Timbers get a kick out of limited training
That's the word Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse used to describe the opportunity to do drills with a soccer ball last week on the grass field at the Timbers Training Center in Beaverton.
"We love to have the ball at our feet, so anytime that you're just running and it seems like there's no end it can get a little challenging mentally," Ebobisse said during a May 7 video press conference. "To be out there in such safe conditions was definitely really, really important to my mental health and it just felt great to be out there and just see some of the other faces as well, even if its from a distance. The bond felt closer today."
Last Thursday was the first opportunity in almost two months for Timbers players to use the team's outdoor training field. Major League Soccer is allowing players to train individually at its team facilities as long as social distancing and sanitation protocols are followed. The voluntary workouts are a small a first step toward resuming the 2020 MLS season.
Media is not allowed at the sessions. Video and photographs supplied by the Timbers show players arriving wearing face coverings, setting up and performing drills on their own while maintaining significant distance from teammates. The MLS protocols for these trainig sessions dictate that the field must be divided into quadrants with a maximum of four players on the field at a time.
The Portland Thorns started similar voluntary individual training sessions on Saturday at Providence Park, using a similar set of protocols to keep players and staff safely distanced.
Both MLS and the NWSL have moratoriums prohibiting group training activities and use of team facilties such as locker rooms and gyms. As of Monday, those moratoriums ran through this Friday, May 15.
No updated target dates for resuming games have been announced by MLS or the National Women's Soccer League. In mid-April, its most recent public statement, MLS set June 8 as a possible restart date, but that seems highly improbable.
Resuming games — with or without fans — seems far down the road, but Ebobisse was glad to be able to dribble around cones, shoot at a mini goal and to wave and shout at teammates in other quadrants of the field.
Ebobisse hopes Timbers fans who are missing soccer also can get a little lift from seeing players with a ball at their feet.
"We want to convey the belief and the uplifting spirit that comes with us being back out on the field and hopefully taking a big step into playing in a regular-season game, however that looks," he said. "Ultimately, yes, we know the challenges of playing with fans and we monitor and analyze each situation as it goes, but I think you also have to take the little wins when you get them."
Ebobisse said he went weeks without touching a soccer ball, mostly running on concrete for conditioning work. So to be able to dribble a ball on a soccer field was special. He noted that players were well separated while going through individual drills.
"We have one person that's on our field if we need to ask a question from afar, but ultimately everything that we've done is built into a program and we're pretty independent. I think we're all very mature — it's what has gotten us to this point in our careers," Ebobisse said. "We set up our own exercises, we chase our own balls and then hopefully at some point in the future we'll be able to build up into the amount of groups that we're in.
"But right now, it's really just out on our own. We get to say hello to the people working real quick as we drive by, but I want to emphasize that we've been in our own little quadrants (of the field). I say little, but they feel pretty big."
Of course, Ebobisse is anxious for games to resume and to be able to compete with and against teammates. The MLS season was halted on March 12 after only two regular-season games. But Ebobisse credited the Timbers and MLS for the safety-first approach, noting that players don't want to put themselves, their families or the team staff at risk.
"We don't know how long this particular step is going to last. We don't know what's next, either, whether it's a setback or whether it's a step forward," he said. "But we're all just appreciative of finally being back out on a soft field, touching a ball, and getting more progressive with the exercises that we can do."
Ebobisse expressed confidence that MLS is exploring every option to restart the season in a way that protects the health of all involved.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday said that large gatherings won't happen in the state until a vaccine or treatment is available for COVID-19. Ebobisse said playing games without fans should not impact the quality of games.
"We've all played without fans when we were younger, with minimal people around us," he noted.
There weren't really people around Ebobisse and his teammates as they went through proscribed drills on Thursday.
"Just being out there is a gift and we realize that more now than ever," he said.
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