WILMINGTON, Del. — It’s been an exciting few days for Philadelphia soccer fans. The Bundesliga made its return to play over the weekend, a proposal for MLS play to resume play this summer in Orlando released and on Monday players returned for individual training sessions on an outdoor field at the 76ers Fieldhouse.
“Today we had our first step forward in this process which is that returning to individual training phase is the first of several phases that are to come,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said in a video call with media Monday. “We returned to what the players recognized — the locker room banter, the joking around — yes it was a unique environment setup but everybody was really anxious and excited to be back.”
While the team may have been able to train together for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the league, the workouts came with heavy regulations.
Only essential staff was permitted and those staff members had to wear protective gear and keep distance from players at all times. Players couldn’t car pool, had to park in designated spaces, wear masks upon arrival and get health checks before taking the field at a designated time.
Major League Soccer has also put in place rules for teams to follow during training sessions, which created interesting barriers for the training staff to get around.
“There are little things, little details,” said Curtin. “For example the goalkeepers who aren’t allowed to see shots there’s a unique situation where QuikGoal provided a ball machine that fires balls in.”
Matt Freese and Joe Bendik didn’t report because of the restrictions on goalkeepers. Ray Gaddis, Jose “El Brujo” Martinez, Aurelien Collin are still out of market. Kai Wagner, who was hurt for most of preseason and missed the first two games of the season, trained fully. Philadelphia Union II players under contract trained prior to the first team.
Despite the complications, Curtin said his players deserve recognition for their ability to navigate the challenge presented to them.
“I have to give the players credit, today went rather smoothly for a very complicated logistical process,” he said.
Even with the obstacles presented by the government and the league, Curtin sees Monday’s training as an opportunity for the team to take the first steps toward getting back to being game-ready.
“While it was different and they were looking around, eventually it started to feel like a training session you know so it’ll take a little bit of time, for sure, but it was a really, really positive day in a good first step,” Curtin said.
Curtin said he thinks they need at least three weeks to be ready for a match, but ideally would need four weeks to ramp up. Full training with the team — as opposed to only four being allowed on separate quadrants of the outdoor field at a time — is key to that, Curtin said.
“This is more just physical fitness, as they’re touching the ball again, they’re passing balls, a little bit of shooting for the forwards,” he said. “[It’s] more about the physical part of things and getting that part built up than anything.”
In the 68 days since players last left the training complex outside Subaru Park in Chester, Curtin has been communicating with staff and players via Zoom and other online platforms. They’ve discussed everything from game film of the first two games to the recent ESPN documentary The Last Dance.
“I think the biggest connection from today, to be honest, is more on the human level than anything else to actually see them and see them personally face to face,” Curtin said.