Major League Soccer is allowing players to return to outdoor team training fields for individual workouts starting Wednesday.
MLS suspended the season because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, closing all team facilities but asking players to remain in market with their teams. The league-wide moratorium on group and team training remains in effect through May 15.
MLS says the individual workouts must follow certain health and safety protocols as well as local public health and government policies. The workouts are voluntary.
Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes advocated for the new policy out of concern for player safety. Players who work out in public spaces run the risk of being recognized and possibly having contact with others.
"What we have suggested all along is that by providing private field access, which we have available to us because we all have our own facilities, you could just do individual workouts. That's not where a coach is out there training the player, or coaches training a team," Vermes said. "It's just providing private field space that still keeps the players socially distanced, and the ability to do it in a safe manner."
MLS teams must submit a specific plan for training protocols before players are allowed to start workouts. They will include restricting facilities to essential staff, sanitizing and disinfection of all equipment after each session, screening measures including temperature checks, and staggered player and staff arrivals and departures, as well as designated parking that ensures proper distancing.
Players are still not allowed access to indoor facilities, such as locker rooms.
Players must wear personal protective equipment upon arriving and departing from the fields, while staff will be required to use such equipment – masks and gloves – at all times. Staff must also maintain a distance of 10 feet from players at all times.
Practice fields can be divided into four quadrants, allowing multiple players to train, but only under guidelines that restrict contact and ensure social distancing.
"This is individual workouts with private field access only," Vermes said. "If you think of it that way, you're thinking of it based on putting the player safety first. And again, this is a much safer environment than the alternatives they have."
The next phase would be small group workouts, but there is no timetable for that because of the fluid situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and the policies in different communities.
But the move is a first step toward a return for MLS. NASCAR is bringing back live racing at Darlington Raceway on May 17 without fans in attendance. UFC will host the first of three shows without fans in Jacksonville, Florida, starting on May 9.
Individual MLS team plans for solo training must be approved by medical staffs and a local infectious disease expert, and must be submitted to MLS and communicated to players.
Teams must also have emergency plans in place for any coronavirus-related issues that might come up, including players who become ill.