The return to the training pitch for the Philadelphia Union this week also officially marked the return of left back Kai Wagner from an injury that kept him out of a chunk of preseason and the only two games the team has played this season.
‘’It was very hard two months for me like from the start of the season because we had done a very long offseason, I think the longest I’ve ever had,” the 23-year-old said in a video conference call with media on Thursday. “The injury was harder than everybody thought. We had no idea for the first few weeks what the injury was and how bad the injury was.’’
Wagner missed all of the Union’s preseason games and the matches against FC Dallas and LAFC. Then the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the season and for him to rehab at home.
‘’It was just a little bit hard because I couldn’t get anything like a massage or something like this, but they made it easier for me because they gave me some stuff to do at home and every day, some exercises, how can I build it stronger,” he said. “And I think it was a good step for me that I could do also a lot of things at home.’’
Being home did come with the additional benefit of extra time with his newborn son.
‘’It’s a great time just to spend every second with my baby,” he said. “See how fast he’s growing how fast he gets all the movements and stuff like this. I mean, this time couldn’t be better for me, with my baby and for my injury.’’
While this week’s individual training sessions in Delaware have been an important step, there is still a ways to go for the team to be match fit. Union head coach Jim Curtin said earlier this week that he thinks the team needs at least three weeks and ideally at least four weeks training together as a group to be ready to resume play.
The proposal currently on the table is for players to go to Orlando for a couple months to quarantine together and play, which for Wagner would mean leaving his wife and newborn.
“It’s hard for every player, not just for me because I have a newborn baby but for other players too to be away from their families,” Wagner said. “The biggest thing is just to stay safe, don’t think too much about it and just enjoy right now the time with my family, and then we will see what’s going on with the rest of the year and the next few months.”
Support from teammates has been key over what has turned into the longest break of his career, Wagner said. He’s been able to get together with Brazilian forward Sergio Santos, who lives in the same apartment complex, for walks and dinner.
‘’It’s good to support each other during this process because Sergio’s family and my family are very close,” Wagner said. ‘’It’s been good just to see each other.”
Wagner said training this week was weird at first but that he’s gotten used to it and enjoyed seeing his other teammates after so long. Protocols have included getting temperature checks, hand washing, parking in designated spots and wearing masks when not on the training field, which is divided into four quadrants for four players to train at a time.
‘’We missed all of our teammates so much because we normally are together all the time,” he said. “We are not just teammates, we are also like a small family.”