Two Atlanta United players feel safe in MLS Orlando bubble

Credit: AJC

Atlanta United held its first training session Sunday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Courtesy Atlanta United)

Credit: AJC

Through two days in Orlando and despite the league forcing one team to withdraw because of COVID-19- related issues, two of Atlanta United’s players say they feel safe in the MLS bubble designed to protect players from COVID-19 and help them prepare for the pending tournament that will restart the season.

Atlanta United’s first game is scheduled for Saturday against the New York Red Bulls. The tournament’s first game is scheduled for Wednesday, featuring Orlando and Inter Miami.

The league has taken hundreds of steps to try to isolate players and teams in a resort in which the only guests are affiliated with MLS. Still, the league pulled FC Dallas out of the tournament after 10 Dallas players and a coach tested positive. Six of the tests happened in Orlando and three happened before the team arrived. The 10th wasn’t disclosed. Five Nashville players have tested positive since entering the bubble.

“Given the impact of the number of positive tests on the club’s ability to train and play competitive matches, we have made the decision to withdraw FC Dallas from the MLS is Back Tournament,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement provided by the league. “The health of everyone involved in our return to play has always been our top priority, and we will continue to make decisions consistent with that priority.”

Of the 557 players in Orlando, 13 have tested positive for COVID-19, 10 of those being the FC Dallas players and the remaining three from two other clubs.

Atlanta United’s Fernando Meza said after the team arrived Saturday they were isolated in their rooms for 24 hours.

Atlanta United reported two positive cases, both were unnamed players, in the past two weeks. Both were originally asymptomatic, according to the team. One player returned to training after two negative tests and was scheduled to have traveled with the team, according to manager Frank de Boer. The other is supposed to join the team in Florida later.

“Given the circumstances, it’s what we expected,” Meza said. “I think people feel safe. It’s very well-controlled and very well-organized.”

There have been social-media posts, some anonymously and some on the record, of people in the bubble criticizing MLS for how it is handling this unprecedented situation.

Atlanta United’s Tyler Wolff said he thinks some of the complaints and reports are overblown.

“Overall, it’s pretty safe,” Wolff said. “There have been some cases going around. I think they’ve done a good job with the protocols. Mandatory masks and hand sanitizer everywhere.”

Meza said the highlight so far has been the training session, and likely will continue to be until the first game.

“It’s like a lion being let out of its cage because it’s the only time we can get outside and get fresh air,” he said.

Meza said the session, and the sessions that preceded it at the team’s training ground in Marietta, are going well.

“There are no excuses,” he said. “Every team is dealing with the same things.

Meza said the players haven’t discussed what’s happening with Dallas and Nashville too much.

“We hope those players recover well,” he said. “We know it’s a possibility.”