Two weeks before Minnesota United plays at Allianz Field its first MLS Cup playoff game on a newly sodded field, its players scattered around the world.
Midfielder Jan Gregus already had his backpack slung over his shoulder and was headed toward the airport for duty with his Slovakia national team after Sunday's regular-season finale, a 1-0 loss at Seattle.
Finnish national team members Robin Lod and Rasmus Schuller will do the same during a nine-day FIFA international break that, before this year, fell in the middle of MLS Cup playoffs rather than before they started.
So, too, will U.S. Under-23 national team members Hassani Dotson and Mason Toye and Trinidad and Tobago's Kevin Molino.
"You just hope when they go away, they come back safe," United coach Adrian Heath said.
Starting right back Romain Metanire will stay in Minnesota and won't report to camp with his Madagascar national team, so he and teammates who returned home to Minnesota on Monday will have ample time to rest, heal their bodies and prepare for their playoffs that begin with an Oct. 20 home game against the L.A. Galaxy.
That match will be played the day after a St. Thomas-St. John's college football game is played on Allianz Field grass that, in its inaugural season, was replaced last week because of drainage issues that damaged some sections of the field.
The football game was scheduled before Major League Soccer remade its playoff schedule and ended the regular season three weeks earlier than last season.
"At that point, we never realized the type of conflict it'd be that has come about," United CEO Chris Wright said late last month when he announced the grass would be replaced.
United management consulted NFL and MLS teams on the matter. Wright said consultants assured him that a three-week break between the team's final regular-season home game on Sept. 29 and the college football game is enough time to replace the field and produce what Wright called "a really terrific surface for both games" by October's third weekend.
A season ago, the MLS Cup playoffs started three days after "Decision Day" ended the regular season. This year, there's a 13-day break and a new single-elimination "knockout" format.
MLS condensed its season in 2019, fitting its playoff schedule — including championship game — within two fall FIFA competition windows rather than interrupt those windows as in years past. Last season, Atlanta United and Portland played for the MLS Cup on Dec. 8. This season, the MLS Cup will be played Nov. 10.
"The one good thing for most clubs is it will give everybody their best chance of getting their best starting 11 on the team," Heath said.
After Heath consulted with the team's sports science experts, players who were not called to their national teams were given time off until training sessions Thursday and Friday. Heath also gave them the weekend off.
"The idea of trying to fit the playoffs in between the international breaks is smart and important," United midfielder Ethan Finlay said. "You want the full team to be available and rested, to have a great playoff."
United veteran defender Ike Opara said he'd prefer to "get these [playoff] games going" but understands the benefits of rest. The exception: The six players — five of them potential starters — called to travel and play for their national teams.
"That's the biggest complication of it all, the guys who are going away," Opara said. "How will they fare? How many minutes will they have on their legs? The miles on their legs, the travel. You just hope everyone comes back unscathed because you never want to see players, especially at this time of year, go down with injuries in crucial games."