Major League Soccer’s moratorium on organized team training sessions was extended a fourth time Thursday, to April 25. The ban closes team facilities to all players and staff with the exception of players requiring medical treatment or rehabilitation that can’t be performed at home.
The league is urging players and staff to stay at home and observe social-distancing guidelines during that time.
The most recent moratorium was scheduled to be lifted Saturday. MLS was two weeks into its schedule when, on March 12, it suspended play until May 10, postponing 115 games.
That date is certain to be pushed back as well with the league reportedly eyeing an early July restart.
MLS is requiring its players to remain in their respective home markets during the training ban although it said it will review, on a case-by-case basis, requests to relocate to other cities by car. In the meantime players, working under the guidance of their team’s coaching staff, are running, lifting weights and using stationary bikes to try to stay fit.
“These guys know that if they’re moving less, yes it could be easier to gain some weight,” LAFC performance coach Daniel Guzman said.
“We’re still trying to figure out what works best. If they don’t have a park nearby and they can just run on pavement, that alone will be a different physiological adaptation.”
Earlier this week Atlanta United president Darren Eales, speaking on a conference call with reporters, said the league intends to complete a full season when play resumes. But that could be tough since the 26 MLS teams are based in 17 states and three Canadian provinces, many of which are observing different protocols to deal with the spread of COVID-19.
Toronto, for example, has banned public events through June 30, although sports are exempt.
“We have the whole calendar year to reschedule the games we missed,” Eales said. “The emphasis is on playing all 34 games plus the playoffs.”
Commissioner Don Garber, speaking with ESPN, said the league will have to consider “unique and creative” options including regional play or holding games in empty stadiums. The league will probably opt out of the U.S. Open Cup and may have to cancel the Leagues Cup in order to lessen the fixture crunch and finish the playoffs by Christmas.
On Wednesday it was reported that employees at MLS’ New York headquarters will have their salaries cut by as much as 25% because of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Garber is among those who pay will be reduced by a quarter while other workers will see 10 to 20% reductions.
It’s likely that individual teams may soon be forced to reduce salaries as well.
Guzman said when the training moratorium is lifted, teams will need a second preseason training camp lasting three to four weeks before they can consider games again. In the meantime he said the challenges of keeping the players ready physically is only half of the problem.
“The biggest question I’ve gotten is ‘how are you maintaining the best physical qualities?’ ” he said. “And my answer to that is I’m actually more concerned about the mental aspect because guys are getting cabin fever; they’re getting bored in their places.”