After nearly two months of seeing his team only on Zoom or Facetime, Bob Bradley was back at LAFC’s training facility Thursday, where he got to see many of his players work out in the flesh.
It was an important first step back from the coronavirus-induced shutdown that suspended the MLS season March 12. But, Bradley added, it didn’t feel like normal.
“No, not really,” he said. “It’s great to see guys. Every player is excited just to get back on the field, put on their football shoes, get some touches, get some fitness.
“It’s a start. But that’s still a long way from the game.”
MLS joined the NWSL in becoming the first professional sports leagues in the U.S. to allow organized practice sessions to resume when four of its 26 teams — Atlanta United, Inter Miami, Orlando City and Sporting Kansas City — trained at team facilities Wednesday. Five more, including LAFC, worked out Thursday.
The Galaxy say they will begin training at Dignity Health Sports Park on Monday.
Sixteen LAFC players took part in the individual hour-long workout, running, stretching, performing agility drills and dribbling around a series of multi-colored pylons on a 93-degree day at Cal State L.A. Most of Bradley’s starters participated, including forward Diego Rossi, midfielders Latif Blessing, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta and defenders Eddie Segura, Tristan Blackmon and Jordan Harvey. Bradley Wright-Phillips, now fully recovered from hernia surgery, also took part.
“It’s a good feeling to be able to get on a field that’s nice, that’s not turf and you don’t have to worry about dogs leaving their messes everywhere,” said Kaye, who had been training on an artificial-turf field near USC. “It was just nice to have a clean, safe space to practice.
“Just being around the guys is an amazing feeling. That team aura again feels really good.”
Among the missing was captain Carlos Vela, the league’s reigning MVP, and forward Brian Rodriguez. Vela is expected to practice Friday.
To participate in the voluntary sessions, players have to follow a detailed protocol that includes standardized screening and temperature checks; staggered arrivals and departures to assure safe-distancing in the parking lot; and the use of personal protective equipment, including facemasks, on the way to and from the field.
Only four players can train at a time and they must stay in their own clearly-marked quadrant on an outdoor field. Teammates are not allowed to interact with one another while training and players are banned from using locker rooms, weight rooms and most other indoor facilities.
“It gives you a little idea of how well guys have been able to keep up when they’ve been completely on their own,” Bradley said of the workout. “And then, obviously, the most part of today is just seeing guys, a little bit of interaction.”
MLS imposed a moratorium on team practices eight weeks ago, a ban it extended five times since then, forcing players to train at home or in parks. That led some teams to raise concerns that forcing players to use public areas to practice might unwittingly expose them to the virus, so the league agreed to allow teams to partially reopen their facilities as long as they obeyed local guidelines.
The league is hopeful its slow return to training will prepare the way for a resumption of games, most likely without fans, early this summer. Gate receipts and sponsorships are the two largest sources of revenue for MLS.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Commissioner Don Garber said.
In the meantime, just seeing his team back on a field together, even though they were kept apart, was enough to make LAFC defender Mohamed El-Munir smile.
“We’ve been waiting a long time,” he said. “It’s still not the same but at least, step by step, we can get there. This is better than nothing for us.”