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Toronto FC players working out apart but together thanks to video conferencing


TORONTO — The new normal for Toronto FC players includes working out at home — connected via video conferencing — with the MLS club setting up a meal delivery service.

The Major League Soccer club's $21-million training facility in north Toronto has essentially stood empty since the league suspended play last Thursday for 30 days due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Club employees, including team president Bill Manning, are working from home. Security and the facility's two building managers, who have supervised a top-to-bottom cleaning and disinfecting, have been the only people on site.

"The last thing we're worried about is team trainings right now," Manning said in an interview Wednesday. "It's just trying to make sure the guys are able to stay fit and stay healthy and take care of their families."

So far, so good, according to Manning. One player reported a sore throat some five days ago but it went away the next day.

"No issues there," said Manning. "We did have some TFC 2 players get tested when they came back (from a March 7 game in) Pittsburgh but they are right now all feeling fine and so aren't having any symptoms. Those test results should be back any day now but that was just a precaution."

He said the tests were done before health authorities advised only get tested if you show symptoms.

A league-wide training moratorium runs through Friday. But TFC got approval from the league for captain Michael Bradley, who is recovering from January ankle surgery, to go into the training centre Wednesday for rehabilitation work with assistant athletic therapist Shohei Miyauchi.

The area will be cleaned and disinfected when the session is over, said Manning,

Argentine winger Pablo Piatti, who is recovering from a hamstring issue that slowed his return from knee surgery in February 2019, is slated to go in Monday for some strength work.

The other players are doing their exercises from home, with strength and conditioning coach Tom Williams overseeing their efforts remotely. A video program — creating a virtual activities room — allows them to see each other as they work out.

"Were doing it with our USL team (Toronto FC 2) as well," Manning said in an interview. "It's just a way for our guys to still connect but also (to) make sure they get the exercise."

The club has also delivered exercise bikes, some weights and soccer balls to the players.

They have been told it's OK to go out for a run or kick a ball around, as long they follow guidelines on social distancing. The players are taking their temperature daily and reporting back to the team's sports science and medical staff.

But Manning says there are no plans to resume training until health officials and the league tell them it is safe to do so.

"This is new territory, right," he said. "I think everyone's trying to make sure first that our players and anyone they come in contact with are safe. And then we'll try and figure out OK, how do we start to plan training and so on.

"I think it's going to be once we know when are we in the clear to go back and play games — and then kind of work backwards from there."

Manning, who is also president of the CFL's Toronto Argos, says there is daily contact with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment's other teams — the Raptors, Leafs and Marlies — to determine best practices.

Following the lead of the Raptors, there was discussion Wednesday about having the TFC training centre's kitchen staff come in and prepare meals that can be delivered to the players after their daily workouts.

"Based on how that goes, maybe we'll amplify that to a couple of meals a day," Manning said.

The food delivery will also help reduce the need to shop for food, cutting back on public interaction.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2020.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press