Two months ago, Major League Soccer announced that the season would be postponed for at least 30 days due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, the world has drastically changed and soccer in America remains on hold. The first steps towards resuming the season have been implemented, however, as the league is now allowing teams to work through individual training. Columbus Crew SC was approved to begin training Tuesday evening, and began workouts on Wednesday at the team’s facility in Obetz, Ohio.
Regardless of the slight move towards normalcy, head coach Caleb Porter says this won’t be much of a change for his squad. Because the governor has left parks and fields open, the team has been working on their technical skills and working out consistently. However, they are able to have more technical training with the new setup.
“The players are excited,” Porter told reporters on a conference call last week. “Even though it’s not going to be a huge change with what we’re doing because it’s still voluntary, obviously it’s still individual, it’s not coached. It’s not going to be a huge change, but I’ll tell you what is different is the feel of being on your pitch.”
Porter believes his team is in better shape than a normal offseason, thanks to the players’ hard work and the jobs of the performance staff, who he calls “heroes.”
Communicating with the team has been a delicate balance. Porter has meetings with the entire group on Fridays and calls every player about once a week. A lot of his insight, however, on how the team is handling this unfortunate situation comes from consistent conversations with the eight-player leadership council, which he named privately heading into the year.
“That’s been massively important because they’re the pulse of the team,” said Porter. “I’ve assigned each player on the leadership council a group of three players, so basically there’s a tree where we can branch out into the entire team.”
Though the change is definitely a positive one, Porter is hesitant to call it a relief. He doesn’t’ believe that feeling will come for him and his group until they are able to do more soccer activities.
“I think the big change will be in the small group training, when we can get to threes and fours and actually have players pass the ball amongst each other,” he said.
With no clear end date, Porter explained the struggle in finding the sweet spot between putting the players through too much and not enough. That’s not to say that the move back to Obetz hasn’t changed the feeling of the team.
“Mentally it’s a lift. To put the gear on and to come into Obetz,” said Porter. “The players today [Wednesday] loved being here and loved doing a pretty hard technical/fitness session.”
This mentality is important to the club, which Porter defines as a person-first club.
“It’s really important that you care for the person, not just the player and the performance but also the complete person. And I would say that over the last two months, never has that been put to the test more,” he said.
Porter believes that the Crew has stepped up to the plate and done the best that the team possibly can to make sure each player is cared for above all else. The priority has been that each player remains safe, well, healthy and does not feel isolated amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s one of our real core values, is making sure that we’re like a family,” Porter said. “I know its cliché, but we are, and we take care of our players and we treat them with respect.”
As speculations regarding what the season will look like from here on out begin to circulate, Porter’s focus continues to be on the wellness of his players.
“I think the team that has the best attitude and chemistry and spirit when we pick back up will be the team that wins the most games,” he said.
The Crew wants to make sure they are that team.