Playing soccer amid a pandemic has encountered another obstacle.
With coronavirus cases on the rise in multiple countries – including parts of the U.S. – quarantining to protect against the virus seems reasonable when international travel is involved. But Major League Soccer’s 10-day requirement has created a debate among clubs, players and global federations.
Conflicting goals could cause a stalemate for the October international window. According to reporting in The New York Times, clubs are considering not releasing players for their national team call-ups, some for matches that are part of qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz, who was notified this week of his selection to Peru’s national team roster, is among the dozen players who could be impacted. MLS, according to the Times, sent a letter to Peru and Paraguay’s federations stating the league won’t release those players called up for the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers in October.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said in a video conference call with media on Friday that he didn’t know of his team restricting Ruidiaz’s participation. Travel, the two national team games and a 10-day quarantine upon return to the Sounders could cause Ruidiaz to miss five MLS matches.
Ruidiaz, the club’s leading goal-scorer, is already missing Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Galaxy due to a one-game suspension for violent conduct against the Portland Timbers.
“We usually are receptive to a player’s potential to play for his country because I know that it’s important for them,” Schmetzer said. “What happens is you have to balance that with the needs of the club. … I have not heard of the Seattle Sounders taking a stand where we wouldn’t allow our players to go to their respective national teams.”
According to Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson, the club did appeal to the league to waive the 10-day quarantine when he traveled to Sweden to play for his national team in the UEFA Nations League earlier this month.
Svensson, a key player in Seattle’s defending, missed four matches. Two of those matches, Sounders wins against the San Jose Earthquakes and Los Angeles FC, were during the mandated quarantine.
“We tried really hard to challenge that and tell them (MLS) it could be done differently,” Svensson said in a phone interview Friday. Svensson’s wife and two children are based in the Seattle area with him and did not travel to Sweden.
“They decided to go with their doctors’ (guidance),” Svensson continued. “It was really hard for me to be isolated from the team for 10 days, not being able to join or even meet them. You want to come back and do your job and see the guys again. It’s part of this new world.”
Part of navigating the changed circumstances is “listening to science,” according to the players. But for Svensson, it was conflicting reports.
Under MLS and Washington government safety protocols, the Sounders are tested frequently, required to wear masks when not physically training or playing and social distancing from those not associated with the club or immediate household.
In Sweden, Svensson said his team was under FIFA governing rules for COVID-19 and was only tested before the two games. No one in the country wears masks but the national team wore them during transportation because of the enclosed space. The team was housed in a Stockholm hotel, using designated entry and exit doors and wasn’t permitted visitors.
Not seeing family was difficult for Svensson. His sister underwent successful breast cancer surgery in July and his father is managing a heart condition. When the pandemic hit, they quarantined together at a family home.
“What they tried to accomplish in Sweden is different than here,” Svensson said of early critiques of his country not shutting down and the government only asking residents to social distance.
Sweden, a country of approximately 10 million people, has 5,880 coronavirus-related deaths as of Saturday, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University. Two were reported Friday.
By comparison, the U.S., which has a population of approximately 329 million people, has recorded 204,112 coronavirus-related deaths – and a reported 864 people died Friday from the virus.
“You have to listen to the science,” Svensson said. “We see with the stats and everything in Sweden right now, it’s proven to be a good way to do it. It was a gamble, but now, I just read, there’s no patients in (his native) Gothenburg for COVID-19. That’s the first time in a half year. But I just do what they’re telling me to do.”
Ruidiaz and Svensson may be the only Sounders players impacted this season, although Svensson received a red card during a match against Portugal and has to serve a two-game suspension in Nations League competition.
The U.S. men’s national team won’t play any matches during the October FIFA window and Nico Lodeiro wasn’t called up to play for Uruguay’s national team. Other national teams could call up players for exhibition matches.
“It almost seems like we’re getting punished for having the top-tier international players in a way,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said during a video conference call Friday. “Mixed feelings about all of it (but) that’s why we have a huge roster.”