Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin, forward Kacper Przybylko, captain Ale Bedoya, and defender Mark McKenzie all spoke yesterday via zoom call from inside the bubble.
There’s an impromptu ‘media hub’ inside the bubble in Orlando where Curtin and players rotated in and out to field questions from the media. Most were seeking answers regarding the club’s first match of Group A play vs. NYCFC, set to kick off at 9:00 a.m., while most of us are only just starting our days.
Others inquired about safety concerns, positive COVID tests, and questioned whether a sense of worry has settled throughout the grounds.
“As I reflect back to March and all the zoom calls, all the individual workouts from the players, all the film sessions, the group trainings, and then eventually the full team trainings, a ton of work has been put in to get to this point,” said Curtin. “Obviously, we have our first test now against NYCFC.”
It’s been four long months without a professional soccer match for Philadelphia and the rest of MLS. But Curtin and his players seem very eager to get back out and compete between those white lines.
Union homegrown defender Mark McKenzie is especially excited to get back to live-action.
“It’s going to be an exciting game, first and foremost,” said McKenzie. “It’s going to be competitive, we’ve had this energy pent up for so long. Initially, it might not be as smooth as we want it to be, but that comes with the territory of being the first game back.”
As far as Przybylko is concerned, the 9 a.m. kickoff shouldn’t be too much of a factor. He admitted, as other players have at this point, that he’s never really played a match at that time before but he repeatedly mentioned that it’s their “job” and that he’d play at 6 a.m. if that’s what was asked of them
In unfamiliar territory, Przybylko and his teammates can rely on their steady training in weeks prior. He joked that he hasn’t really thought too much about how he’ll prep for an early morning fixture adding that he hopes he’ll be able to cram down a quick pre-game meal as the sunrises.
“I’m looking forward to the game, I was missing the competition,” said Przybylko. “We’ve done a great job in Orlando with the training, though the humidity is very tough. We’re going to be very prepared for the game.”
Curtin has mentioned at length that he and his staff have focused on cultivating positive mindsets throughout the team. He wants his players focused on the end-goal: what are we trying to accomplish down here and how can we do it? As opposed to complaining because circumstances may not be ‘perfect.’
“Like every situation now, we have to be able to adapt and adjust, and again, make the most of it and stay positive in what could be an easy time for everybody to be negative and knit-pick at different things,” said Curtin. “But I think that our players have had a real clear focus and a real positive mindset with things.”
Bedoya mentioned the 9 a.m. kickoff will be “awkward for both sides” and that he isn’t particularly looking forward to waking up at 5:30 a.m. with a pre-game meal slated for 6 a.m. But as Przybylko mentioned it’s simply a new element added to their “job” responsibilities.
But trying to block out ongoing concerns of positive COVID tests inside the bubble all while adapting to 9 a.m. or, in a few days, a 10 p.m. kick-off times could potentially be a seriously challenging task.
Curtin acknowledged that as well but ultimately ended with a positive.
“I can’t speak for every player. But there’s going to be concerns,” said Curtin. “That’s natural. That’s human nature when you do see other teams testing positive. Overall when you do step back though and you do look at the percentages of the number of people that have been tested down here – players, coaching staff – the percentage of positive tests is still low compared to what’s going on in the rest of the country right now. I’m not saying it’s perfect.”
Perfect? Surely not. But MLS is back tonight at 8 p.m. and for now that’s enough.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union