Real Salt Lake knows exactly who it plays and when after Major League Soccer announced the schedule Wednesday for the tournament in Orlando, Fla.
But while players are generally looking forward to getting back on the field again after a monthslong hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be a sense of trepidation still simmering among some players.
“They’re taking all precautions,” defender Aaron Herrera said Tuesday. “But at the end of the day, there’s still a lot of unknowns that we’re not sure about. So we’re kind of going out on a limb going out there.”
RSL leaves for Orlando on July 4, a little over a week before its first game. For their three group stage games, Real will face the Colorado Rapids on July 12, Minnesota United on July 17 and Sporting Kansas City on July 22.
The tournament begins July 8 with Orlando City playing Inter Miami. All games will air on ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision.
The release of the tournament schedule comes at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in Orange County, Fla. — where Orlando is. Anxiety among players throughout MLS about playing the tournament has also risen recently, per The Athletic.
And in the National Women’s Soccer League, which starts its tournament Saturday in Herriman, the Orlando Pride already had to pull out due to an outbreak among players and staff.
So even though soccer is back for both teams based in Utah, where cases have also spiked in recent weeks, the novel coronavirus appears very much on everyone’s minds.
“It was a bit of a wake-up call I think even for the people doing the right things,” Utah Royals FC midfielder Diana Matheson said of the Pride withdrawing.
Royals coach Craig Harrington said all his players have tested negative, and recently, the team has been on a “tighter lockdown.” No positive tests have been reported by RSL.
“I think everyone is taking it very seriously and then trying to isolate and stay at home,” RSL defender Justen Glad said. “I know for our team, we have a lot of guys with kids and whatnot, so they don’t want to do anything dumb to bring the virus into their families.”
Glad said there are different viewpoints among several players — potentially not just with RSL — about going to Orlando. Herrera, when asked if the MLS season should continue at all, said soccer coming back could be a good thing, but pointed to the myriad factors that go into that decision.
“Owners want money, we want to keep getting paid,” Herrera said. “It’s a tough situation for all.”
Glad said it’s “a compromise for everyone.”
Regardless, the Royals restart their season on Tuesday against the Houston Dash, and Real continue theirs not long after. With the NWSL tournament occurring in Utah, Matheson put the onus on URFC players to take care of their health.
“The reality is cases are rising in Utah, so I think everyone has to be quite vigilant,” Matheson said. “And I think as members of this community, we kind of have to set the example and make sure we’re wearing our masks and doing the right things.”
RSL has a little more than a week left of training before traveling to Orlando. But questions remain. Things could go wrong. And the focus on competing at a high level will have to come from various sources.
“I think that we have to find that in ourselves individually,” Glad said. “And also we have Freddy and the coaching staff. They’re pushing us every day and they’re making sure that the energy is high so that we’re motivated and we know that this isn’t just something that we’re going to do just because.”
RSL’S TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
All times Mountain
July 12: RSL vs. Colorado Rapids, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
July 17: RSL vs. Minnesota United, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
July 22: RSL vs. Sporting Kansas City, 7 a.m., ESPN