It was strange enough for the Union to play their first game in MLS’ summer tournament at 9 o’clock in the morning last Thursday. Their next game might even be stranger: a 10:30 p.m. kickoff Tuesday night against expansion team Inter Miami.
Professional athletes are used to waking up early in the morning, though maybe not quite as early as the Union had to last week. They also aren’t used to working so late, even if it’s to avoid Florida’s worst summer heat.
And by the way, don’t assume the game will start on schedule. On Saturday evening, a thunderstorm delayed MLS’ nighttime kickoffs to 8:45 and 11:20.
Put it all together and you have a test that might be more psychological than it is physical.
"We can talk about formations, we can talk about tactics, we can talk about a million different things, but the mental side of the game is really being tested down here," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "For me, that has been the biggest challenge, and I think probably every coach's biggest challenge: to keep everybody positive moving forward."
The Union scheduled 9:30 p.m. training sessions on Sunday and Monday to adjust their body clocks for the game. Curtin said the fitness staff also scheduled an extra meal for players on Tuesday to carry their energy through the late hours.
"For me, and I think it's the same thing for most of the guys, we just have to tell ourselves that this is what it is," goalkeeper Andre Blake said. "We should be fine."
The transition would probably be easier if the Union had played an 8 p.m. game after the 9 a.m. one, and that was the original plan. The Union were to play Nashville on Tuesday at 8, then Inter Miami on Sunday at 10:30 p.m. In that scenario, they’d have had more time to prepare.
But Nashville’s virus-forced withdrawal from the tournament upended the schedule at the last minute. Now the Union are playing Miami in this game and Orlando next Monday at 8.
“The one thing I think everybody has learned over the last three-and-a-half months is you have to be able to adjust, you have to be able to adapt to things, and try to make the best out of every situation you can,” Curtin said.
Miami, led by Mexican playmaker Rodolfo Pizarro, lost its opener to Orlando last Wednesday. A Union win would give them six points in the group stage, all but guaranteeing a berth in the knockout rounds. And since group-stage results will count in the regular season if it resumes, those points will pay extra dividends.
Curtin isn’t shy about wanting to go on a deep tournament run.
“A positive mindset and a good mental approach [are] as important as anything,” he said. “There’s going to be probably a few teams that maybe lose a game or two and their mindset’s going to be to get out of here. ... We can’t let that ever creep into our group, and that’s one thing we can control.”
The Union got some good news over the weekend when forward Sergio Santos was cleared to play after missing the opener due to an injury. Curtin said fellow forwards Andrew Wooten and Michee Ngalina are a bit behind Santos, but might make it too.
Best of all, the Union's latest round of COVID-19 tests all came back negative. The tests were performed Sunday afternoon and the results were delivered early Monday morning.
Tuesday’s contest will be televised by TUDN, Univision’s Spanish-language cable sports channel. It will not be available on any English-language channel, but the network and MLS offer two ways to hear English-language commentary. You can use the SAP function on your remote control, or watch online for free at twitter.com/MLS.
The Twitter broadcast is available nationwide, whether or not you have TUDN on your cable, satellite or streaming package.
The Union haven’t had a game televised exclusively by Univision channels in more than two years.