MLS Coaches On The Challenges of Getting Their Squads Ready
#MLSisBack kicks off tomorrow as the top tier American professional soccer gets back into action. Starting July 8 with games through August 11 — this is the long-awaited return of professional soccer. The #MLSisBack Semifinals are scheduled for August 5th and 6th with the final to be held on August 11th.
The #MLSisBACK games start tomorrow and this major milestone has been accomplished with enormous determination and significant effort from MLS and its clubs, forging through an unrelenting pandemic in an uncharted environment.
MLS hosted a Head Coach Media Conference today ahead of MLS is Back Tournament. The overall feeling in Orlando is positive, with an abundance of caution.
Thierry Henry (Montreal Impact), Bruce Arena (New England Revolution), Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City), Oscar Pareja (Orlando City SC), and Frank de Boer (Atlanta United) spoke with the media and are all counting the minutes until their games in Major League Soccer’s return to play MLS is Back Tournament but this has been a challenging experience as well.
“Circumstances did not allow us to train in the field. We tried to prepare the players physically as much as possible, as well as mentally, which is very important,” said Thierry Henry, international soccer icon and Head Coach of the Montreal Impact.
One of the latest teams to come back to training, Montreal Impact has had limited time to prepare for #MLSisBACK. Usually, before a pro team enters a tournament, friendly games are scheduled to get players ready to compete but this is a totally different scenario with the pandemic.
“We have got to fight — and play hard. Make it difficult for other teams.”Thierry Henry Head Coach Montreal Impact
Henry believes friendlies provide a team the chance to get ready and make mistakes — and, that clubs do not have this luxury now. How many minutes will a player last in the heat and humidity? Will the players be fast enough? Are they ready? “Everything is new again,” said Henry. “The games will give you the truth, but now it will be in a competitive one.”
The question “Are The Players Ready?” was only slightly more popular than the concern of players testing positive for the Coronavirus COVID-19. Answering questions on “Do You Feel Safe” repeatedly, many of the coaches praised the MLS league for creating a bubble that was safe as possible.
Teams have traveled from all across the country to enter into the #MLSisBACK bubble in Orlando. Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes, who oversees all soccer operations for Sporting Kansas City, was clear that staying safe was a responsibility shared by the league, as well as the clubs and players. “Its been quite a challenge,” said Vermes. ” It has been up to us to be disciplined. I have to commend the players and the staff has done a tremendous job.”
“We are fighting an Invisible Enemy. We need individual responsibility. It is not just the league’s responsibility.”Peter Vermes, Sporting Kansas City on the Coronavirus COVID-19 threat
Vermes, who is known for respecting a player’s desire to win and strong work ethic, talked about everyone being cautious in their Kansas City bubble — and coming into a bubble within a bubble. Vermes, who had cautioned his players to be careful for months now, confirmed that nearly 2,000 Coronavirus COVID-19 tests have been performed at Sporting KC with only one false positive has been reported. “All other results have been negative,” said Vermes who acknowledges that it is likely that a player will eventually test positive.
And, although Oscar Pareja, head coach for Orlando City SC obviously lives in Florida — a state facing a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases over the past 14 days — he believes the players feel safe in the MLS bubble. “We feel fine,” said Pareja, “Normally there is a risk.”
“People feel safe.”Frank de Boer, Atlanta United
Frank de Boer, head coach for Atlanta United confirmed that the MLS, as well as the hotels and Disney, are doing everything they can to make the players feel safe and keep them busy. “There is even Teqball for the players to play, although everyone is really totally focused on the competition,” said de Boer who agrees the #MLSisBACK tournament will be challenging. “Up until now, we have not played 90 minutes, and we have not been able to play any scrimmages.”
Is the tournament #MLSisBack really that different? While it has been four months since most teams have played and the event is a World Cup format, New England Revolution’s Sporting Director and Head Coach Bruce Arena said earlier this week, “You prepare for your opponent, you prepare your team for the game, and when the whistle blows, we’ve got to be ready to go.” So true.
There is a lot of “newness” at this tournament. Even the times of the matches are different than usual with 9 AM kickoffs. Vermes, who says he has never coached a 9 AM pro match, was also asked about getting the Sporting KC players ready for Game #3 — their early morning match. “We will have to wake up bodies!”
Regardless of the lack of scrimmages, the time slots or the spike of reported Covid-19 cases in the sunny state of Florida, the #MLSisBACK kicks off tomorrow and while the fitness level of all the players remains unknown, the days of great soccer action are returning.
Who will earn the right to be the 2020 MLS is Back Champion? There are favorites: Seattle Sounders, LAFC, New York City FC, Sporting KC, and Toronto FC made it into GOAL.com‘s list … who is your favorite to win? (Let us know by email.)
Updated 5:48 PST