CHICAGO – It hasn’t felt exactly normal, with temperature checks and masks being worn as they enter SeatGeek Stadium for individual training.
But at least they get to step on the pitch, and that’s more than they could do for most of the last 90 days.
That wasn’t a luxury that Chicago Fire FC players had for the majority of the time since their season was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They only got two games in to start the 2020 MLS season, and then they were left to train on their own up till a few weeks ago.
But now the team has a return date set not only for a return to play but also a chance to workout together for the first time in three months.
The team announced that full squad training will begin on Monday as they ramp up for the MLS return to play tournament in Orlando starting on July 8th. Raphael Wicky’s squad has only been working out individually or in small groups since a return to team fields was permitted a few weeks back.
Club training facilities will be fully accessible for the first time, including training rooms, gyms, and fitness areas. Only five at a time will be allowed in there and the team will use a few dressing rooms to accommodate players, with lockers spaced ten feet apart.
Naturally, heaving testing will happen the player’s arrival and masks will be worn when in common areas inside the team’s facility. Having to take these precautions won’t be a problem for Chicago Fire FC players who’ve been eager to return to the pitch for three months.
“Finally, the competition is back,” said Robert Beric through an interview released by the club. “Finally we know who we are playing. I’m excited. I cannot wait to play the games.”
They’ll be in Group A to start the tournament with five Eastern Conference foes – Inter Miami CF, Orlando City FC, Nashville SC, New York City FC, and Philadelphia Union at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.
They’ll play three games in that stage against Miami, Nashville, and NYCFC, with those results counting in the regular season MLS standings. The top two finishers from each of the six groups along with the top four third-place teams advance to a 16-team knockout tournament.
A championship match will be played on August 11th, with the winner earning a spot in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.
“It’s different, but I think it’s exciting,” said midfielder Fabian Herbers of the tournament. “You can win a cup in 5-to-6 games. “It’s a unique opportunity for us.”
More importantly, it’s the opportunity to return to the pitch together for competition three months in the waiting.