I'm not going to pretend to write a guide on what Rangers playing in Charleston is all about. I've never lived there and I've never played at the professional level. I have, though, lived in the same region of the country and I've played a lot of football there. The South Carolina coast is a whole new kind of hell from what I'd experienced on a regular basis.
I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee for a long time – at least right around there. And I played a lot of football there, at a lot of different levels. Playing in "Knoxville" depended on where you actually lived: outside of town, you could be comfortable in lower temps, decent humidity, maybe even a nice breeze. It wasn't too bad, really, especially if you lived in the mountains.
But down in the valley – down in Knoxville proper – it could be absolute death. Temps would soar well above 30C, with humidity levels hovering around 95 percent for most of the summer. Even afternoon pub league matches on a Sunday could be trying for the fittest-of-fit. There wasn't enough water on the bench for a single player, let alone the whole eleven. Kris Boyd would sub himself out after 15 minutes in such a state.
I have an appreciation for Warbs taking the first of preseason down in the Southeast: if you want to give your squad an absolute beating at the opening of a campaign there aren't too many better places to pick. I grew up in the Midwest, just outside Chicago. In the Midwest, there are two seasons: winter; and hot as fuck. And hot as fuck comes with the glaring sun and wilting humidity.
But nothing could ever prepare a person not from there just what the American Southeast can bring. That heat and that humidity – that is a different level. As CRO friend Rob McDougall said Wednesday morning: "99F in Boston has nothing on 90F here." I couldn't say it better. That heat will ruin you.
The Southeast is a constant sauna. You can't escape it at lunch; you can't escape it in your hotel room; you can't escape it period if you're not from there. I lived there for nearly a decade; I never fully adjusted to that heat. It'd beat your lungs to death just going for a walk around the neighborhood after work, let alone trying to play football in those conditions. It was terrible.
I played a cup qualifier for a side down near Charleston. It was 92F at kickoff with 100 percent humidity, similar to our upcoming opening friendly of the season. I played center half for the full 90; I lost 9 lbs. And it didn't feel like, "Oh! I've dropped some weight!" It felt like I'd been run through hell and back. I've played hockey matches in sweltering rinks where I lost 15-plus lbs. in a single night, plowing my skates through what could barely be called ice; I've never felt as bad as I did limping off the pitch that night. I was dying before kickoff; by the time the full-time whistle was blown, I could barely feel my legs. I was in decent shape then, able to run a 10K without too much work, yet my whole body felt like it'd been run over by a bus.
This is not me trying to make excuses for anything that could come. This is me trying to relate what these 10 days in South Carolina mean for our boys during their preseason warm up. You'd be hard-pressed to find a training environment in the Northern Hemisphere as easily accessible that would be so harsh. Charleston Battery have some premier facilities for a club at their level in the U.S. league setup. This isn't a MLS side, but the facilities are right in that league and even better than some in the U.S. top-flight. Warbo and Davie clearly had a plan in going here, and I hope they found what they needed in terms of the fitness of our squad.
But Charleston, for all its Southern Charm, is a goddamn nightmare to play in. Just sitting outside there for a spell can beat you silly. At its best this time of year, it's a place you need to drink four liters of water a day just to stay normal. I can't imagine training at that level as our squad has day-in and day-out since last week.
And then playing a match against one of the better, more complete U.S. lower-league sides – this is a far cry from the Monorail FC showdown of the Easdale era. This is a proper first friendly of the season, with a week of preseason in absolutely horrid conditions beforehand.
I wouldn't wish those conditions on my worst enemy. But then, I'm glad our lads were the ones that suffered them. They'll be far better for it.
(If you need a little more reason to tune in on Rangers TV Wednesday, Jamar Beasley, DeMarcus's older brother, played for the Battery back in 2003.)