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Crew’s return to individual training provides boost in the coronavirus pandemic

The Black & Gold are taking the first steps to normalcy.

Columbus Crew SC players were back at training on Wednesday… to a degree. Major League Soccer allowed players to return to team facilities to work out on an individual and voluntary basis while following local health and safety protocols beginning last week. The Crew didn’t receive approval from the Columbus health authorities until Tuesday night, so all but one player was able to return to the team’s training facility in Obetz on Wednesday.

Fortunately for the Black & Gold, a return to Obetz didn’t make too much of a difference in terms of what players have done over the last two months since the league shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak in mid-March. Being in Columbus, most, if not all, of the players have been able to continue to work out at a high level.

“It’s not a huge change for our club,” head coach Caleb Porter said on a teleconference Wednesday following the team’s first individual session. “I think with some clubs, it’s a big change because they haven’t been doing much. And every market has their challenges. Some bigger cities, in particular, it’s hard to find a field and to do much. A lot of players have been running on the roads, that’s it in some markets in bigger cities.

“In our market, our guys have been doing a lot. They’ve been on a grass field every day, running and doing technical work on their own and then doing strength sessions. So it’s not a huge change in terms of the workload.”

Throughout the pandemic, the Crew coaching staff has done a good job of communicating with players and making sure they are staying mentally and physically healthy. The performance and medical staff have provided players with workouts and the necessary equipment to keep up with their training as much as possible. Players have been able to run, lift weights and work with a ball in parks in order to keep themselves prepared for whenever it is safe to return to practice.

At individual training on Wednesday, players went through similar exercises as they did from home.

“There are a lot of rules. We’re following them, obviously,” Porter said of what the team is permitted by MLS. “We can’t have any players passing the ball amongst each other. As a staff, we can’t pass with them. But what we’ve been doing and we did today, we set up basically a technical circuit for them to run through where they get a lot of technical work, dribbling, passing, a little bit of ball-striking, which is important for their leg health as we introduce them, hopefully, eventually to small group and team training. And they’re getting a lot of hidden fitness.”

While returning to individual training hasn’t changed much in terms of on-field workouts, getting back to the practice facility is a boost to the psyche of players, allowing a little bit of normalcy in a time when there isn’t much of that for professional athletes.

“It’s not a huge change in terms of the workload but I think mentally it’s a lift,” Porter admitted. “Mentally it’s a lift to put the gear on and to come into Obetz. Because the guys are used to that pitch, they’re used to the surroundings. And for us to just kind of be there, standing there and set up a workout for them, I know the players really today loved being here and love doing a pretty hard, technical/fitness session.”

When the Crew started the 2020 season, the players and coaches did not see this stoppage in play coming, no one did. After going through preseason, the Black & Gold were set for the eight-month grind that is the MLS season. Instead, the team got through two matches before the games and training came to a stop.

Getting back to practice, even on an individual basis, may not make a huge difference in terms of what players are doing but it is, hopefully, a step in the right direction towards returning to play.

“We’re ready, whatever the league says. Whatever our ownership and our president says. Whatever the government says, we’re going to follow,” Porter said. “And we’re going to be ready. And if they tell us tomorrow we can do groups of three or four, great. We’re going to do it. We’re going to come up with some training and progress. We’ll be happy. If they tell us we’re doing individuals for another three weeks, we’ll do it. If they tell us we can do team training, we’ll roll with it. We’re ready. We’ve got a good team, we’ve got a good group of guys. So I’m looking forward to whatever’s ahead.”