Back in Blaine and back to work, Minnesota United players participated in voluntary individual workouts in spring sunshine outdoors, on grass at their team facility on a Tuesday that veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay called “a beautiful day in Minnesota.”
Players arrived alone in their cars and wore face masks both coming and going from work conducted on two fields each separated into quadrants. They all had a thermometer pressed to their foreheads that checked for a fever before each player worked for nearly an hour on conditioning and individual skills.
A spokesperson said a majority of the team’s roster worked out Tuesday in sessions closed to media members and the public.
It was their first training there in two months. Players were mostly isolated at home since MLS suspended its season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision stopped the Loons’ season after consecutive West Coast victories and two days before the home opener at Allianz Field.
The Tuesday session came after MLS gave teams permission to begin using team facilities for individual workouts starting as soon as last Wednesday, provided their plans complied with local health and safety protocols.
“It was definitely weird seeing some faces – beards grown out, my hair grown in a little – because it has been a while,” said midfielder Jacori Hayes, acquired from Dallas in January. “It was my first time on the grass here. Last time we practiced, it was below freezing, there was snow on the ground and the lakes were frozen.”
Tuesday’s work also was the first small step back on the long road toward small-group workouts next in the next couple weeks and eventually full team training and then the resumption of games.
“A little major event happened today,” Hayes said by phone afterward. “It was definitely the best day so far in this whole stay-at-home order.”
MLS has suspended games until at least June 8, a mighty ambitious target. League and team officials have discussed all sorts of plans to reclaim the season, including one that the Washington Post reported would quarantine players, coaches, staff and others in Orlando for training and games at a Disney complex.
On Tuesday, players on their own juggled soccer balls, dribbled through cones, rebounded balls they kicked off a wall and shot at undersized goals while observed but not conducted by head coach Adrian Heath, his assistant coaches and strength and medical staff.
“There’s only so much you can do on a treadmill,” Heath said. “It was good to see them get out with a ball, twisting and turning and changing the pace. … It has been a good first day. The lads are looking in really good shape and tomorrow we’ll increase in demand.”
Hayes said he didn’t hesitate to work out Tuesday and said he hasn’t been ill and hasn’t been tested for coronavirus. “I knew they took every precaution,” he said. “I felt safe out there. It’s more hazardous for me to go to the grocery store.”
Sports-medicine director and head athletic trainer Stacey Hardin said Tuesday’s protocols were chosen after management consulted MLS officials and its medical experts as well as the Loons’ medical staff and state health officials.
“Like the rest of the country, we’re slowly opening back up in a way that is safe,” she said in a team-conducted interview.