Major League Soccer announced Thursday its clubs can hold small-group, outdoor training sessions. The sessions are voluntary and must be in compliance with local public health and government policies, meaning the Sounders FC will not take part this week.

King County remains under a stay-home order through May 31 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to reopen Washington’s economy does allow for small group gatherings of five people or fewer, but as of Thursday morning, it remains unclear when Inslee will move King County into that phase.

Once restrictions are lifted, the Sounders will seek approval to hold small-group training.

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The Sounders began voluntary, individualized training at Starfire Sports in Tukwila last week – about two weeks later than many other MLS teams because of the order. Although the OL Reign, which is based in Tacoma, moved their Thursday training to Thurston County to comply with government and health policies, the Sounders won’t make a similar move because there isn’t an imminent plan for MLS to resume its season.

The league’s announcement is another signal MLS is progressing with its goal to play this summer. ESPN reported Wednesday that MLS is exploring a tournament-style conclusion to its 2020 season that would be held at the network’s Wide World of Sports on Disney World property in Orlando, Fla., in June.

The competition mirrors the National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup announced Wednesday where pool play advances teams to a knockout stage. The Reign will depart for Utah this weekend to prepare for the month-long tournament that runs June 27-July 26.

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MLS shut down March 12 due to the pandemic. Its 26 teams played two matches each, the Sounders finishing in a draw with the Columbus Crew SC on March 7 at CenturyLink Field.

Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, right, and his teammates practice social distancing as they work out at practice Monday, May 18, 2020 at Starfire Sports in Tukwila.  (Paul-Michael Ochoa / Sounders FC)
Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, right, and his teammates practice social distancing as they work out at practice Monday, May 18, 2020 at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. (Paul-Michael Ochoa / Sounders FC)

The league released details regarding how teams can divide their training fields while maintaining social distancing between groups of two to six players. There must be 10 feet between the players and goalkeeper, should that position be part of the training, and players must remain in the same cluster through the day’s session.

The design will allow players to pass the ball between each other. Coaches can direct from the sideline but must wear masks.

The other protocols are as follows:

  • Clubs must utilize outdoor fields as indoor training facilities remain closed to all players with the exception of those requiring medical treatment or rehabilitation, under the direction of the team medical staff, that cannot be performed from the safety of their residences.
  • Clubs may divide each full field into a maximum of two equal halves and may assign a group of players to each full or half field.
  • Clubs may clearly define up to six zones per half field, spaced at least 10 feet apart. Only one player may be in a zone at any given time in order to maintain physical-distancing standards throughout the session. For clarity, a maximum of six players may be assigned to a single group with each player accommodated in a separate zone.
  • During training sessions, players may switch zones within their own group only if another player is not currently in that zone and players must maintain a physical distance of at least 10 feet from all other players and coaches while moving between zones.
  • Within a single group, players may pass the ball and shoot on goal; however, all training exercises must allow players to maintain a physical distance of at least 10 feet from one another.
  • Players may only train with the other players within their own group and may not interact with other groups. While the groups may not be rearranged during a single training session, clubs may rearrange the combination of players in each group from session to session.
  • Coaches and technical staff must wear a face mask at all times and may direct players from the perimeter of the field, never entering the field, while maintaining at least 10 feet of distance from other staff and players.
  • Only approved equipment may be used during training session including balls; small and regular goals; rubber dots; small discs and cones; rebounders; rings; GPS Pods and personal equipment that is not shared between players. Mannequins, poles, bands, weights and ball machines may not be used.
  • Goalkeepers may not spit on their gloves and must clean, disinfect and sanitize their gloves after each training.

During small group sessions, clubs must continue to maintain the health and safety protocols implemented for the voluntary individual workout sessions, including:

  • Restricting training ground access to essential staff only, with specific staff listed in the plan.
  • Sanitization and disinfection plans for all training equipment and spaces, including disinfection of any equipment used by players (balls, cones, goals) between every session.
  • Completion of a Standard Screening questionnaire by each player prior to every arrival at the training site, and temperature checks upon arrival at the facility.
  • Staggered player and staff arrivals and departures, with designated parking spaces to maintain maximum distance between vehicles.
  • Player use of personal protective equipment from the parking lot to his designated position on the field, and again on return to the parking lot.
  • Staff use of the appropriate personal protective equipment throughout training, while also maintaining a minimum distance of 10 feet from players at all times.
  • Hand washing and disinfectant stations for required use before and after sessions.
  • An Emergency Action Plan for all COVID-19 related issues.