<
>

Away from the games, MLS players' lives are defined by monotony: 'I wish I was more interesting'

play

For Alejandro Bedoya, mornings mean taking the kids to school, taking phone calls and answering emails for his business ventures before beginning training with the Philadelphia Union. LAFC's Maxime Crepeau and Nashville SC's Walker Zimmerman rise early with their young children and walk their dogs, then go to their respective facilities for coffee and breakfast.

Sebastian Lletget, new to the New England Revolution, is a mate guy. He carries the loose-leaf tea in a bag gifted to him by his girlfriend, pop star Becky G, putting a kettle on for hot water soon after he arrives at the Revs' training center. (When Gustavo Bou beats him there, the Argentine always makes the water too hot.) Then Lletget turns on First Take -- "I love me some Stephen A." -- and zones out for a quiet hour before training. He'll listen to ESPN, check social media and generally try to relax.

"I'm in at nine in the morning," Lletget told ESPN. "I have an hour to myself and I really value that hour."

For all the excitement that the life of a Major League Soccer player brings, there are far more moments like these -- times to lay low, maintain the body and mind, and take care of things off the field. At the end of the day, it's a job; an unusual job in which sometimes you're in front of tens of thousands of people, but a job nonetheless. And, like all jobs, it can be dull.

- MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games, replays (U.S.)
- Soccer on ESPN+: FC Daily | Futbol Americas
- Don't have ESPN? Get instant access

"You see us doing cool stuff, but for whoever takes it seriously, there's a lot of downtime, there's a lot of recovering," Lletget said. "If you want to maintain at a high level, you got to take care of your body. It's a lot of boring stuff."

That routine maintenance includes anywhere from half an hour to an hour of pre-training stretching and activation, post-practice ice baths and, for some players at least, extra work once they get home. Zimmerman, who struggled with muscle injuries early in his career, estimates he spends a total of 45 minutes before and after practice doing extra work, then up to 1 1/2 hours at home. He also gets acupuncture, and has multiple massage guns and leg-massaging machines.

"I'm lucky to have some partnerships where I've been given these gadgets and tools," Zimmerman said. "You're probably not going to have a rookie go out and spend a thousand or $1,200 on NormaTec [compression sleeves]. The fact that I have them helps because you're like, 'Oh, well, I have it. I should use it,' rather than stressing about it." He'll do the work while relaxing or watching Netflix: "You're taking advantage of the time by also doing some recovery."

Lletget swears by NormaTec as well, calling it a sufficient substitution when he can't get a massage, as well as ice baths. The midfielder started doing them after learning about Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete/motivational speaker (of course) also known as The Iceman, who advocates for a series of breathing exercises -- Lletget does these before games -- and freezing plunges.

"He's a big believer in using cold baths to get physiological benefits, but also mental benefits," Lletget said. "He'll do an hour or some crazy stuff, but I'll do like 10 minutes. I do that every day, and I've seen incredible benefits, more mentally than anything."

Sometimes, help can be found a bit closer to home. Bedoya's wife, Beatrice Hilland, is a former professional soccer player who also worked as the Swedish national team's physiotherapist. When he needs a post-practice or game massage, he knows where to turn, although he also knows to limit the asks. Crepeau, on the other hand, does the majority of his work at the facility, preferring to avoid it at home if he can.

The point is: While every player has his own routines and ways of staying fit, healthy and flexible, those endeavors all add up to multiple hours a week spent doing essentially nothing. Body maintenance is a dull necessity of the sporting life.

So too is having a schedule you can stick to every day: the same morning, training at the same time, video sessions as well. Steve Jobs had his mock turtleneck and jeans to eliminate the need to spend creative energy on wardrobe choices; professional athletes have their day-to-day dictated so they can focus on the field.

"There is such a routine," Zimmerman said. "It's just really good to create a schedule for everyone involved."

While Bedoya has his business ventures, he still attempts to keep his days as uniform as possible. "I want it to be the same, all the time, especially on game day," he said. "You ask my wife: It's the worst day for her. I'm so rigid with the structure. I do the same things every game day. And it is what it is, but that's what's kept me going for this long, I guess."

In the offseason, Lletget moved from the LA Galaxy to the Revolution. He left Los Angeles, left friends and family, left his life. He's mostly alone with only his new teammates, including Jozy Altidore, who came from Toronto FC. The two have talked about how the lack of outside distractions has been helpful on the field.

"We built these whole lives. In L.A., I had my family, my girlfriend, a bunch of people, our house," Lletget said. "It was this beautiful life, but I do feel now, it's much more simple and also allows me to focus particularly on my football. I've actually grown to really appreciate that, and I think it's shown. Even though it's only like a month and a half or maybe two, I've seen a shift in focus. It's very subtle, but very effective."

In other words, boring can be beneficial.

Eventually, the overly scheduled day ends -- the training complete, the food eaten, the stretching done. It's time to hit the hay, then get up again. The sands of time keep dropping in the hourglass, the days rolling into each other.

"Before I get in bed, I usually like to read at night for a little bit," Zimmerman said. "Probably in bed around 10 and going to bed at 10:30. Then you just kind of rinse and repeat and that's pretty much it."

"You do the day, you go to sleep, then you get up and do it again," Crepeau said.

Lletget agreed. "I wish I was more interesting," he offered. "Just a little bit more."