MLS club LA Galaxy and A-League outfit Newcastle Jets share a unique history.
Not only did the MLS powerhouse fly across the Pacific to play a friendly against the A-League club in 2010, but LA Galaxy's future head of strength and conditioning was also in Newcastle, quietly starting his career.
At the regional A-League club (140km north of Sydney, nestled around a quintessential Aussie surf-beach lifestyle) Adam Waterson was making his first steps in a job that’s taken him around the world.
In a career that’s gone - no pun intended - from strength to strength, Waterson recalls some of the key moments and lessons learned.
"In 2009/10 I was managing the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence in Sydney, at the same time Nathan Tinkler purchased the Newcastle Jets,” Waterson tells FTBL from LA, where he’s in lockdown while helping prepare LA Galaxy’s stars for a return to the MLS action.
"I received a call from [head coach] Branko Culina and he offered a chance to join their staff as Head of Strength and Conditioning.
"This was my first chance to run a performance program at the first team professional level and I jumped at the chance.
"It was certainly a baptism of fire with a squad full of seasoned pros and huge personalities.
"The likes of Kasey Wehrman, Ljubo Milicevic, Sash Petrovski, Ruben Zadkovic, Francis Jeffers, Michael Bridges, Tarek Elrich, Jobe Wheelhouse, Taylor Regan, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, they certainly didn’t go easy on me.
"At times I questioned whether I had what it takes to handle the constant banter of these guys.
“But my God I learned a lot and made plenty of mistakes which helped shape my training philosophy moving forwards.
"Some of these guys I still have fantastic friendships with today, and I'm so glad I started in this type of environment.”
LA Galaxy may want to thank the Jets one day.
Likewise Western Sydney Wanderers.
The A-League club is renowned for being the only Australian club to have won the Asian Champions League (Adelaide United reached the final in 2008, losing to Gamba Osaka).
Similar in hype to LA Galaxy, Wanderers only joined the A-League in 2012 and needed to fill the club with like-minded professionals who bought into super-coach Tony Popovic’s unerring vision.
Waterson, again, fit the bill.
"It was literally a blank canvas for us all, with no players, no equipment, no training venue when I first joined.
"We were doing our initial meetings and planning at Sydney's Star City Casino.
"I think we had eight signed players and another handful of trialists from all over the world at our first session, the gym was a 200 sqm office space with no equipment.
"With a minuscule Sports Science budget, I lent on a few contacts at Universities to borrow some GPS units and HR straps to at least track a few of the players initially.
"It was fascinating times and such a rewarding experience.
"Fast forward three years and to have won a Premiership, made two Grand Finals appearances, and won the 2014 Asian Champions League."
An extraordinary feat in any sport. And as Waterson learned, culture was key.
"You can't win anything without a talented, hard-working playing roster and a coaching staff which drives the standards day in day out," Waterson, also known as "Ads", explains.
"I’ve no doubt the early success at Wanderers was due to the exceptional culture that the staff was able to build and the players buying into this and working their nuts off for each every single session.
"We had leaders at training that would give others a kick up the ass if the intensity wasn’t good enough and that’s what it takes at this level.
"The fitness team is only a small part of the whole process but having this ongoing success using my fitness training philosophies gave me the belief and more drive which has led me to implement similar philosophies in programs at FC Seoul and now LA Galaxy.”
Waterson is now into his third season with LA Galaxy as the club’s strength and conditioning head.
Galaxy, the club of Beckham, Zlatan, Keane, Lampard, and Gerrard is MLS royalty.
In fact, the MLS itself is a booming league with growing global respect largely due to a strong vision, huge grassroots popularity, and bold plans allied to savvy financial planning.
Life is slowly edging back to normality in the US, a country sadly reeling from terrible COVID-19 statistics.
LA Galaxy allowed Waterson and its players to commence a cut-down training program as of last Thursday, with four players per pitch only.
No interacting, so it has been largely fitness work for LA Galaxy's stars, which include former Manchester United and Mexico striker “Chicharito” Hernandez.
It’s understood this may continue for another couple of weeks before smaller group sessions and full team training is back at LA Galaxy.
Though with much of life on Planet Earth, nobody is quite sure when.
"Not sure when exactly that will be in the current landscape but we are headed in the right direction at least," adds Waterson.
"How the MLS season will look is anyone’s guess but there are talks currently about a satellite tournament with all teams in Orlando."
This sounds similar to the A-League with a “hub” idea mooted for all teams to complete the remainder of the 19/20 season around August this year.
LA Galaxy's Aussie was back at BankWest Stadium in Parramatta at Christmas, watching former club Wanderers face Alessandro Diamanti’s Western United. It ended 1-1.
"I always enjoy getting back home in the MLS offseason, it lines up nicely with the congested schedule around Christmas time in the A-League.
"I still have many great friendships with players and staff throughout the league, especially at the Wanderers, so it was great to catch up with JT [CEO John Tsatsimas] and Labi [assistant coach and former Wanderers players Labinot Haliti] that night.
"The new stadium is brilliant, not a bad seat in the house!
"The atmosphere to be honest probably wasn’t as good as previous Wanderers games I’ve been a part of in the old stadium, but when full no doubt it would be sensational.
"The A-League is an underrated league,” he adds.
“I've no doubt the top two or three clubs in the A-League could compete well in the MLS."
It’s been a whirlwind decade for Adam Waterson.
Hard work and commitment to the job have seen Waterson’s reputation rising internationally and right now, at a huge franchise like LA Galaxy, he's well-positioned.
But what has this Australian at LA Galaxy learned from these last 10 years in Asia, Australia, and the US?
"Surrounding myself with people whom I respect and can enjoy life with is so important for me," says Waterson, who has many admirers among the players he's worked with.
“I've made so many good mates around the world through my travels and work so I really put pride in investing time into making those friendships as strong as they can possibly be.
"Family obviously is important and I'm really excited to welcome a baby boy into the world in the next few months, so that’s going to be my main focus moving forward."