As teams enter the MLS bubble for the MLS is Back Tournament, players say they feel safe and comfortable with the steps the league has taken to prevent them from contracting the coronavirus.
Two teams have officially arrived to the grounds at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, just outside Orlando. The San Jose Earthquakes arrived on Wednesday while local side Orlando City SC moved in on Thursday into the accommodations at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. (ESPN is owned by the Walt Disney Co.)
Yet cases of coronavirus in Orange and Osceola counties, where Walt Disney World is located, have spiked dramatically in the last week, with the daily number of positive cases more than doubling since Monday. According to the Florida Department of Health, the positive test rate in Orange County hit 17.9% on Thursday, while Osceola County's mark was 23.9%.
Yet the players who have arrived say they comfortable with the league's setup.
"I feel as safe as I could possibly be, to be honest," said Orlando midfielder Chris Mueller. "The professionalism that the league has taken to make us all feel safe and to follow as strict a protocol as possible has been really outstanding. I feel almost safer here than I was at home during the time because we're here, everything's controlled."
Earthquakes defender Tommy Thompson added, "I think there's been a ton of precautions that have been taken, and we've already been tested twice. So it's good to see that there is a process in place to protect us from the virus, and I'm really optimistic about this tournament, and what's going to transpire here in Orlando."
The early days have been taking up by testing for the coronavirus, team meals and training sessions. The practice sessions have been a new development for the Quakes, who were limited to individual workouts back in San Jose due to local coronavirus restrictions. Team meals have also been a welcome development.
"I haven't eaten with the group in a long time," Thompson said. "So it felt really good to break bread."
Thompson added that away from the field, players have "pretty much stuck to their rooms." Some have occupied their time by reading books or taking online classes, while others have brought entire video game consoles with them. Thompson has been holding soccer practices on Zoom for youth teams back in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"For me that's been a fun way to pass the time just trying to give back to the soccer community," he said.
San Jose teammate Oswaldo Alanis says he's lived alone for 11 years, so the isolation isn't difficult for him, though he knows it's not the case for everyone.
"You have to find a way to make things that you can enjoy and you can pass the time," he said. "I like to read, I like to make many things, so for me it's not so hard. I know that the guys who have families, maybe it's hard for them because their kids and the wife [are back home]."
Thompson said that the players weren't given a thick binder of what the safety protocols were, but there's a general understanding of what kind of behaviors are prohibited, especially in the wake of the NWSL's Orlando Pride being forced to shut down their season due to some inconclusive tests that may have been the result of some players going to a bar.
"We haven't had a specific meeting where we went over that," said Thompson about what activities are prohibited. "But there's no doubt that it's understood within the group. We've seen what's happened with different teams in different sports, and we want to make sure that we do everything we can."