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Orlando City VP Luiz Muzzi balances excitement as MLS clubs approach first phase of return

After the Lions began individual training sessions on Wednesday, Muzzi looked ahead to a possible MLS restart without fans.

Orlando City CEO Alex Leitão and VP of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi watch on during a preseason match. Photo by Julia Poe.

Orlando City executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi is eager to see the Lions resume playing soccer.

Every player on the Orlando City roster participated in voluntary individual training sessions at the team’s facility in Kissimmee on Wednesday. Muzzi said those sessions gave him hope after the team spent two months in isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Muzzi acknowledges it won’t be a complete return to normal. He expects the Lions will need to play games without supporters in the stands in order to expedite a return to match play.

Although Muzzi said everyone at the club would prefer to play in front of fans, but it’s an issue of timing. In order to complete a full season, he said teams will need to return to the pitch before it will be safe to pack stadiums again.

“There’s going to be a process to get back to normal,” Muzzi said. “I think the most important thing is that we need to be safe and playing games as soon as possible. Once we get that going then we’re going to eventually move back to having games at the stadium, but it’s going to be a process.”

Orlando was one of four MLS teams to participate in individual training sessions on Wednesday along with Inter Miami CF, Atlanta United and Sporting Kansas City. Five more teams resumed training on Thursday. Each of team is at an advantage due to its location in states that have reported fewer cases and received less strict government mandates.

For instance, Florida began a statewide reopening of select businesses the first week of May. Compared to teams in markets such as New York or Seattle, Orlando City feels more comfortable resuming individual training.

“If this was a league in Orlando, man, I feel like we could have started last week because conditions are different,” Muzzi said.

The MLS training moratorium is set to expire on May 15. However, the league has extended its moratorium several times after originally announcing a 30-day suspension on March 12. Muzzi is uncertain if the moratorium will actually expire next week or be extended again.

MLS commissioner Don Garber previously said the league is aiming to push the playoffs into the winter, with the MLS Cup final held in late December. At a certain point, the league will be forced to shorten its season.

Muzzi doesn’t think the league has reached that point yet, and he is confident teams can complete a 34-game season along with the playoffs.

Amid the changes in MLS, the pandemic is also shifting the international landscape of the game. Muzzi said the Orlando City scouting team has spent all of the past two months watching film to update its database of potential targets.

Leagues around the world have been affected differently. In France, the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons were canceled. In Germany, meanwhile, the Bundesliga will restart match play in nine days.

Muzzi said it’s hard to predict how schedules and transfer windows will line up in the future, particularly without any sense of how the FIFA calendar will change. But he said Orlando City will make a move on any players who might help the team if they become available.

“Our scouts are busier than ever because they have more time,” Muzzi said. “The market is going to change, of course. It’s something that I think everybody expects. It’s not going to be the same market as before. We keep our eyes open. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities out there.”

The start of individual player workouts at team outdoor facilities required collaboration across the league. Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes led a subcommittee to create the protocol utilized by all four teams on Wednesday.

Individual training is still very different from previous team workouts. Players wear masks upon entry and complete a thermal screening before entering the facility. A field marshal sanitizes everything players touch — from cones and weights to the balls and goals — before another player uses them.

Muzzi said the situation is perfect for strength and conditioning coach Fabian Bazan, who is known for the volume of his shouted commands during Orlando City training sessions. Although players used to make jokes about Fabian’s booming voice, it’s now an asset as he leads players through their workouts from a 10-foot distance.

After nearly two months quarantined in their homes, Muzzi said this is like a return to preseason for the Lions. But he said players have been eager to make those first steps.

During the moratorium, the team used motivational speakers and online training sessions to stay mentally sharp. Players completed “homework assignments,” during which they scouted film, presenting their own tactical analysis of opponents.

“Right now, everybody’s so motivated, so pumped up just being back in the fields,” Muzzi said. “The guys want to play, they want to go back and restart this thing.”

As Orlando City prepares for a full return, Muzzi said the club must balance this eagerness with an understanding of its role in the Orlando community.

“We’re in a position to play an important role in the recovery,” Muzzi said. “I think that we need to realize that we have that responsibility. It’s not only the game itself, but it’s also being able to mend and to give things back to people. Everybody wants to go back to normal.”

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