Ahead of New York City FC’s first match since March 11, head coach Ronny Deila said his players are healthy, physically fit and ready to get something worthwhile from the MLS is Back Tournament.
But now living inside a bubble environment already at risk of popping, plus being away from competition for months following an abrupt lockdown, the players’ mental state will be just as important to keep tabs on for Deila and his staff.
The first-year coach said Tuesday his staff has kept mental health in mind as the tournament approaches. The best way to keep everyone’s minds at ease, he believes, is to keep all well informed with the facts on how the league is handling health and safety protocols.
“It's about the information, if you can get information about things, then it's easier to handle. If you don't know, you start wondering,” Deila said. “So our main task is to give information, talk with the players, be a part of them all the time, and that's what we try to do.”
NYCFC opens its Group A slate against the Philadelphia Union at 9 a.m. on Thursday. It now is the second match of MLS’ return competition after the league postponed Nashville SC’s meeting with the Chicago Fire originally set for Wednesday. Nashville’s status in the tournament remains under review after five players tested positive since arrival. FC Dallas was forced to withdraw from the tournament entirely earlier this week after numerous positive tests after its arrival.
Deila believes the players having lived through the early stages of the crisis in New York, as well as the area’s current ability to contain the virus, allows them to stay mentally strong inside the bubble while the virus continues to spread rapidly outside the walls of Disney World.
“I'm sure the other teams have more [concerns] than we have with what kind of region we come from now, we maybe had it tougher before,” Deila said. “We have a strong, strong togetherness in the group. It has been there for many years, and that's going to be a positive thing for us.”
As much as the league and club staff can try, they won’t ease all anxieties during a once-in-a-century health emergency.
“There's definitely a lot of worry. I mean, it's a global pandemic, you know, everybody reacts differently to it,” said midfielder Keaton Parks. “Clearly it's here, it's in the bubble. So there's definitely a lot of worry throughout our team I know for sure, and I'm sure through all the other teams here.”
Life inside the bubble has taken a few days to get used to, said winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, and safety has only remained a priority since the withdrawal of FC Dallas.
“What happened with Dallas, of course, is not the best thing. The tournament doesn’t start [yet] and they already have to get out,” Tajouri-Shradi said. “It’s really bad for them, but the most important thing, I have to look out for myself and my teammates and the whole staff of New York City FC, and so far we’re doing really well.”
Parks and a handful of teammates tried to keep things a bit normal by playing a round of golf earlier this week, with the league booking up tee times before and after the group to avoid any interactions with others.
Said Parks, “We're doing the best we can to keep ourselves safe and keep others safe and we just keep hoping that we stay away from it.”