It remains to be seen when or even if professional sports will return in 2020. But MLS took a tiny step toward that end on Friday, when it announced plans to became the first North American sports league to reopen its training facilities to players for individual workouts beginning next week.
Like the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, MLS has been on hiatus since March 12 because of the global coronavirus pandemic. Unlike those competitions, the top soccer circuit in the U.S. and Canada has required the overwhelming majority of its athletes to remain in or close to the cities their teams play in, with the hope that players could begin practicing again soon.
Now, after extending its training moratorium multiple times over the last six weeks, MLS and its players union have reached an agreement that would let players back into team facilities — while continuing to observe strict social distancing guidelines — from May 6 on an individual, voluntary basis.
“MLS clubs will be able to provide a controlled environment that ensures adherence to safety protocols and social distancing measures for players and staff,” the league said in a statement. The MLS Players Association didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The restrictions are far more pronounced than the players on teams in the Bundesliga have experienced to date. Clubs in Germany’s top two divisions have hosted small group workouts since the beginning of April in preparation for a potential return to matches without fans later this month.
Locker rooms, gyms, and even restrooms will remain off limits to MLSers, who would be required to dress and shower in their own homes. Masks and disposable gloves would be required before entering and after leaving team property. Players would park in designated spots and their temperatures would be taken upon arrival; anyone running a fever or showing any other symptoms of Covid-19, the infection caused by the coronavirus, would immediately be sent home.
Full-size fields will be divided into quadrants, with a maximum of one player on each. Teammates would not be allowed to share balls or other gear, meaning even simple passing drills would be strictly off-limits. A limited number of essential staff would be present to monitor the sessions. They would wear masks and gloves throughout the hour-long workouts and maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet from the players and each other at all times. They would also disinfect equipment before, between, and after each session.
Testing, however, is not included in the protocol. A source with knowledge of the league’s thinking told Yahoo Sports that on the advice of medial experts, MLS officials agreed that front-line health workers and patients experiencing symptoms ought to be prioritized, and that the league didn’t want to take tests away from those vulnerable populations.