[Update 1:40 p.m. on Thursday: MLS announced that it is lifting the training moratorium effective immediately, clearing the way for mandatory sessions at team facilities subject to local laws.]
When the Seattle Sounders return to training on Thursday, it will look at least a little bit normal. While the team had previously been limited to individual workouts and drills since returning to Starfire Sports Complex about two weeks ago, their next session will include small groups of as many as five players and a coach in which they are allowed to pass the ball between them while maintaining social distancing. The Sounders have not trained since Sunday with players refusing to show up at Starfire for voluntary workouts since then while CBA negotiations reached a fever pitch.
More importantly, this is the next step toward getting ready to play competitive matches again. Although Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey said nothing has been finalized, he noted he was expecting something concrete by early next week. It has been widely reported that the current plan is for MLS to bring all 26 teams to Orlando, where they’ll hold a World Cup-style tournament. Those reports have indicated that the plan is to have teams arrive in Florida by June 24, train for a couple weeks and then play as many as seven matches. The first three of those matches would count toward a hoped-for regular season that would be played out in teams’ home stadiums.
How close to full fitness the Sounders are when they leave town will depend at least in part on how quickly Washington and King County health officials give them the green light to expand training. As of yet, no MLS teams have engaged in anything beyond the small-group training the Sounders are about to start, and the league remains in a full-training moratorium.
“Our situation is always going to be Washington-specific,” Lagerwey said. “MLS is going to set a floor — a minimum standard — and we have to reach the ceiling that Washington deems appropriate. The critical information will be more what [health officials] say. As long as we’re compliant we’ll be able to move forward.”
Lagerwey did mention that the Sounders have some contingency plans that include potentially training in another county or state, similar to what the OL Reign are doing ahead of the NWSL Challenge Cup.
So far, Lagerwey said that he’s been pleased with the level of fitness players have maintained during the coronavirus-forced pause. But after a break that will be roughly as long as the 2016 and 2017 off-seasons combined, Lagerwey cautioned that there’s a long way to go to rebuild fitness.
“As much as we can simulate a human gerbil in a wheel, it doesn’t tell you much about your team,” Lagerwey said, noting that Nicolas Lodeiro hasn’t played a match in about seven months. “We’ve had positive progress in terms of testing on fitness, but it’s not a game environment. We’re not even training as a full team. The good news is our group is tremendously experienced and gotten through all sorts of situations to win championships. I’m confident they’ll take on this challenge.”