When Major League Soccer halted its season in March, New York City FC’s players found themselves quarantined in the nation’s hottest spot for the novel coronavirus.
Three months later, New York’s COVID-19 crisis is being contained, NYCFC is back to full training at its facility and the league plans to resume with the MLS is Back Tournament in a bubble environment next month.
But with its first match scheduled for July 9 in Orlando at a time Florida is documenting record amounts of COVID-19 cases each day, NYCFC will be thrust right back into a scary health situation it hoped to be past.
For some NYCFC players, that’s not exactly sitting well. Maxi Moralez, the MLS assist leader in 2019, said he’s not keen on making the trip and there is some nervousness ahead of the journey to Disney World.
“Individually I've talked about and thought about it and also groupwide with the team we've talked about it,” Moralez said through a translator. “Florida, as you said, has been going up the past few weeks, we all do feel obviously a little bit nervous but we try and make sure that the protocols that they put in place that they're good so we do enjoy our time there and that it goes well.”
Moralez, one of NYCFC’s three designated players, said he personally is “not in agreement with going” but will be traveling with the club and intends to compete since the players voted to participate.
“We go and we take the precautions and hopefully the league will have it 100 percent locked down so that everything will be fine,” Moralez said. “I was always against it, but you know a decision was made, and it's a decision that I have to accept. The reason for me is I have a family at home and I've obviously seen that the disease can produce not a great outcome. So, of course I'm a bit nervous, but like I said it was voted to go and so I have to go with a good mindset and be very positive that nothing will happen.”
Alex Ring has kept up with the growing crisis in Florida as the tournament nears. The NYCFC captain said he’s been diligent in following the club’s protocols thus far as his wife falls into a high-risk group for COVID-19.
“I mean the numbers are soaring, what I've been following from Florida, so of course you have concern, not only for yourself but everyone who's giving up a lot going there,” Ring said. “I think that's the most important thing and should be over everything. Everyone wants to get back, everyone's stoked to play but it shouldn't be on behalf of your health or safety for sure.
“The state that Florida is in, I think it has to be safe for us. I mean, we're putting a lot on the line, we have families and whatnot.”
Homegrown player James Sands may not have the young family waiting like Moralez and Ring, but he’s empathetic to their concerns.
“It's definitely in the back of everyone's mind at this point,” Sands said of Florida’s growing numbers. “I think it's hard to say how the team is feeling because I think everybody's in a little bit of a different situation. Personally for me, I'm young, I'm not married, I have no kids so it seems more reasonable for me, but I fully understand people, especially those who are married and have kids. They have completely valid concerns about going down there, so I think it's a bit on a person-by-person basis.”
In his first year with NYCFC, head coach Ronny Deila said he’s impressed with how his players have dealt with health protocols thus far.
“I think our club has been fantastic during the time with information and help and togetherness and everything. So if the setup and the work that we'll be doing in Orlando is the same quality as has been in our club, then it's going to be good,” Deila said. “I've never been tested so much in my life. In the last two weeks, it's been every day almost, so I think if that continues, and also that we follow the rules that the league is putting in, then we can be in the bubble and hopefully avoid getting any cases.”
And avoiding any cases is the ultimate goal for all involved. That, plus NYCFC’s first competitive trophy, would be a perfect trip.
“I hope nothing severe happens because if something were to happen because we restart and we force it, that would look bad as well,” Ring said. “I just hope everything goes well, we get back to playing, it's a fantastic tournament, New York City FC wins the tournament, then we're all good.”