After a brief pause in training, the Philadelphia Union returned to the pitch on Thursday to begin small group workouts for the first time on the outdoor turf field at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Del.
“Throughout this entire process, every step forward has been received by the players as very positive,” said head coach Jim Curtin in remarks provided to the media. “We made the most out of the individual workouts, but now to move on to working in small groups has been a big step forward for our guys and they’re really excited to be here.”
Union Captain Alejandro Bedoya also expressed excitement at being able to practice in small groups.
“To put it simply, just being able to pass the ball up to somebody else and get the movement going and receiving the ball from somebody else, you know, from a technical standpoint,” he said in remarks provided to the media.
For both Bedoya and Curtin, one of the most important aspects of group training is the connection with the players and staff that comes with it.
“I think overall I’m just so happy to be with the guys back out here; you know the banter is flowing and we’re getting our competitive edge going again and it feels great,” Bedoya said.
Getting the team to work together on more than just an individual basis is something Curtin knows is essential to their return to play, and he’s looking forward to the next phase in the process: full group training.
“Now to be able to pass through each other to work in small groups, you know, kind of caters to what the Philadelphia Union is about and in that cohesion and playing together,” he said. “Anytime you can connect on the human level and have the interaction and the locker room banter that’s been a real positive as well.”
According to the rules set by the league and by local health officials, players must continue to maintain a distance of at least 10 feet from all other teammates and coaches, however, teams can now set up six squares per half-field for group training, and players can pass, shoot and train together while maintaining their distance.
Additionally, training staff and coaches must always wear protective masks, keepers must sanitize gloves after each training, and players may only interact with the other players in their group on the days that they work together, though players may work in different groups each day.
Thursday’s return to training marked an eventful week in MLS that saw the players reach an agreement with the league on a new collective bargaining agreement after the league threatened players with a lockout. This cleared the way for a closed door tournament being organized for all 26 MLS teams to play in Orlando beginning in early July.