Who knew that there would be such interest in a training session?
In reality, the most mundane of activities during the course of a sports season — we’re talking about practice — took on an added significance in light of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding it. For the first time in exactly three months, the Seattle Sounders completed a full-contact training session on Friday.
Major League Soccer implemented a training moratorium on March 12, in light of the coronavirus pandemic which spread across the country and has killed over 100,000 Americans to date. On June 4, MLS lifted the moratorium and authorized full training, subject to each team submitting a training protocol and health plan which needed to approved by local officials as well as the league.
“Another step forward,” said Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “Players were obviously happy to get out there and scrimmage a little bit.”
The training session was especially important given that the “MLS is Back” tournament is scheduled to start next month in Orlando. Safety concerns aside (today DC United announced that one player had tested positive for Covid-19), the Sounders have a quick ramp-up to get back to something resembling full fitness before the tournament starts. The draw paired the Sounders with the Vancouver Whitecaps, FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes.
“Some good rivals,” Schmetzer said. “We’re going to go down there and try and win.”
Over the past three months, the Sounders had been relegated to Zoom fitness sessions, and relying on individual players adhering to fitness plans and whatever else they could do on their own. In the last three weeks, the team had moved to individual sessions at Starfire, and then small group sessions. So the return to full training is invaluable as the team gets ready for the tournament.
“Small-sided games is the first time we’re able to see an uncontrolled environment, which is great,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “We really value when we can go after it hard, and it’s nice to finally get back into things that we know. Now it’s about putting that work in.”
The three-month layoff — longer than the Sounders have had in most off seasons — means there will be some rust that the team has to work off as the prepare for Orlando. That said, Schmetzer indicated the quality of the play during training was good.
“Actually the game (scrimmage) was pretty good,” Schmetzer said. “Some good goals were being scored and that was due to the attitude of the players.”
General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey said the team would take advantage of MLS allowing teams to stay in their home markets up until a week before the tournament, assuming they could resume full-team training. With the go-ahead from MLS and local officials, the return of competitive soccer is in sight.
“We haven’t had the schedule yet, but we know our groups, we know the tournament’s happening,” Schmetzer said. “It’s coming back.”