Following a tedious, seven-week break from soccer, Atlanta United reopened practice facilities for individual, voluntary workouts earlier this month. Since then, players have attempted to make up for the preparation time they missed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The work has been going on since May 6, when the training site opened again.
“It’s going really well,” rookie defender Brooks Lennon said Wednesday. “This week is all based around individual and specific to my position training.”
Veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan also believes that the training at the team facilities has been a major improvement to his workouts at home.
“It certainly is more soccer specific. When you’re at the facility, you have mannequins, you have poles and footwork drills,” Guzan said. “You’re able to work soccer specific muscles. Just getting back into the habit of catching and doing some goalkeeping stuff is certainly a benefit of being able to be out there as opposed to being in your backyard or in a gym.”
With European leagues like the Bundesliga and the English Premier League already resuming gameplay, similar plans for the MLS may have players practicing together and playing by the end of June.
One such plan is for all 26 teams in the league to live in and play the entire season in Orlando, Fla. While it may seem for fans that the season couldn’t be coming fast enough, some players like Lennon and Guzan also have concerns about how soon the league wants games to be played.
“As players, we want to get back on the field in a safe way,” Guzan said. “Not only from the virus, but it means being fit and healthy enough to play games and trying to rush people onto the field isn’t going to do anybody any favors because the end result won’t be to the quality that we want as players and that fans want as well. You’re also putting guys at a higher risk of injury.”
Another strange aspect of the MLS’ plans to resume play is not allowing spectators inside the stadiums for matches.
“We’re lucky in Atlanta to have the support, atmosphere, and energy that is created in our stadium,” Guzan said. “To miss out on that factor is certainly disappointing, but the safety of everybody involved in a game day operation has to be the main priority.”
With all of this in mind, players like Guzan and Lennon can’t wait to hit the field again.
“It’s good that we’re doing the individual training right now because it’s keeping us fit and sharp in preparation for whatever comes,” Lennon said. “Whenever the decision to start the season is made by the league, I think we are going to be one of the teams that is ready to go from the start.”
The United players expect the MLS to launch at the proper time.
“There is a path forward,” Guzan said. “It’s just about making sure player safety is taken seriously as well as the safety of everyone who would be involved in a game day situation. I see soccer coming back this year. I want to be able to see sports on TV, and I genuinely think that at some point we will be back playing games.”