Atlanta United’s Jeff Larentowicz, who is an executive board member of the MLS Players Association, said Thursday that he is hopeful that the season will resume, but that there are “lists and lists” of issues between the union and MLS that need to be addressed.
“At this point, with the amount of uncertainty out there, dates mean nothing,” he said. “We are just going to have to read what’s going on and make decisions. I hope to be back. I think there’s a pathway to be back on the league side. I think there will probably be decisions coming soon.”
MLS suspended its season because of the COVID-19 pandemic March 12. It had just finished two of its scheduled 34 rounds of games. All but two of the teams have restarted voluntary individual training. The next phase toward restarting the season would be small groups in a socially distant setting, followed by small groups and then full teams.
In an attempt to restart the season, MLS has proposed moving each of its 26 teams to Orlando, housing the players in resorts around Disney World, and training and playing games at the nearby ESPN complex. While it may sound simple, Larentowicz said the players have numerous questions that have yet to be answered.
“We have a vast country,” he said. “We have a lot of things in play. We are an international league. It’s a much different thing so we have to consider everything. Responses across MLS markets, across the country, in Canada, the restrictions on travel, there are a lot of hoops to jump through, and there are a lot of complexities in this. As much as we’d like to march back onto a soccer field we have to feel that we are doing all the right things to get there.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan last week said his biggest question regarding the Orlando proposal is what happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19? Larentowicz said the league is putting together a protocol for that situation. If a player tests positive before Orlando, he will quarantine in the home market and appropriate steps will be taken. But Larentowicz pointed out that there could be more than 700 players in Orlando. Though they will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing, they are human and mistakes will probably be made.
“When a positive test happens there, then what happens?” he said. “How are we tracing that? How are we keeping everyone safe? We aren’t going there for a conference. We are going there for physical contact, to breathe on each other and that’s a whole different thing.
“When a positive happens there, I can’t say we’ve gotten a full answer that covers everything. At the moment we are working on it.”
Larentowicz acknowledged that all solutions won’t be perfect, but the players want answers that acknowledge the risks and include a course of action.
Larentowicz credited the league with making itself available to listen all of the players’ questions and concerns via zoom calls. But he also criticized the league for what seems to be an approach that the players can just show up in Orlando and start playing games. Larentowicz said very few of those in the league’s front office were former players and that they don’t understand how difficult it is to play in games. He cited pregame, postgame and other things that must be done correctly to put the best possible professional product on the field.
“It’s not like mom and dad are pulling the minivan up 45 minutes before a game,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there are lists and lists of things that needed to be ironed out. What we are working on now running through that list and making sure all those things are covered so that when we step out onto the field it’s as good as possible.”
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