The MLS expansion side’s first season has been derailed by the outbreak, forcing the players to find creative ways to stay sharp
Professional athletes are creatures of habit. From gamedays to training to meals and everything in between, everything in life is, in some way, scheduled out. Disruptions to those habits are often costly and tend to have a direct impact on performance.
But, in a world shutdown by the coronavirus pandemic, you need to find a way to maintain those habits while remaining mentally and physically sharp. Doing so is often easier said than done.
Like any club, Inter Miami is finding that challenging. Training facilities are shut down, gatherings are banned and gyms are closed. It is near impossible to find the facilities and equipment needed to truly train like a professional athlete.
That goes double for an expansion franchise, a team that is just two games into its first-ever season and is still building the foundation of a successful club.
Because of that, there is this weird mix of structure and freedom, of rigidity and creativity, going on right now. From awkwardly-long runs on ill-fitting fields to milk jug curls to group chat accountability, it is about finding some semblance of routine. So far, that routine has been through a series of individuals working that feels very much like a group project.
“Our coaching staff has really rallied to bring information for us to continue to learn and adapt our game,” said midfielder Wil Trapp. “We’re an expansion team with new players, a new coach and a new model of play. The growth as a group is so important each and every day, and when you’re not together, you need to find ways to bridge that gap.
“It’s stimulating to have that homework, that soccer homework, and that’s a great way for us to stay engaged and be together in a way that, even though we’re apart, we can still grow and learn and fine-tune our ideas.”
Just before MLS announced that the league would be suspended due to the outbreak, Inter Miami’s players met with owners David Beckham and Jorge Mas. They were told what was about to happen: their home opener against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the team’s first-ever home match, was going to be postponed. Beckham and Mas wanted to deliver that message personally as players were now forced to prepare for a very new and very fluid situation.
Shortly after, the club held what Trapp described as a “drive-through”. Players were to come in and pick up equipment before going all-in on social-distancing. Additional messages and instructions were soon to follow.
And so began the new training regime. Players have a GPS vest that they use to check in every day. Some days are for endurance and some for strength. Others focus on ability or speed. Head coach Diego Alonso and his team oversee it all, working with each position group with specific instructions. Centerbacks are given different workouts than midfielders, for example, with the latter focusing heavily on maintaining the endurance required for their position.
“We try to communicate with them every day over the phone, and through messages to be present,” said Alonso. “And also three or four times a week through video conferences where the whole staff can be together. We try to spend time with them, talking.
“In addition, they have support from the league on a psychological level if they need it. Each player can make use of that tool if they feel it necessary. Logically, we try to be present permanently and try first, and most importantly, to give them affection and give them the assurance that if they have any problems not to hesitate to talk to us, talk to the club, whether on a personal or family level, or if they have any health problems, to be vigilant so we can help.”
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But, in a world under quarantine, there are only so many problems the club can solve. One such problem is the lack of equipment, as many players remain semi-isolated in their own homes. Not every player has access to gym equipment or weights when away from the club’s training facility.
As a result, some creativity is required.
“I don’t have weights at home, so one of the examples that I’ve had to use is filling up a milk jug, a gallon and using that as a weight,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “I use it for some of the exercises, but it is a creative way to do the training. It’s never going to be perfect, but because of the training regiment, it does allow us to continue to train.
“It’s an exercise in being creative and utilizing the ability to order things online and building your own home gym, so to speak,” Trapp added. “It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but this has prompted it as a necessity to maintain fitness, strength and all of those things.”
At the end of the day, though, there is no substitute for good old fashioned cardio. You do not need equipment to work on your endurance; just a ton of open space.
Even that is somewhat troublesome, though, asTrapp says it is difficult to find the space required for distance running. As a midfielder, he needs to be able to run long distance and stop on a dime, and finding open fields with that kind of room has been an issue.
But you can make up for that with some early-morning wake-ups and, for some, a few team-mates to hold you accountable.
“Unfortunately, the quick answer is running, and I just am not a runner by any stretch of the imagination,” joked Robles. “There are guys that live close to me, so we go out for a run and running with them keeps me motivated and held accountable because they’re really quick and in way better shape than I am.
“When I consider what a professional athlete is like, I look at those guys and think of how incredible they are from these workouts but it is motivating and it allows me to work on a part of my game that is often overlooked.
“As a goalkeeper, there are different requirements for us to compete at a high level, but the one thing from the last two weeks of these workouts, this is probably an aspect of my training regiment that I could look to include once things get back to normal.”
And that is what everyone is waiting for: some normalcy. With the league’s announcement on Wednesday that the training moratorium will extend into April, teams will continue to train like this for at least another week-and-a-half. The original aim was to be back playing by May, but it remains to be seen when and if the league will return to anything resembling a normal schedule.
Even when MLS does return, it will present something unique. There will almost certainly be an extended training camp period as teams look to fully regain any form and fitness lost. Then, there will likely be a rapid-fire schedule with plenty of double gameweeks and few weekends off.
That schedule will be challenging and it will take a toll but, when the time comes, that return to the game will be a blessing for players who are looking forward to a return to their old routines.
“The thing I miss the most is the locker room, the camaraderie of being around the guys,” Robles said. “We have a group text that is ongoing with banter, but it’s not the same. You’re not going to have that personal element of being in the locker room or on the training field and bantering about. That I definitely miss.”
He added: “Sooner or later, we’ll get back to normal, and what it’s going to look like on the other side, we’re not entirely sure but guys are looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to it. And when we get there, we’ll compete again.”