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D.C. United players, staff share how they fill their days outside of training

United players try to see positive aspects of self-distancing rules implemented to help stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

The recent effects of the growing coronavirus pandemic is challenging people to change what their everyday looks like. Three members of D.C. United gave Pro Soccer USA an inside look at life in professional soccer during this pandemic.

Finding opportunity

Major League Soccer’s training moratorium due to concerns surrounding the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has given D.C. United midfielder Julian Gressel a unique opportunity to explore his new city.

With MLS games suspended, group training halted and gatherings larger than 10 people discouraged, Gressel has time to explore his new city safely. The 26-year-old signed with D.C. in the offseason after terms of a new contract did not work out with his former club Atlanta United.

“Going on runs outside gives me a feel for the city,” Gressel said.

In the time without training, he took his dog for a walk to the Capitol, which is about 20 minutes by foot from his home. Gressel moved to the Washington D.C. area with his wife, Casey, and dog, Freddy, following United’s preseason camp in Florida. His new apartment wasn’t even fully unpacked when training came to a standstill around the league.

“This time has actually given me and my wife some time to make a home where we can unpack everything and make our apartment look the part,” Gressel said. “There’s positive and negatives to everything.”

Gressel’s teammate, defender Russell Canouse, has used the time away to train and watch game film.

“Our assistant coach sends us clips every once in awhile, which is helpful to continue to bring focus back on the games that we’ve played,” Canouse said. “I’ve really made sure I’ve looked at videos of previous games, preseason games, training, even, just to continue to see myself, how I’m moving in that position, how I’m moving off my teammates and building those relationships and see tactically, if I’m in the right position.”

As United’s MLS Player Associate representative, Canouse has also made sure to reach out to his teammates.

“I’m getting a lot of the updates there, making sure the guys are informed of what’s going on and everything,” Canouse said. “For staying in touch, it’s difficult because we have to make sure we take the social distancing seriously. That obviously leads to the point of us not being able to get together all the time, but we’re trying to stay in touch the best we can as a team.”

Meanwhile, United physical therapist Gabriel Manoel has to make sure the entire team is ready to go whenever the season returns.

“We have eight weeks planned, but that’s obviously just in case it goes up to that point. We’re gonna be prepared for the long haul or anything short,” Manoel said. “We have Plan A, B and C, ready to go.”

Family affair

Sports are far from the only institution affected by COVID-19. Maryland public schools are closed through at least April 24. For Manoel, that means more time with his wife and kids — but he’s still staying busy.

Gabriel Manoel, D.C. United’s physical therapist, is giving workouts to players they can do during the coronavirus shutdown.  (Courtesy of Xavier Dussaq, D.C. United)

His wife, a teacher in Maryland, has been homeschooling their kids. Without his typically packed in-season schedule, Manoel has been able to take part in their education.

However, he says he’d be lost without his wife, who is “super organized and structured.” When his sons wake up, their lesson plan is already written on the board.

“It’s trying times for everyone, but it does bring a lot of families closer together and having to spend some good quality time together,” Manoel said.

Other members of United don’t have the same opportunity to be close to family. Gressel, whose family lives in Germany, got creative with his daily communications home.

“I play a lot of video games with my brother, so I’m always in touch with them,” Gressel said.

In addition to the video games, Gressel has daily video calls with his mother. His family had trips to the District planned for Easter and early May, but those plans are now up in the air.

“It’s definitely put some strain on that, but obviously the health of everybody and the whole world is more important than any of that,” he said.

Filling time

When it comes to training, Canouse likes to keep a routine as best he can while still abiding by the Centers for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines.

“I don’t have too much to do, so 10 a.m., I usually follow the normal session,” Canouse said. “It gives me time to sleep in and recover and also get into a routine where I’m able to get a lot done, and then go home and be able to eat lunch and recover.”

In between training, Canouse is watching the Amazon Prime show “Hunters,” a series that follows a revenge-seeking secret group of Nazi hunters. Not that he has much down time. Last season, Canouse passed the Virginia exam to become a certified real estate agent.

“I’m reading a book, too,” Canouse said. “When I’m not watching that stuff, I’m doing more of my business work than just reading.”

Gressel has also used his time to expand his literary palette. The midfielder finished reading “The Alchemist,” which he really enjoyed. For him, downtime involves reading, walking the dog and maybe squeezing in time for an episode or two of “New Girl” on Netflix with his wife.

“We try to [stick] to funny movies and then funny shows to laugh a bit and have a good time,” Gressel said. “They kind of take your mind off what’s going on around you a little bit where you’re just completely relaxed and not thinking about it too much. That also keeps you sane.”

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