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MLS says players can start individual training next week; RSL GM Elliott Falls calls it ‘first stage of returning to play’

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Jefferson Savarino (7) celebrates the teams second goal to jump ahead 2-1 as Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers play in their first MLS playoff game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.

The Real Salt Lake training facility in Herriman has four fields on a sprawling patch of land that includes a high school, a gym, offices and a video lounge. But for almost two months, it’s been empty.

That will change next week after Major League Soccer announced Friday that starting Wednesday, it will allow players to start training individually at their outdoor team facilities. All workouts are voluntary and can’t conflict with directives from local health officials.

RSL general manager Elliot Fall described the news as the “first stage of returning to play.” RSL and the Real Monarchs, the club’s United Soccer League Championship affiliate, will operate “exclusively” out of the Herriman facility. Neither Rio Tinto Stadium nor America First Field, where the Utah Royals FC usually holds its practices, will be used for these training sessions.

The Royals will use AF Field, however, if and when the National Women’s Soccer League makes a similar move, Fall said.

“It’ll be very structured,” Fall said during a Zoom call with media. “It’s all designed very strictly to ensure that we do not have players coming into contact with each other [or] with staff members, [that] they are not entering the facility, all of that.”

The news does not conflict with the league’s moratorium on small group and full training, which is still in place though May 15.

MLS teams will need to submit a formal plan to the league if it wants to take advantage of the individual workouts. Before it’s submitted, the plan must be reviewed and approved by a team’s medical staff and local infectious disease experts, while also including the following:

  • Restricting training facility access to essential staff only, with specific staff listed in the plan.

  • Sanitization and disinfection plans for all training equipment and spaces, including disinfection of any equipment used by players (balls, cones, goals) between every session.

  • Completion of a Standard Screening Assessment survey 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 the field, and again on return to the parking lot.

  • Staff use of the appropriate personal protective equipment throughout training, while also maintaining a minimum distance of 10 feet from players at all times.

  • Hand washing and disinfectant stations for required use before and after individual workouts.

  • Clubs will have the use of the outdoor fields at their training facility, divided into a maximum of four quadrants per field. A maximum of one player per quadrant may participate per training session with no equipment sharing or playing (passing, shooting) between players.

  • An Emergency Action Plan for all COVID-19 related issues.

On paper, it seems like a lot of hoops to jump through in order for a player to use one-fourth of an entire soccer field and not work completely alone. They are not allowed to pass the ball to a teammate, and coaches must exercise a proper social distance.

But to Fall, it’s all worth it.

“I think there’s a real benefit to getting players back to the facility in any capacity,” Fall said. “I think ... we’re all looking for some level of normalcy and life to get back to some semblance of what our reality used to be. So even if it’s a very regimented version of that, it will be nice to do that.”

Fall also said the club’s players need to stay fit. They have individual programs and have been participating in weekly Zoom workouts for the last few weeks. For their running, they’re often going out into public spaces or trails.

But this new development could not only further the advancement — or at least the maintenance — of their fitness, but do so in a way that’s controlled.

“Frankly this is the safest way for us to allow them to do it,” Fall said. “I think this structure is as much about player safety as anything.”

The fields at the Herriman facility can each by split up into as many as four quadrants, which each player allowed to occupy one of them. With four fields at the facility, there can theoretically be 16 players on the fields at one time, not including coaches or other staff members. Fall said one staff member will be assigned to each field, and added that it’s still not known if it makes sense for all 16 players to occupy the fields.

One player told The Salt Lake Tribune that he probably wouldn’t train individually at the facility because he doesn’t see the added benefit after all the outdoor workouts he’s already been doing the last four weeks. Whether players decide to or not, Fall said he’s supportive of their decisions.

Of the players with which Fall has discussed the news, he got the general sense players were looking forward to the added opportunity.

“I think the players are generally very excited,” Fall said. “They’re very antsy to get back on the field."

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