Dax McCarty photo from file. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country.
Today saw the return of Nashville SC at its Currey Ingram Academy training facility. It wasn’t, however, the type of activity fans have been pining for since the coronavirus pandemic shut down nearly all sporting activities around the world. Instead, individual players are able to work solo on fitness and remaining technically sharp. There is no opportunity at this point to work together.
“When the guys turn up at Currey Ingram, they’ll have designated parking spots, with an empty space on either side” explained Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs. “The field we’re working on will be cut into quarters, so each player will have one fourth of a field to work on… when they arrive, they’ll have their temperatures taken, they’ll remove their gloves and throw them out.”
…it’s all a long way from pre-pandemic training sessions.
Jacobs and team captain, midfielder Dax McCarty, stress that we’re still a long way from seeing American soccer back on our television sets or fields of competition. Rather, this is just one baby step toward that goal, with many incremental pieces between now and MLS play.
“The reality is this is not a ‘return to play,'” Jacobs explained. “This is a ‘return to training’ protocol.”
“This is the first baby step toward hopefully getting back to a normal routine,” McCarty added. “It’s not even a return to team training.”
McCarty is one of the team’s veteran members, and he’s been happy to have the opportunity to spend more time with his wife, Jen, and one-year old son, Callum, during the suspension of training activities. However, his competitive itch remains unscratched, and the typical routine that he’s become accustomed to each Spring during his 15-year professional career has been interrupted in fundamental ways.
He’s confident that he’ll be back to match fitness with some conditioning, but there will be a runway longer than just a few weeks before his full abilities return to playing form. Staying sharp without being able to practice with teammates is near-impossible, and having a mini-preseason will be necessary before resuming play.
“I’ve been really trying to continue my aerobic workouts to be able to cover a lot of distance at a fairly high speed,” he said. “These are all the little nuances that go into it. I’m 33 going on 25. On the technical side, I’m not saying I’d be too good, but I’d definitely be able to run.”
There’s a chance that the next steps in the return to play will reveal themselves soon. Pending a reduced rate of viral transmission even as social distancing guidelines are eased around the country (to say nothing of each MLS market’s municipal guidelines having to arrive at a similar point), a roadmap toward resumption of the 2020 MLS season should reveal itself.
“There’s going to be another phase in between what we’re doing now and full-team training,” Jacobs explained. “Depending on how things go here, that’ll give us some indication toward the end of the month.”
Metro Nashville and Davidson County will begin testing its relaxation of social distancing guidelines beginning Monday (though it’s worth noting that Currey Ingram Academy is located in neighboring Williams County). Certain types of businesses – including restaurants – will begin to re-open. It’s unlikely that Nashville SC’s players will be patronizing them any time soon, as the athletes attempt to remain separated from any situation that increases the likelihood that they are infected with the virus. The move still represents another shift towards attempting to return to normalcy (an attempt that will surely bring with it some growing pains).
Major League Soccer returning is still a long way off in the distance, but with teams hitting the training pitch – albeit in an extremely abridged format – at long last, it’s visible in the distance, rather than a goal that seems unattainable.