Major League Soccer is easing its training restrictions, allowing clubs to use their practice fields but only for individual workouts and under strict rules.
Team training facilities have been closed, other than for approved rehab, since the league suspended play March 12 due to the global pandemic.
In giving the green light Friday to individual workouts, the league said they would be voluntary and would have to meet local public health official or government policies.
The league is also imposing a list of requirements, including players completing a "screening assessment survey" prior to every arrival and temperature checks upon arrival at the facility.
Players will have to wear personal protective equipment from the parking lot to the training field and back. Staff will also have to wear "appropriate personal protective equipment" during training while maintaining a minimum distance of 10 feet (3.1 metres) from players at all times.
Players and staff will have to arrive and leave at staggered times, with designated parking spaces to maintain maximum distance between vehicles.
Field can be divided into a maximum of four quadrants per field. Only one player per quadrant is allowed, with no equipment sharing or playing (passing, shooting) between players.
Teams still have work to do to make it happen. They have to come up with a plan that satisfies both local authorities and the league.
"We're working on it," said Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney. "It's a good thing."
Vanney says he and his coaching staff won't be directly involved in the workouts, whose details will likely be texted to players the night before. Trainers will oversee the sessions and ensure the rules are followed.
"It kind of gives the guys a bit of a safe space to prepare for their work," said Vanney. "They're actually safer doing it there than they are anywhere else.
"There's a lot of hoops that we have to jump through to make sure that that can happen and happens safely. But I think it feels like, for everybody at least at the club, a step towards getting back onto the field. We know there's many more steps that need to be taken before we're actually playing games but this is the first one.
"And by them being able to do this, it could shorten whatever the pre-season phase might be as we do find a day, hopefully soon, that we can come back."
A league-wide moratorium on small group and full team training remains in place through May 15.
The league has extended its suspension of play to at least June 8. It initially announced a 30-day suspension of play on March 12 — two weeks into the regular season.
A week later, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, it extended its season hiatus with a target return date of May 10. That was then pushed back into June.
The league says it continues to explore scheduling options for fitting in the entire season, including pushing back the MLS Cup “into December or later.” This year’s MLS Cup had been scheduled for Nov 7.
The league is also in discussion with its players about wages, due to the financial impact the shutdown is having on the league.
MLS said the regulated individual workouts allows clubs "to provide a controlled environment that ensures adherence to safety protocols and social distancing measures for players and staff."
The individual player workout protocol does not allow access to all club facilities, with locker-rooms and certain other areas still off-limits. Team gyms and training rooms may still only be accessed by players receiving post-operative and rehabilitation treatment, as directed by the club's chief medical officer.
Teams must submit to the league their plans to facilitate individual workouts. That must include restricting access to essential staff, as well as sanitization and disinfection plans (including balls, cones, goals).
All plans must be reviewed and approved by the club's medical staff and local infectious disease expert before submitting to the league.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press