Real Salt Lake will celebrate its Fourth of July holiday on a plane headed to Orlando, Fla., where it’ll meet several other Major League Soccer teams getting ready for the MLS is Back Tournament.
But RSL will also meet a situation where COVID-19 has been spreading. The league announced Wednesday that six players from FC Dallas have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, four of whom tested positive within the last few days. The Athletic reported that three additional Dallas players and a coach tested positive, bringing the total to 10.
There were also reports of a player from the Columbus Crew testing positive on Wednesday.
And while RSL players and staff have so far eluded getting sick in a state with rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, coach Freddy Juarez is aware of the situation his team is flying into and hopes the league gets it under control.
“We’ll continue to try to stay healthy and safe in Orlando,” Juarez said Thursday during Zoom call with media. “I think the league’s trying to do some good things to fix what’s going on over there.”
RSL plays its first game of the tournament on July 12 against the Colorado Rapids. The Salt Lake club drew the Rapids, Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United in Group D of the tournament’s group stage.
RSL leaving for Orlando just eight days before its first game was by design and allowed the club to be in the confines of its own practice facilities and stadiums, and abide by state and local health protocols.
“We wanted to stay here as long as we possibly could because we know what our environment is,” Juarez said.
The case count in Florida reached another record high Thursday as the health department there announced more than 10,000 new cases. Orange County reported 584 new infections.
MLS is requiring that all players travel to Orlando to play in the tournament, with a few very specific exceptions, such as somebody the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deem a “high risk individual” or someone in his household is at a particular level of risk. Concern over contracting the virus is not a criterion like it is if a National Women’s Soccer League player decides not to play in the Challenge Cup.
In light of that, it appears RSL will have its full roster on hand in Orlando.
“As of right now, we expect everyone go to,” Juarez said. “We thought about maybe some guys hanging back and helping the Monarchs. But from my understanding, the league said we all have to travel. So we accept that.”
All in all, Juarez is excited to play soccer again and for his team to build on the good performance it showed against the New York Red Bulls back in March.
And Juarez hopes soccer is all he or his players will have to worry about once arriving in Orlando.
“The most important for me is the players and the staff, that we can be there and be safe,” Juarez said. “You don’t want to go into an environment where you’re constantly thinking of something else outside of what we’re really there to do, [which] is play soccer.”