Just one day after Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Association came to terms and ratified a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and agreed on a return-to-play format for a mid-summer World-Cup style tournament in Orlando, Florida, the league announced that it had lifted the moratorium on team training. This training moratorium had been in place since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Following the initial moratorium and postponement of games in mid-March due to the virus, MLS allowed players to use team outdoor facilities for voluntary individual workouts beginning in early May. Last week, teams were permitted to begin voluntary small group training sessions. Both of those workouts had to be done under certain health and safety parameters dictated by the individual markets.
The announcement of full team training will be a breath of fresh air for teams as they prepare for the Orlando tournament, which Massive Report was told will start in July. This return to full team training will come with its own set of parameters as well.
All MLS clubs that want to begin full team training must now submit individual plans on how they will do so. These plans must be read and approved by the individual club’s medical staff and local infectious disease expert prior to submission to MLS for review. Full team training will be mandatory for all players as MLS takes the next step toward returning to games.
According to the announcement, the clubs that wish to return to full team training must remain in compliance with the local health and government policies and adhere to the health and safety protocols that were created in consultation with medical and infectious disease experts. These include:
- Players must complete a physical examination, and all players and staff must complete two Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests 24 hours apart, 72 hours prior to the start of training and undergo one baseline antibody (serology) test.
- Players will be cleared to train by their medical staff only after they have successfully completed their interim physical, completed two negative PCR tests and the serology test.
- Players, coaches and select staff must complete PCR tests every other day and only those with negative results will be allowed to attend training.
- Serology testing will be performed once every three months.
- Individual club test providers must be authorized by the FDA and Health Canada. Turnaround time for tests must be no more than 24 hours.
- If a player or staff member tests positive, the individual will be isolated. The isolated individual will be tested again at least 24 hours later to ensure the result was not a false positive. All close contacts will be tested immediately. Contact tracing will be performed at the direction of the club’s COVID-19 task force and local authorities.
- A player or staff member that tests positive for COVID-19 may return to training only when cleared by the club’s Chief Medical Officer in consultation with the league medical team.
- Any player or staff considered to be in a high-risk category for severe illness related to COVID-19 will not be permitted to participate in team training unless cleared by the club’s Chief Medical Officer.
MLS also has facility and equipment use rules for a return to full training. These include:
- Clubs will have the full use of their training facilities.
- Entry points should remain open to avoid repeated contact with doorknobs or door exit bars.
- The training room, gyms and fitness areas will be restricted to no more than five individuals at any time while maintaining physical distancing standards.
- Clubs should use multiple dressing rooms and assign players to the same dressing room for each training session. Individual lockers should be spaced at least 10 feet apart.
- The training room, gyms and fitness areas, as well as dressing rooms and showers must be cleaned, sanitized and disinfected following every session in accordance with MLS protocols.
- All equipment and laundry must be cleaned and disinfected after each use and in accordance with MLS and EPA protocols.
- Clubs must provide individual hydration bottles to players at all times. Communal water or hydration devices are strictly prohibited.
- Only individual, prepackaged meals and individually wrapped utensils may be provided to players and staff. Players and staff must maintain 10 feet of physical distancing while eating.
The league’s player and safety process include:
- Individual club plans must include an Emergency Action Plan for all COVID-19 related issues.
- Training access is restricted to essential staff only, with specific staff listed in the individual club plan.
- Completion of a Standard Screening questionnaire by each player prior to every arrival at the training site, and temperature checks upon arrival at the facility.
- Staggered player and staff arrivals and departures, with designated parking spaces to maintain maximum distance between vehicles.
- Player use of personal protective equipment from the parking lot to his designated position on the field or gym. Players should keep their facemask on when in the training room.
- Staff use of the appropriate personal protective equipment at all times, including throughout training.
- Hand washing and disinfectant stations for required use before and after sessions.
Columbus Crew SC players took part in both individual and small group training and will submit plans to begin full team training as soon as possible, Massive Report was told.