On March 12, which was two days before the Houston Dynamo were set to host the Seattle Sounders for only the third match under Head Coach Tab Ramos, Major League Soccer announced the suspension of the 2020 season and later issued a training moratorium due to COVID-19. On May 7, after nearly two months of the moratorium being in place, Houston Sports Park was allowed to open for players to participate in voluntary individual workouts.
During quarantine, coach Ramos and his staff have been utilizing virtual meeting services such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to stay connected with players, discuss workout routines, and help nurture the team camaraderie. Without a computer screen between them, the sights, sounds, and even smells of the training grounds were welcomed by both staff and players alike.
“It was great today being out there,” Ramos said. “You could tell that staff, players, everyone was happy. It was nice to smell the grass in the morning after it was freshly cut. Those are the little things that sometimes you don't think you are going to miss, but you do miss. Then the obvious of just seeing the players, how happy they are to be on the field and be back in our environment.”
“It just felt really good seeing all my teammates and friends out there with me,” defender Adam Lundkvist stated. “Even though it was from a safe distance, it just felt good to be out there together again training towards the same goal, which is returning to play in front of all our fans again. It was just nice seeing all of their faces, seeing that everyone is feeling fine and healthy, and hopefully this is a step in the right direction, and we keep building from here.”
Even after MLS announced players could return for individual workouts though, there were still numerous other guidelines and protocols that had to be considered.
“When the league thought it could be safe for us to be out there, obviously it was not just a matter of us deciding what we were doing,” Ramos said. “We are following MLS protocols, city protocols, and state protocols, and so, we are trying to do the best we can and do as much as we can within what we've been told.”
While everyone was happy to be able to practice almost like normal again, the limitations set by the various protocols certainly changed the way practice looked for everyone involved.
“Right across from our main two fields, where we normally practice every day, we have six fields,” Ramos explained. “We wanted to get the players in a space where we could see them all, and according to MLS protocol each player can have a quarter of a field as the amount of space. So, we had four players per field and in two sessions we were able to see everyone. It was very well organized by the club, obviously, and the groundskeepers did a great job with the fields. We didn't have them lined as full fields. We had them lined as four boxes, so it was very clear for the players where to go and how to go in-and-out of the facility from two different access points.”
“It was kind of a surreal feeling pulling up to the training facility,” Lundkvist admitted. “You could see all the good work that the people in the Club have done creating all these small spaces where we are supposed to be. Walking in one by one, it kind of felt like we were in a lab or something, so it was pretty surreal. Once we got in there though, it was just a nice feeling to get some touches on the ball on a good field and being able to run freely was just a nice feeling. It was good to be back, and I hope this can be the start for getting closer to playing out there in front of all of our fans.”
The allowance of players to start participating in specialized individual workouts is a small step on the long road to returning to league matches, but for Ramos, what is more important is the chance these workout sessions provide to start getting his family back together again.
“It was excellent,” Ramos said. “That was the greatest thing today, because although the coaches were wearing the mask everywhere, once the players went into their quadrant, they could actually take the mask off and you could see their faces and it was nice to see how happy everyone was. I think we have built over the last two months, one of the things we have tried to do is become a family as a team. I think you could tell today that it was almost like brothers missing each other. That was nice to see on the field.”