Major League Soccer is doing everything it can to contain two major coronavirus outbreaks among teams in its tournament bubble. But as a second team reaches the verge of having to leave, there are real fears among players about what’s going on.
The league has already forced FC Dallas out of the event after the team had 10 positive cases. Nashville SC might be next, which would impact the Union directly because Nashville is their second opponent.
The Union are scheduled to play Nashville on July 14, after opening the tournament against New York City FC on Thursday at 9 a.m.
After Univision reported Monday night that Nashville has at least eight positive cases within its traveling party, MLS said Tuesday that there were five confirmed positive cases and four unconfirmed.
The league postponed Nashville’s opener against the Chicago Fire, which had been scheduled for Thursday at 10:30 p.m., and said it “will continue to evaluate Nashville SC’s participation in the MLS is Back Tournament following the results of additional testing.”
Don’t be surprised if Nashville gets sent home soon. If that happens, Chicago could get moved to Dallas’ slot in Group B. That would give every group four teams.
Both Nashville and Dallas have been quarantined in isolated areas of Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort, where all 26 teams are staying during the tournament. As such, none of the other teams have been directly affected. All of the known virus cases so far have been carried into the bubble from outside, and so far there has been no transmission across teams on site.
Union captain Alejandro Bedoya was never thrilled with the bubble idea. He told ESPN in mid-May that he viewed it as “a luxurious prison,” and said Tuesday that he “was scared coming here, as we all saw Florida blowing up — because Florida is going to [be] Florida, and the cases around here [are] just increasing at a crazy rate.”
(He has some experience with potshots at the state, having grown up west of Fort Lauderdale.)
Bedoya said some players “are obviously anxious,” and he wasn’t the only one to say so. New York midfielder Keaton Parks said there’s “definitely a lot of worry” about the virus within his team.
“Clearly it’s here, it’s in the bubble,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can to keep ourselves safe and keep others safe, and we just keep hoping that we stay away from it.”
The Union have stayed safe so far. Manager Jim Curtin said the team has gone through five rounds of tests in Orlando and they’ve all come back negative. The team has had no positive tests since Kacper Przybylko in late March.
“I’m not saying that everything’s just going smooth down here and we’re just going to push on through,” Curtin said, “but we have to trust the leadership of the tournament that they’ll make the right decisions and they’ll adjust when it’s necessary to make adjustments.”
Curtin said his team didn’t see anyone from other teams “for about the first two days” in Orlando.
“As our side of the hotel now has started to fill up, you know, you walk by and you hear conversations — there’s concerns for sure from the players,” he said. “All we can do is trust that everybody is practicing the right social distancing, following the protocols that the League has in place.”
Bedoya hopes to keep it that way.
“We can play this blame game all the time, but something that I’ve said as a captain is we need to hold each other accountable down here,” he said.
The psychological side of things is plenty important too, as Montreal Impact manager Thierry Henry stressed.
“People forget about mental health — it’s very important that [players] are mentally OK to play a game and feel safe to come and play,” said Henry, a former star player for Arsenal, Barcelona and France.
Bedoya said he’s tried his best to keep the team upbeat amid all the volatility.
“You try to stay as positive and optimistic as possible, and that’s what we’ve been doing when on the training field, practicing in the heat and all the elements,” he said. “We’re down here already, so let’s try to look forward and for some of the positive things instead of always doom and gloom and negativity.”
In addition to postponing Nashville’s opener, MLS rescheduled two other games. Toronto FC vs. D.C. United, originally scheduled for July 10 at 8 p.m., will now be played on July 12 at 9 a.m. Toronto delayed its departure to Orlando until Monday because it wanted to wait as long as possible to leave safer surroundings in Canada.