As Atlanta United prepares to host the second voluntary workout for its players Friday, club President Darren Eales outlined Thursday the accepted steps that will be taken for whole teams to gather to practice during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The club held its first set of voluntary workouts Wednesday at its training ground in Marietta, with 20 players participating. The workouts were held under a strict set of protocols put into place by MLS. As examples, no more than eight players can participate in a session. Fields are laid out in quadrants with each player working out of one quadrant to keep a distance from others. Players aren’t allowed to use training rooms or locker rooms. Players interviewed by the club said they felt safe to train.
MLS has mandated teams can’t train together until May 15, and no games can be played through June 8.
“Yesterday was that first step,” Eales said.
Eventually getting to games at a date that’s yet to be determined will require steps from individual training to small-groups training together doing things such as passing drills, to eventually teams training together.
Eales said after Friday’s individual sessions, reviews will be held with players, coaches, medical staff and fitness staff on how to increase the difficulty of the sessions. Eales stressed they want to be careful because it has been since March 12 that players were able to work out at the team’s facilities. He said they want to avoid any “silly” soft-tissue injuries.
“It’s a moving feast where we are taking what’s working for groups that are training, taking advice from medical experts and looking at leagues from other countries,” Eales said.
Eales said testing for COVID-19 will be a part of whatever the next step is toward group training. Eales said there is an MLS sub-committee is in discussions with other professional leagues in North America about testing. He expressed confidence that testing likely will be available because of the efforts being made around the world.
Before games can resume, Eales said it will be necessary for each MLS team to be able to train as a group for a certain amount of time. For example, not each of the 26 teams have started participating in the individual workouts. Orlando, Sporting KC and Miami also started Wednesday. Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers started Thursday.
“Everyone should be at same level,” he said.
Eales expressed confidence that the league will work hard to play a full season. He did say if the season hasn’t restarted by the end of July, it will be difficult to complete the remaining schedule. Teams had finished two of 34 rounds when the season was suspended.
“We will be as agile as we can and innovative as we can to get that full season in,” Eales said.
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