Coronavirus: How MLS players, stuck in their teams' cities, are handling the league's hiatus

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Doug McIntyre
·5 min read
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Walker Zimmerman arrived in Nashville less than a month before MLS postponed its season because of the Coronavirus pandemic. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today)
Walker Zimmerman arrived in Nashville less than a month before MLS postponed its season because of the Coronavirus pandemic. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today)

Robbed of daily routines, the ability to work or play or congregate in groups or see loved ones, people’s daily lives have been dramatically changed by the coronavirus pandemic. From public figures to ordinary citizens, everyone is in the same boat, for the most part. We’re all basically stuck at home.

But while players in the NBA, NHL and MLB were allowed to return to their far-flung offseason bases in the days after those leagues temporarily shuttered, MLS has continued to ask its athletes to remain in their teams’ cities until the season can resume. Although the league did allow some wiggle room earlier this week when they announced that “individual requests by players to relocate to another market by car, taking into account the totality of a player’s situation,” would be considered following conversations with the MLS Players Association.

“I haven't really wanted to leave,” Nashville SC and U.S. men’s national team defender Walker Zimmerman told Yahoo Sports.

You sure couldn’t blame him if he did.

Zimmerman was traded to expansion club Nashville from LAFC just weeks before the world changed. He was still living in a hotel when MLS suddenly went dark on March 12. His hometown of Lawrenceville, Georgia, is just a four-hour drive away.

But Zimmerman and his wife had just closed on a house, and in any case the option wasn’t available at the time, anyway. The couple moved into their new place on March 16. The last of their furniture arrived from Los Angeles two days later. “Honestly, it’s probably one of the best times to have to stay at home because there's so much to do,” he said.

It’s hard enough to settle into a new job in a new city during the best of times. The current situation makes it all but impossible. Fortunately for Zimmerman, who scored the first goal in club history on March 1, he was able to start forming bonds with his new teammates during the last part of the preseason.

“Now we can support each other in a real way as friends,” Zimmerman says. The bonding is mostly done through the team’s WhatsApp group text, “during this time where we have to be apart.”

North of the border, another MLS veteran has just been trying to keep his sanity while caring for three young children at home.

“I've been more tired at the end of the day than when I'm doing my normal stuff and going to training and back,” said Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush, whose kids range in age from 14 months to six years.

There is a plus side to it, though. “Having the family, I don't find myself in those bouts with loneliness and being isolated, like some of the guys that are living alone could potentially find themselves,” Bush said.

Training has been a challenge for Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush during the league's shutdown. (Stephane Dube /Getty)
Training has been a challenge for Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush during the league's shutdown. (Stephane Dube /Getty)

Bush has called Quebec home since before Montreal graduated to MLS from the second division in 2012. He lives there year-round. But he still briefly thought about returning to his native Cleveland during the stoppage.

“We decided it wouldn't make sense for a multitude of reasons,” said Bush, whose sister, sister-in-law and wife’s mother are all heath care professionals who work at hospitals in Ohio. “It would’ve just been exposing ourselves and potentially exposing them to the virus.”

Several of his teammates did want to leave town, though. And as the Impact’s MLSPA rep, Bush was the one fielding the requests, including one from former Barcelona midfielder Bojan Krkic.

“When this first started Bojan was asking if he was able to go back to Catalonia,” he said. “Now I don't even think he would want to go back there if he could.”

Staying in soccer shape has presented another challenge. Team facilities are closed to players except those rehabilitating injuries. Nashville SC began delivering stationary bicycles to players’ homes this week. The club has sent them training programs that mimic the usual schedule.

“Last Saturday was my mock-game day, so I did really hard jog and ran sprints at a local park,” Zimmerman said. “I had Sunday off, then a regeneration session on Monday. They keep it pretty similar.”

In the absence of shots, Bush has resorted to watching goalkeeper training videos and highlights during his own solitary workouts. “Anything to keep it in my head so you don't just completely forget overnight what goalkeeping is,” he joked.

Despite the inconveniences, both players are keeping the bigger picture in mind.

“I understand the mental health aspect of wanting to be around the people you love,” Bush said. ‘But the fact is that being away from family at this time is probably the best thing you can do for their health and safety.”

“It really is important for people to just kind of stay put as much as they can,” Zimmerman said. “We all have to play our part here and be responsible.”

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