Orlando City defender Alex DeJohn spoke with confidence, enthusiasm and optimism.
DeJohn had just completed an individual workout at the Lions’ training facility in Kissimmee Monday. Orlando City’s technical staff stepped up the intensity of the individual drills during the second week of limited workouts and DeJohn couldn’t help but look ahead to Major League Soccer resuming play.
“We worked pretty hard during the quarantine, but being out here is a little bit different than just going out to run by yourself,” he said. “So the legs are coming and getting stronger and we’re just ready to get back out there and start playing again.”
MLS has informed teams it would like to host those matches to Orlando, with The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal reporting teams would begin individual training in Florida June 1 and resume play on June 22 while sequestered at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports on Disney World property.
While steps toward resuming play have been met with questions about safety and compensation among NBA and MLB players, the pro soccer players in Orlando bring a different perspective.
They have quarantined in a city that isn’t a coronavirus hot spot, possibly because the theme parks shut down quickly and residents are more spread out in Orlando than other urban centers hit hard by the virus.
The club has a partnership with Orlando Health that has helped maintain safety protocol during individual Orlando City and Orlando Pride workouts.
And players see the rest of the state of Florida slowly easing back to work around them.
Orlando City vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi said Thursday his club feels more confident about its ability to return to the pitch than many other markets.
“If this was a league in Orlando, man, I feel like we could have started last week because conditions are different,” Muzzi said.
MLS leaders have embraced his confidence.
ESPN Wide World of Sports features 30 soccer fields, several of which were used for events such as the Homegrown Game throughout MLS All-Star Week last year. The complex is adjacent to multiple full-service hotels, where players could be easily isolated to maintain a quarantine throughout the playing period.
ESPN has installed broadcast equipment throughout the Wide World of Sports complex, which makes it easier to air matches.
MLS’ plan does not come without questions.
The timeline is aggressive, with just a few weeks of preseason training when some teams haven’t been able to start individual workouts yet due to local safety orders. And MLS players have their own compensation questions.
ESPN reported MLS sent a proposal to the players union asking all players to take a 20% pay cut along with some other unspecified reductions in expenses to help offset the loss of revenue that would have been generated from playing matches in front of fans.
The MLS Players Association and the league have not ratified a collective bargaining agreement that was agreed to verbally during the preseason, and it reportedly doesn’t include a force majeure clause that would absolve owners from paying players if a season was canceled due to the pandemic.
“We are working very closely with the league across many levels. Right now our collective focus is on keeping players and staff safe and healthy,” an MLSPA spokesperson wrote in an email to Pro Soccer USA in March. “We are confident that our partnership with the league will continue to be strong.”
That partnership will be tested as both sides try to hammer out an agreement that allows for safe return to play.
And while state and city leaders have insisted there are enough tests available for all those who need them in Florida, other parts of the country are reporting testing shortages that could call into question using thousands of tests to host MLS play in one location.
The same issues are being debated by NBA and MLB players. Positive COVID-19 tests involving NBA players helped trigger the shutdown of pro sports, and the death of Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl Anthony-Towns’ mother due to COVID-19 have altered the way the league approaches resuming play.
MLB is trying to play more games, which would likely mean players would be more isolated from families for a longer period of time and face more chances to get exposed to the virus. And the MLB’s player compensation issues are complicated.
For now, Orlando City and Orlando Pride players are fired up about working at their respective training facilities and can sense a return to play in both leagues is around the corner.
“It’s so good to come back to work,” Orlando Pride defender Shelina Zadorsky said after a Tuesday workout. “… I think it’s getting those good vibes back and hopefully getting excited to progress toward … team training hopefully when things are safe again.”
Masks, temperature checks and a long list of other safety guidelines couldn’t dent DeJohn’s upbeat outlook, either.
“I think everybody’s getting excited for whatever’s to come,” he said.