FRISCO, Texas — For many teams in Major League Soccer, road games are difficult to navigate. With a limited amount of charter flights, teams sometimes sit through delays at airports, waiting to hop on their commercial flight before heading to their destination.
FC Dallas will have to endure two of those trips this week. After traveling to Los Angeles and losing to the Galaxy 2-0 Wednesday, the team flew directly to Montreal, where it will prepare to take on the Impact on Saturday.
That means more work for team administrator Juan Gonzalez, who plays a vital role in road trips. In charge of everything from setting up the itinerary, to visa and passport issues, Gonzalez’s work behind the scenes makes sure the team is running on the logistics end.
“It’s important in our world to have everything organized and planned perfectly,” Gonzalez. “It’s literally a day where you think everything is going smoothly and you got the itinerary and everything sorted, and a player comes up to your office and says, ‘Oh, I don’t have my visa’ or ‘I don’t have a passport, I lost it,’ the day before the travel. You pretty much have to drop everything to get that sorted to make sure all the players are available for the coach.”
In a week with this much travel, Gonzalez tries to keep the players’ feeling as comfortable as possible by organizing their schedules and booking the best flights and hotels available.
“I’ve never had a midweek away game and a weekend game where we had to travel for both, especially with the distance of Montreal and LA, so it’s going to be something we’re going to have to adapt to for sure,” midfielder Paxton Pomykal said. “I’m sure the guys are up for it.”
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement for players expires at the end of the season, and a major talking point for the upcoming negotiations is charter flights to alleviate some of the layovers, delays and other issues that occur when flying commercial.
Fortunately for FC Dallas players, the Dallas/Fort-Worth airport is an international hub with many nonstop flights. The lack of layovers allows FCD to plan road trips more precisely. The club hasn’t used any of its four allowed charter flights per season.
“We’re in a market where we have a pretty accessible airport,” Pomykal said. “We can fly and play any team without having a layover. For us here, I know me personally, I’m OK flying commercial because we get miles and we never have difficult travels. It’s three and a half hours to anywhere in the country for us, but I can understand why if LA plays Orlando it’s tough on them.”
Still, FC Dallas often will travel two days in advance of a game to allow plenty of time in case of a setback and to get acclimated to time zone changes. And if the team is playing a Canadian opponent, Gonzalez makes sure the passports and visas are in check and books a trip to the Dallas passport office if any issues arise.
“Usually what we do if it’s two time zones, we typically go two days before, or if we know this certain kind of trip requires us to go an extra day just to get focused, we’ll decide on that,” Gonzalez said. “But typically, we like to train here as much as possible. We look at flights that allows us to train here in the day and travel in the afternoon. We go trip-by-trip with what makes more sense. We prefer training than traveling, playing the game and then flying back.”
Gonzalez plans everything down to the minute — flights, when the team arrives, meals, etc. — and then plans for uncontrollables, such as when a flight was delayed four hours one trip or when the team plane circled the Orlando airport for a while.
“There was a chance that we would have to do another pit stop, refuel and then fly back,” Gonzalez said of that Orlando flight. “You can control the normal processes, but knowing how to handle in the moment stuff that you can’t control that is thrown the team’s way.
He needs the foresight to anticipate issues that could arise, and also needs to be able to problem-solve those challenges and make adjustments as needed. Constant communication with the coaching staff is critical. Each week may have a different challenge, such as when the coaches want to leave or varying itineraries.
“We’re always communicating in terms of what they want to do for this trip or tweaks in the schedule, timing,” Gonzalez said. “Every time I’m getting ready for a trip, I’m down there in the coaching office getting their input, seeing how they want to conduct the trip.
“Always triple confirming with the coaches to make sure everything is correct for the team.”