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MLS authorizes small group training as league continues to ponder how to return

Sounders won’t move to immediately expand training but could do so in the coming days.

Major League Soccer announced a new protocol for training on Thursday which will authorize small group training sessions — subject to federal and state regulations — as the league continues to deliberate how to return to competitive matches.

The protocol will allow teams to conduct voluntary training sessions which will permit players “to perform fitness and technical workouts in small groups while maintaining physical distancing protocols, even within individual groups,” according to a release from the league.

Similar to the previous announcement which authorized individual training sessions at team facilities, each team must submit a detailed plan to the league on how such sessions will be conducted, and how they will conform with governmental guidelines. The guidelines each team must adhere to conduct the sessions are extensive.

  • Clubs must utilize outdoor fields as indoor training facilities remain closed to all players with the exception of those requiring medical treatment or rehabilitation, under the direction of the team medical staff, that cannot be performed from the safety of their residences.
  • Clubs may divide each full field into a maximum of two equal halves and may assign a group of players to each full or half field.
  • Clubs may clearly define up to six zones per half field, spaced at least 10 feet apart. Only one player may be in a zone at any given time in order to maintain physical distancing standards throughout the session. For clarity, a maximum of six players may be assigned to a single group with each player accommodated in a separate zone.
  • During training sessions, players may switch zones within their own group only if another player is not currently in that zone and players must maintain a physical distance of at least 10 feet from all other players and coaches while moving between zones
  • Within a single group, players may pass the ball and shoot on goal; however, all training exercises must allow players to maintain a physical distance of at least 10 feet from one another.
  • Players may only train with the other players within their own group and may not interact with other groups. While the groups may not be rearranged during a single training session, clubs may rearrange the combination of players in each group from session to session.
  • Coaches and technical staff must wear a face mask at all times and may direct players from the perimeter of the field, never entering the field, while maintaining at least 10-feet of distance from other staff and players.
  • Only approved equipment may be used during training session including balls; small and regular goals; rubber dots; small discs and cones; rebounders; rings; GPS Pods and personal equipment that is not shared between players. Mannequins, poles, bands, weights and ball machines may not be used.
  • Goalkeepers may not spit on their gloves and must clean, disinfect and sanitize their gloves after each training.

In addition, the players must abide by social distancing and health and safety protocols even within the sessions, including:

  • Restricting training ground access to essential staff only, with specific staff listed in the plan.
  • Sanitization 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 questionnaire by each player prior to 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 his designated position on 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 sessions.
  • An Emergency Action Plan for all COVID-19 related issues.

MLS included graphic displays as how the sessions should be performed so that all guidelines are met.

The league-wide moratorium on full team training remains in place through, June 1. A Seattle Sounders spokesperson said there are no immediate plans to expand the current training, but indicated they may soon submit a proposal to the league and state. The Sounders returned to Starfire for individual training about a week ago.

MLS continues to negotiate with the MLS Players Association on a proposal to return to play with a truncated Orlando tournament. Reports of an initial two-month period in Orlando, which would require the players to be separated from family, was not received positively by some high-profile players. Philadelphia Union captain Alejandro Bedoya compared the proposal as being in a “luxurious prison.”

A recent report suggested MLS has scaled back the amount of time players would need to be in Orlando to closer to five weeks. Additionally, the league has yet to come to an agreement with the Union regarding a proposed salary cut, though talks are ongoing.