The Vancouver Whitecaps got back to training Tuesday, albeit via voluntary individual workouts at the club’s practice facility.
Still it was a welcome return for 16 players, who each had a quarter of a field to work in during their hour-long outdoor sessions. Another nine are slated to go Wednesday at the team’s training centre at the University of British Columbia.
The players had been on their own since March 12 when MLS suspended play two weeks into the 2020 season due to the global pandemic.
“”It was special … especially on the mental side,” said Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos. “Just to have the players being together and slowly seeing each other, even if it’s on another side of the field.”
“I think it’s a very important step,” he added. “It’s Step 1, cleats going on the grass, touching the ball, seeing their teammates around, seeing coaches back around. It’s a beginning.”
Toronto FC started individual workouts Monday. The Montreal Impact are looking to join them after having their initial request rejected by Montreal Public Health.
While players take baby steps, the league is examining its options for resuming play. One scenario reportedly would see all 26 teams travel to the Orlando area this summer to train and play matches without fans at the sprawling ESPN Wide World of Sports property.
TFC has trained and played pre-season matches at the complex in the past.
UFC president Dana White, who held his first fight card in two months on the weekend in Jacksonville, praised Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis in his post-fight news conference Saturday, saying he would urge any league to choose the state as a starting point.
Much has to be done to facilitate such a plan, including opening borders and easing travel restrictions.
“MLS is looking at a lot of different options,” said Vancouver sporting director Axel Schuster, who says only 13 of the league’s 26 clubs have got to Stage 1 so far.
“Everything is still in the air,” said Dos Santos.
If the plan is to eventually move the league to one location for a block of games, the coach said he would look at it like going to a World Cup — a month of training in advance of four to six weeks of competition.
“For sure, it has its challenges,” he said.
MLS teams have had to get their individual workout protocol approved by local authorities and the league.
“This is new not only for the Whitecaps or MLS, it’s new in the world,” said Dos Santos.
Schuster stressed that the team’s move to individual workouts should not be seen by the general public as a sign to ease up on physical distancing or ignore other COVID-19 guidelines.
The Whitecaps’ workout protocol prohibits access to other club facilities. Gyms and training rooms may still only be accessed by players receiving post-operative and rehabilitation treatment, as directed by the club’s chief medical officer.
Players have to complete a screening assessment survey prior to arrival at the training site and undergo temperature checks upon arrival.
They have to wear personal protective equipment from the parking lot to the field, and on the way back to their cars. Staff have to be at least 10 feet from players at all times.
The workouts will have to wait for Whitecaps forward Yordy Reyna and defender Jasser Khmiri, who were fined last week for breaking physical distancing protocols.
Reyna, a Peruvian international, and Khmiri, a Tunisia international, were seen taking part briefly in a pickup soccer game in a Vancouver park while doing a personal workout.
Both have entered 14-day self-quarantine.
The club had previously allowed 18-year-old Gianfranco Facchineri and 20-year-old Thomas Hasal to be with their families in Ontario and Saskatchewan, respectively.
Dos Santos said he had been working on his cooking skills during the pandemic but ceded the kitchen back to his wife upon her return from Montreal.
Lack of soccer aside, he said he has enjoyed time with his family who were not with him during coaching stints in Kansas City, San Francisco or Los Angeles.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press