Yesterday for the first time in 68 days, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin was able to see his players in person. The team began individual training workouts just over the PA/DE line in Wilmington at the 76ers Fieldhouse/Complex. They utilized the lone outdoor playing field at the complex and will continue to do so for the coming weeks.
As reported by the Inquirer, the club reached out to DE officials in order to get the training schedule and out-of-state location approved, considering much of southeastern PA, including Delaware County, remains in an ongoing stay-at-home status.
“Today, we had our first step forward in this process which is a return to individual training,” said Curtin yesterday via video call with reporters. “Overall, a great feeling from everybody. A lot of energy from the players today. I told myself I’d try not to use the word normal during this time, but it was a return to what the players recognize.”
This new MLS ‘normal’ began two weeks ago on May 6th. Since the club have been diligent in clearing all safety protocols and hurdles in order to get players back on the training grounds.
“Throughout this entire process, it does need to be said that our ownership – Jay Sugarman, Richard Liebovich, Richie Graham – have provided really strong leadership through a very uncertain time for a lot of people,” said Curtin. “Through this time, I think the Union have remained very steady in their leadership.”
With steady leadership at the top, Curtin can then focus his time and energy on sharpening his team in hopes of a return to an even different sense of normal, with prospects of finishing the season in Orlando come June still in the air.
And with so much uncertainty surrounding whether the club would be granted clearance to resume individual workouts, some players have not yet returned to the area. Although Curtin mentioned all players are within the United States, a select few have been granted “excused” absences and will remain out of market for a bit longer.
Jose Andres Martinez, otherwise known as El Brujo, has been spending his days down south in Miami. Curtin explained that Martinez not only has relatives residing there but his agent is closeby as well. The club felt it best to allow Martinez to be with his family given the Spanish/English language barrier and to avoid feeling isolated with no family nearby in King of Prussia, where he lives.
Veteran defenders Ray Gaddis and Aurelien Colin were also granted excused absences. Both players are out of market but no further explanation was given.
The other two absences were backup goalkeepers, Joe Bendik and Matt Freese. Both were asked to stay home in hopes of using their time in a more efficient manner. Curtin revealed that Kwik Goal has provided a ball machine that can keep his keepers fresh, given the stipulation in MLS’ safety protocols that prohibit keepers from taking shots from teammates or staff.
All other first-team players, as well as contracted Union II players, participated in workouts yesterday.
Perhaps most notably, Kai Wagner and Kacper Przybylko were full participants. Wagner is fully healed from his nagging lower leg injury while Przybylko is also fully recovered after becoming the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19.
Przybylko and Wagner’s recoveries are two massive positives for a club looking to regain the swelling momentum they had prior to the season’s suspension. Another silver lining is the strengthening of bonds between players, coaches, and auxiliary staff during the past 68 days.
Earlier last week, Union center back Mark McKenzie shared that teammates have been relying on each other in different ways, some more so now given the distancing rules in place. And Curtin lamented that once more yesterday.
“The one thing I kept stressing to them is that it goes a long way in just reaching out,” said Curtin when asked about his group’s ability to stay connected. “We’ve had a lot of time to be alone and self-reflect and different things, but the importance of reaching out to a buddy even if it’s a little text message or a Zoom conference like this, you can really make a person’s day and make them feel a little more safe and comfortable.”
“I think we’re a little closer now that we’re apart,” said Curtin.
For those worried about team chemistry dissolving or players becoming disjointed due to prolonged distancing, it seems safe to say that worry is no longer needed.
As for when exactly games will resume, that is still a giant question mark. But Curtin mentioned no matter where the league decides to resume the season “it’s our jobs as pros” to be ready.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union
Graduate of Pennsylvania State University ’16. Interests include sports and history. Follow on twitter for Philly sports news – @MMcClain_PSN
Philadelphia Union writer.