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Orlando Pride players grateful to resume individual workouts

Players wore masks and underwent thermal screens before participating in the voluntary workouts in their first return to the pitch in two months.

Orlando Pride striker Sydney Leroux runs during an individual training session at the team's facility in Sanford. Photo by Mark Thor, courtesy of Orlando Pride.

Orlando Pride players returned to the team’s training facilities in Sanford for the first time in almost two months on Friday to participate in individual training sessions under a new NWSL protocol.

The league began allowing voluntary individual workouts on outdoor fields Wednesday, marking the first time players could visit team facilities since the league shut down all practices in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After going through numerous safety regulations, the players celebrated their first moments back on the pitch.

“This was much, much needed,” Pride captain Ashlyn Harris said. “We spend so much time on preparation for preseason and on our body. We need to be out here touching balls and opening up, being on good surfaces. I’m really happy the squad is out here and at least getting partially what they need.”

Following league protocol, players wore masks upon arrival at the facility and received a thermal screening before entering. Players were required to remain in an assigned quadrant of the field and they couldn’t physically interact in any way, including passing the ball.

However, players who live together — such as rookies Courtney Petersen, Konya Plummer and Taylor Kornieck — were able to train in the same quadrant because they have been together since the start of the league-wide quarantine.

Additionally, defenders Shelina Zadorsky and Ali Riley have been allowed to train together because they were in contact during the initial stages of quarantine while navigating a return from Europe for national team play.

For national team players such as Marta — who missed the first week of preseason while playing for Brazil — these training sessions marked the first chance to train at the team’s new facility at Sylvan Lake Park.

Since the shutdown, Marta has been training at public parks and fields. She said the return to a regulated environment was a welcomed comfort after the past two months.

“I missed this place so much,” Marta said. “Even if we don’t have the whole team together, it’s a start. We know it’s a very hard time now, but we always have a very good communication with the team. They show us very good support, so we feel safe here.”

Since the NWSL shutdown started during the first week of preseason, some players have not yet arrived in the United States. After finishing the W-League season, midfielders Emily van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy remained in Australia while winger Claire Emslie returned home to Scotland to quarantine with her family.

New goalkeeper Erin McLeod spent quarantine in Canada. English midfielder Jade Moore signed with the team amid the pandemic and has only met her new teammates over Zoom videoconferencing sessions.

Additionally, new defender Emily Sonnett hasn’t relocated to Orlando yet, remaining with her family in Atlanta.

Harris said the team holds Zoom meetings with and without coaches several times a week, sometimes spending hours connecting via videoconference.

As the team works to adapt, Harris said the captains and coaches are focused on mental health as well as physical fitness.

“We know the human element is the most important element during this time,” she said. “We try to stick together and reach out to people and make sure everyone’s doing OK. It’s been really tough on a lot of people. It’s hard to stay motivated at a heavy time like this, so we’re just trying to find those little ways to keep encouraging each other.”

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