Like the rest of the United States, Columbus Crew SC’s world as the team knows it came to a screeching halt in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Just over two weeks ago, the Black & Gold played a game against the Seattle Sounders on the road. At that point, there were concerns, but it seemed life would carry on in Major League Soccer, just with precautions.
Then on Wednesday, March 11, the Sounders and the San Jose Earthquakes — both in areas of the country where the initial outbreak was deemed the worst — postponed that weekend’s home games. That night, an NBA game between the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed as well after Rudy Gobert was the first player to test positive.
From there, the sports world shut down, with leagues around the world announcing postponements, college tournaments canceled and college seasons coming to an end far too early.
“Wow,” Crew head coach Caleb Porter said on a conference call on Tuesday of the first word that comes to mind when reflecting on the last two weeks. “It feels like an eternity since we stopped playing… I think that’s (the NBA stopping games) when it really hit, I know myself and the team. And then we realized very quickly that things were gonna change.”
Change is an understatement. MLS initially announced a stoppage of play for 30 days, which has since extended until at least May 10. Players are not allowed at the training facility until April 3 at the earliest, meaning teams that were two weeks into the regular season when this all began can’t practice together.
This meant a major adjustment for Porter, his staff and his players, who were in full soccer mode after more than a three-month offseason.
Since the break began, Porter has been in constant communication with his staff and his players, looking at and executing innovative ways to continue working while not being able to talk face to face with each other or practice as normal. The head coach is on conference calls beginning in the morning until mid-afternoon, speaking to everyone from upper management, to coaches, to his eight-man leadership council. Porter makes it a point to talk to multiple players each day, if nothing more than to check in.
Porter admitted the situation has been tricky, but technology certainly makes things easier.
While there’s no doubting the difficulty this put Columbus in, Porter and the Crew are making the best of the situation. The head coach has four simple things his team needs to do every day in order to make sure that whenever the league does resume, the Black & Gold are ready to go.
The first, and it may seem obvious, is stay healthy. The Crew does not want the coronavirus spreading around the club and the players and staff must do the right things to make sure no one catches it, which to this point, no one has.
“That’s number one,” Porter said. “We need to stay safe and stay healthy. We need to do all the right things so that no one in our club, in our team, in our locker room, no coaches, no staff get this nasty, dangerous virus. And I’m very happy to say that no one today has it. That’s a real positive. But that’s number one, stay healthy.”
The second thing is staying fit. Without the daily training sessions these players are used to during the season, it’s easy to let fitness slide. The team has provided players with workouts to do on their own at home or running on a track and each player has an app on their phone to report what they’ve done. This is to make sure the team can hit the ground running when play resumes.
“We have to keep working. And we have to be ready for when the season picks up. And that means keeping the players fit,” Porter said. “Every day, the players need to work to stay fit and that we’re ready.”
Next, Porter wants to make sure no one feels isolated. While some players have wives and families at home, others live in apartments by themselves. They are used to being around each other in training each day and Porter doesn’t want his team’s sense of team and community to be lost.
“We don’t want anybody to be isolated,” he said. “We’re all isolated somewhat because of these mandates to be at home, which is the right thing to do and everyone’s doing that. But we have to stay in touch with each other and a lot of our day right now is making sure that we stay in touch. And that people are accountable, that people are working, that people are not isolated, that people know that we’re here for them.”
The fourth thing may be the most important, and that’s to stay positive. Everyone in the country is going through a difficult time right now, including the athletes, who also cannot work and play the game they love, and the coaches who are not allowed at their offices. It’s not an easy time for the Crew but Porter elected to take a positive attitude and encourages his team to do the same.
“Stay positive, as simple as it sounds,” he said. “It’s hard to when you watch the news and it’s scary. You see all the things that are happening and they hit home. When you think about everything that’s going on around the world and our country, we’re all a part of that, we feel that, but we have to stay positive. And that’s a really important thing to do during this time because we will get through this.”
At this point, there’s no telling how the coronavirus outbreak is going to play out and how that will impact MLS. The Crew could be back on the field in a number of weeks, or it could be a number of months. But the Black & Gold are doing what they can to be ready and following Porter’s advice, hoping that they are together and playing games sooner rather than later.
“We don’t know when that will be,” Porter said. “We’re hopeful it’s May 10. But we’re all staying positive. And we’re sticking together and we’ll get through this together.”