Last week, Major League Soccer announced the suspension of the 2020 season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the nation and the world.
It’s an uncertain time for everyone with a seemingly endless stream of updates, news and guidelines released daily. Originally, MLS matches were suspended for 30 days, but following a recommendation from the Center for Disease Control, it was then announced on Thursday that there will be no games for eight weeks, bringing the suspension to the middle of May. The league has also issued a training moratorium which currently bars players from training together.
So where does that leave a professional athlete who relies on peak fitness as a primary job function? For technical and front office staff at the Rapids, it starts with trying to give players a sense of normalcy through a set routine. That starts with regular, virtual communication and a support system that caters to each player individually.
“For us, really at this point, it’s about trying to make sure that the guys are staying shape, and finding ways to do that, being creative about doing that, because most of the facilities that they have access to are now closed,” head coach Robin Fraser explained to the media via a conference call on Thursday. “The first step has just been keeping guys in the frame of mind that they need to stay fit, they need to continue to work. That’s been the communication thus far.”
A big focus for the team is staying connected and maintaining contact and support. Players have been offered virtual cooking and yoga classes among other services.
“We’re putting together some initiatives and programs to keep us all connected because the strength of this scheme is the team,” Fraser said. “There are so many good people involved, so many unselfish people involved, that we just want to do what we can to make sure that feeling exists. Even if we’re not able to see each other physically on a daily basis, we want to make sure we stay in contact.”
The technical staff also sent the players book and movie recommendations for down time. Each player also has access to training materials, routines and one-on-ones to keep their bodies and minds as sharp as possible. In addition, players are able to watch old games to study the footage.
“[Head of performance] Chad [Kolarchik] has been great, in terms of keeping in close contact with the guys and monitoring what they do, handing out programs. And we’re going to continue to do that. That’s not to say we’re going to train like we would in the season, but we do want to establish some continuity in what we’re doing and certainly keep engaged with each other.”
While the focus of the team is on the unit as a whole, each player is being treated individually and is being given what he needs to be in best shape possible when training resumes.
“Chad has been in individual contact with everyone on just about a daily basis,” Fraser said. ”So, the special needs of the various players in regard to fitness, health, strength, are being addressed by the sports science department. None of the individual needs are being lost in this.”
Right now, the team is not working toward a particular return date, which is a first for any athlete, to be sure. Fraser explained how this puts the Rapids in a tough position. They don’t know how long they will have to practice as a group before games begin, and they don’t know if games will get postponed a third time.
“If you’re going into a preseason, you already know how long you have, how much time you have, you plan accordingly, you do things at certain times, with expectations that you’re going to be ready at a certain point. This is totally different.”
The biggest thing becomes, therefore, staying active and staying connected and Fraser is thankful that comradery comes naturally for his group.
“This is one of the first teams I’ve been on where, even the guys where English isn’t their first language, they speak English well enough where they have real and genuine relationships with everyone on the team.”
As time passes, the team will have more ability to plan and adjust their schedule. The most important thing, Fraser iterates, is stay safe, not only for the players themselves, but for the community and society as a whole.
“This is way bigger than soccer. We understand that. We’re taking every precaution to be safe, to keep our families safe. It’s a difficult time for the world.”
The ongoing support of the fans and their safety continues to be just as crucial for the organization, while Fraser’s message is simple: be safe, and we’ll be back soon.
“Practice social distancing, do what you can to be safe and healthy, first and foremost. With regard to the team… we’re really excited about the way this year has started, really excited about the enthusiasm that the fans have brought to us, and we feel like we’re in this journey together.”