As states across the U.S. begin to reopen businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic, Major League Soccer on Friday issued guidelines for how its teams could hold individual player workouts beginning May 6. First, however, is being in compliance with local health and safety protocols.
That initial requirement eliminates the Sounders from returning to Starfire Sports in Tukwila for any type of training until June at the earliest. Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday extended his stay-at-home order through May 31 and subsequently unveiled a four-phase plan to fully lift the mandate.
MLS’s guidelines don’t align with Inslee’s order until Phase 2, which allows gatherings of five people. Sounders matches at CenturyLink Field wouldn’t be allowed until Phase 4. Inslee said at his news conference that the time frame between each stage is at least three weeks, meaning Sounders matches wouldn’t be permitted in Washington until at least July.
MLS announced in April that it was targeting June 8 to return to games, with its moratorium on training expiring May 15.
“We, obviously, are going to follow what happens in Washington and the league is fine with that,” said Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders general manager and president of soccer. “That’s the way the relationship is supposed to work. Up to this date, we have rigorously followed all of the public health advice and we’re going to keep doing that.”
Inslee is allowing exemptions for minimally impacted counties, but in King County there had been 6,207 confirmed cases and 447 deaths as of Friday, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
FC Dallas, the Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake are among MLS teams that may take advantage of MLS loosening its training restrictions.
Players would be permitted to use the outdoor portion of their club’s facilities for individual workouts. They are not permitted to use their club’s locker rooms, gym and training rooms. But players leaguewide needing their facilities for treatment or rehabilitation can continue to do so.
The process is voluntary, and before inviting players back each team’s plan must be approved by its medical staff and a local infectious disease expert. The plan then needs to be sent to the league for approval and must include the following:
• Restricting facility access to essential staff, with specific staff listed in the plan.
• Sanitizing 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 Assessment survey by each player before 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 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 individual workouts.
• Clubs will have the use of the outdoor fields at their training facility, divided into a maximum of four quadrants per field. A maximum of one player per quadrant may participate per training session with no equipment sharing or playing (passing, shooting) between players.
• An emergency action plan for all COVID-19-related issues.
MLS’s 26 teams each played two games before the league shut down in March to slow the spread of the virus. Seattle, which won the 2019 MLS Cup, last played March 7 against the Columbus Crew SC at CenturyLink Field.
The Sounders haven’t trained as a team at Starfire since March 11. Sean Muldoon, the club’s head strength and conditioning coach, has provided the team with individualized workouts via video clips to remain fit while quarantined.
Many within the organization participate in virtual yoga classes led by Jake Bronowski, a certified instructor and staff massage therapist.
MLS requires players to remain in their market cities but some exemptions have been allowed. For the Sounders, the club allowed teenagers Danny Leyva and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez to return to their respective family homes.
“We’re all getting a little stir crazy, that’s pretty normal human stuff,” Lagerwey said. “We have some players who are apart from their families who are in different countries and some staff members in the same boat. Those are tough situations.
“But this isn’t a normal time. Our responsibility is to the community, and we’re going to follow the public health advice. It’s a tough time. People are suffering, and so far everybody on our staff and our players are healthy. Right now, that’s all we can ask for.”