New York City FC's Anton Tinnerholm passes the ball during...

New York City FC's Anton Tinnerholm passes the ball during the second half of an MLS soccer match against the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

When New York City FC took the field on March 11 against Tigres UANL in a CONCACAF Champions League match, a nationwide sports shutdown already was brewing, but far from the minds of those in the NYCFC locker room.

By the end of a 1-0 NYCFC loss, the NBA had suspended play following the positive coronavirus test of Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert. Within 24 hours, Major League Soccer postponed league play and CONCACAF suspended Champions League competition with no solid return date in sight.

NYCFC right back Anton Tinnerholm said he and his teammates never saw that sequence of events coming.

“We didn't have that in mind. We saw what happened especially in Europe, of course, but we weren't talking about ‘it's going to be suspended’ or whatever. We had to focus on the game,” Tinnerholm said in a conference call Friday. “Then the next day when we were on the way to the facility we heard, 'don't go here. We cannot give you more information.' And then we understood there it was about the [coronavirus] of course.

“It all came so sudden, you know, it was like it went from zero to a hundred in like, a couple days or a couple of hours.”

Tinnerholm, who’s been a fixture in defense for City since arriving from his native Sweden in 2018, has spent the time since March 11 with his wife and children in their Manhattan apartment doing what they can to stay healthy amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The 29-year-old said he hasn’t seen any teammates since that night at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, which hosted the NYCFC home match with Yankee Stadium unavailable.

“It's a hard thing for us and for the league because we want to play of course, but the most important thing now is to stay safe and help each other in these tough times,” Tinnerholm said.

He said the players have maintained contact through a WhatsApp group message and all are doing conditioning work at home to be as sharp as possible when the season is able to resume. The players are doing their best given the situation, but without live training together, they’re missing crucial field time needed to compete at a high level.

“It's different to play a soccer game 90 minutes compared to going out running or doing some stuff in your apartment and it's also hard to work with a ball right now,” Tinnerholm said. “So I think that's the part we'll be missing the most.”

Tinnerholm also said the City coaching staff has been in communication with the players throughout, sending video of games from around the world with tactical advice for players, but he admitted it’s hard to keep his mind on game strategy with what’s playing out around him.

“Other people are different of course, but for me, the focus is not on the football right now. Especially not the tactical things in football,” he said. “It has to come later. Now I'm trying to stay safe and then try to have my fitness as good as possible. And then when we get some decisions on when we're going to start to train and play, then we have to take a look at that but for the moment I think it's a good time to take some time off from football and just be focused on my family a hundred percent.”

Tinnerholm misses being on the field, but more so he misses the camaraderie of the NYCFC locker room and the everyday interactions around the club facility. 

“It's kind of small things that you don't really think about when you're in the middle of it. It can be just a small conversation with anybody or whatever,” Tinnerholm said of what he’s missing most. “Just eating lunch or breakfast and being in the locker room or having the most boring meeting whatsoever, these kinds of small things you do together. Having a lot of fun and hanging out with people, that's what I'm missing the most. I'm a pretty open-minded and social guy who wants to hang out with people, I hate to be alone, so I've been climbing on the walls sometimes back home so much. I'm missing hanging out with the guys, and of course to play games, but I think it's this feeling of going into the locker room and talking about everything.”

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