode at this camp, which is playing out in the shadow of the brown mountains that seem to surround Scottsdale.
At times, he instructs in kindly Dumbledore mode.
"Take your time, it's not a race," he told players Wednesday.
"Don't force it. Play your easiest pass."
At other times, he is as prickly as the cacti that are so prevalent here. Miller's tongue could have been sponsored by Gillette after an episode during the scrimmage when one of the shorter players on the pitch won a header on a high ball.
"At this level of football, you will get roasted for that," the coach bellowed, adding in a curse word for emphasis.
Four local players got to take part in the scrimmage to help flesh out the numbers. Reid Schmitt, Brad Keller and Joshua Bento Do O are part of the Phoenix FC USL team.
"I thought it was very high-level," said Schmitt. "I was definitely expecting the best and it definitely showed it. Everyone was playing high speed. Everyone was moving off the ball."
Mason Robertson, an 18-year-old high school centre back, got his invite because he's the son of Phoenix coach David Robertson. He was almost tongue-tied from the experience.
"It was good. I've never played, like, with grown men. It was a different challenge."
The locals came on as subs when Miller's regulars needed time off, setting the stage for some hasty introductions as they trotted on the field.