Major League Soccer is officially back, with five teams already in Orlando and sequestered in the league bubble at Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin resorts and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
The rest of the teams will arrive this week in advance of the MLS is Back Tournament, which is scheduled to kick off July 8 with Inter Miami vs. Orlando City (8 p.m., ESPN).
After a three-month stoppage, the league resumes under a COVID-19 cloud, intensified by the recent surge in cases in Florida. As of Sunday night, 329 players and staff were tested on site, and two were positive, both of whom were players who had just arrived.
Anyone who tests positive while at Disney is seen by a doctor and moved to the isolation area of the hotel until he or she receives medical clearance.
Prior to teams traveling, 18 of 668 MLS players and six club staff had tested positive for COVID-19 since full training began the first week of June. Any person with a positive test was not allowed to travel to Florida until receiving back-to-back negative results.
Players have been tested every other day since training began.
Prior to traveling to Disney, all players, coaches, referees, club personnel and league staff are required to complete an additional two tests 24 hours apart and within approximately 72 hours of travel. Upon arrival, all individuals are required to immediately take another test and are quarantined until they receive the results of that test.
The San Jose Earthquakes were the first team to arrive on June 24. Orlando City moved in the next day. Dallas arrived on Saturday wearing black-and-white T-shirts with the words: “History must not repeat itself” and the Black Lives Matter hashtag. The Columbus Crew and Minnesota United landed on Sunday.
Inter Miami will travel by bus from its Fort Lauderdale training facility on Wednesday.
Asked if he feels safe thus far, San Jose defender Tommy Thompson said: “That’s an important question. I do feel safe. There have been a bunch of precautions taken. I have already been tested a few times. There is a process in place to protect us from the virus. I’m really optimistic about this tournament…You can feel the buzz in the air.”
Thompson said it felt good to return to some sort of normalcy with his teammates.
“So far, most guys have been sticking to their rooms, playing video games, FIFA and 2K. We’ve had the opportunity share meals together, which was nice because I haven’t eaten in a group in a long time,” he said. “It felt great to be back on the field. When we all got on that bus together and started to train with contact, it felt really good.”
Dallas midfielder Tanner Tessmann also said he felt safe so far.
“Everyone is wearing masks, some guys are wearing gloves, and I feel safe 100 percent,” Tessmann said. “They separated us on the buses and on the plane. We are staying one to a room in the hotel. So, I feel really safe. They have good procedures in place, so everything should go smoothly.”
Thompson said it is “understood” among the players that they must remain responsible and not venture outside the bubble.
“We’ve seen what has happened with different teams in other sports and we want to do everything we can to keep everyone safe and prevent the spread of COVID,” he said. “That is what we are focusing on.”
MLS is working in conjunction with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County and Osceola County to identify any close contacts. Close contacts will also receive follow-up testing and may be restricted from participating in group meals and recreational activities until cleared.
The league is donating test kits to the community to assure it does not deplete the local inventory during the tournament.
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