(Reuters) - Major League Soccer players returned to training on Wednesday under strict rules amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the first step toward a resumption of competition for the North American league that has been shut down since mid-March.
A handful of clubs, including 2018 MLS Cup champion Atlanta United and David Beckham’s expansion Inter Miami side, held voluntary training after receiving clearance from the league in line with local public health policies.
“It’s good to see the team mates, obviously we can’t be too close to them but it’s refreshing being back and we are all hungry to get back at it but we need to take baby steps,” said Atlanta defender George Campbell in footage provided by MLS.
“Really we just need to be cautious and have safety as our number one goal. Obviously circumstances are a little different but it feels good to be back.”
The workouts began on the same day Germany said the Bundesliga could restart in the second half of May while Spain’s La Liga’s clubs are testing players this week for COVID-19 as part of a plan to resume competition without spectators in June.
All 26 MLS teams had played two of their 34 scheduled regular season games when action was suspended in mid-March and matches are currently suspended until at least June 8.
The return to training, left players hopeful MLS’s milestone 25th season would soon resume.
“Happy to be back. Hope this is something that kind of opens the door to get the whole season going and get back on the field and do the things we love,” said Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia.
“Everyone’s safety right now is the most important thing, from the whole organisation and everyone else going through this, so it’s a positive thing that everyone is doing in taking all the steps they need to do to make sure we’re safe.”
Orlando City SC midfielder Mauricio Pereyra was still wearing a black protective face mask when he spoke about how it felt to resume training after such a long layoff.
“It’s the first step but we have a long way now, this is the beginning. Now we are training alone and ... we hope soon we will come to train with a full group,” said the Uruguayan.
“Maybe the body is feeling 54 days without training but I think most important in the moment is the safety and we will have time to get in shape.”
Players and staff arrived at team facilities on Wednesday at staggered times and were even assigned designated parking spaces to maintain maximum distance between vehicles.
The players, wearing protective masks and gloves, were then signalled by a field marshal when they could exit their car to approach a station where they would have their temperature taken and disinfect their hands.
Once cleared, players headed to outdoor fields divided into four quadrants. During each training session, a maximum of one player per quadrant was allowed with no equipment sharing or playing between players.
“I would say that the guys have followed the instructions to a tee,” said Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes. “The staff has done a fantastic job in making sure everything is accounted for.
“The other thing is I think the protocol maybe at times is, not to be critical here, a little over the top but it’s the right thing to do, especially in this early period to find out how things are working.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge