Over the next six weeks, the MLS Is Back Tournament will see cries of “Goal!” adorn the surroundings of Walt Disney World. You might also witness roars of “You sunk my warship!”
MLS players received a 61-page player handbook last Monday that attempted to address a variety of player concerns, from scheduling various activities between games to more basic issues like food preparation and safety. And yes, the manual included countless suggestions on how players can take up the copious amounts of free time they will have in Orlando during seven hot weeks of summer, including oversized Battleship games.
ESPN has obtained a copy of the document, parts of which were previously reported by The Athletic. These are some of the highlights regarding the settings within the bubble. (Editor’s Note: ESPN is the property of Walt Disney Co.)
– Stream MLS is LIVE again on ESPN networks and ESPN app (US only)
– The established group schedule for MLS is the Tournament Back
The bubble for the MLS Is Back Tournament is now officially in place, and while it is located on the grounds of Walt Disney World, it more closely resembles the “Hotel California” as referred to by the Eagles. You can take a look whenever you want, but you can never leave. That’s why Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya was not far behind when he referred to the tournament, which was held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, as a “luxury prison.”
In the event that a member of the league’s entourage (including players, referees, club staff, and league staff) leaves the bubble without authorization and attempts to re-enter, that person will be subject to “enhanced testing” and a 10-day quarantine period. . Players and staff must have written permission to leave the complex grounds, except in the event of a medical emergency.
The Swan and Dolphin hotels, where the teams will be housed, will be surrounded by eight different security checkpoints, as well as CCTV. In the quarterfinal stage, after July 29, the MLS Is Back bubble will be fully contained in the Swan Hotel, at which point there will be seven security checkpoints. Access to the hotel will be governed by a tiered system to minimize the possibility of infection and / or spread of COVID-19 to the players and other tournament staff.
So far, however, players say they feel “safe.” If “safe” becomes “onerous” it will be something to consider.
Can players interact?
Only if they maintain a social distance of six feet. This includes avoiding “shaking hands, hugging or kissing.” Players will also be required to cover their faces at all times, except during meals or hydration, while in their personal rooms, participating in outdoor activities, or participating in training or games.
More about the hotel
There are more luxurious hotels on the Disney grounds, but the player setup doesn’t sound too bad. Each team will be provided with a private wing at their hotel, which includes 45 rooms, a manager’s suite, a club lounge, and meeting rooms. The club rooms will include rooms for pingpong, playing cards or video games.
Each team will also have access to one of 10 performance training centers, which will be equipped with a “full range of equipment”, including stationary bikes and treadmills. Each team is allowed one two hour session per day, and each training center will be disinfected after each session. Two training pools (one in each hotel) will be available for regeneration sessions.
In terms of non-soccer excursions, each team will be offered a complimentary golf outing as well as a fishing trip. Additional trips can be scheduled for a fee. The teams will also have access to the beaches, as well as a “Grotto Pool” with covered cabanas, tube rentals, water volleyball and water slides. Outdoor activities available will include “bowls, soccer pool, teqball tables, giant Jenga, cornhole, spikeball, oversized Battleship and Connect Four, pool tables, and ping pong tables.” There will also be movie nights by the pool with “pop culture favorites.” (I look forward to the news about the player who wins the big Battleship competition.)
Players will have access to health and wellness resources that include dedicated outdoor yoga, meditation, and stretching spaces as a means of trying to relax. There will also be access to the MLS Employee Assistance Program, which provides support for any mental health problem, including those related to COVID-19.
When the idea for MLS Is Back was first raised, central Florida seemed like an ideal location given that COVID-19 was hitting other parts of the country hard. No more. The recent coronavirus numbers for Orange and Osceola counties (where Walt Disney World is located) have been truly sobering. Both the number of daily new cases and positive testing rates have more than doubled in the past week, with Orange County registering 994 cases on Friday and a positive testing rate of 17.1%. While those were not records, they were close to highs in the past two weeks. On Friday, Osceola County recorded 165 new cases (a peak in the past two weeks) and a positive percentage rate of 13.1%, which was the second highest in the same period. All of this makes health and safety protocols a vital part of the tournament.
The tests will be extensive to say the least. Players will be evaluated on the day they arrive and then must remain in their rooms until they leave. Once cleared, an extended quarantine period will not be necessary. They will then be evaluated every other day or the day before the game day.
Any tournament personnel who record a temperature above 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit or who develop symptoms of COVID-19 will receive a face mask and a referral for clinical monitoring. If they are clinically stable, they will be sent to an isolation area of the complex until their symptoms resolve or are cleared by medical personnel. If they are unstable, they will be taken to the hospital.
Anyone found positive for COVID-19 will be evaluated and placed in an isolation area, where they will remain until authorized by MLS medical personnel. Then contact tracing will begin and all areas where the individual was present will be disinfected.
What about the hotel staff?
This has been viewed as a vulnerability to the proposed “bubble” as hotel staff will be able to leave the resort area and will not be subject to COVID-19 testing. Personnel will have to adhere to detection protocols, temperature controls, use of PPE at all times and social distancing protocols. Hotels will also participate in “improved cleaning and disinfection” of rooms and high-contact surfaces, with players able to control how often cleaning enters their rooms.
Disney will implement processes and train its employees on the use of facial covers, as well as social distancing to minimize close contact with players and team personnel. This will not include hotel staff as the hotels are owned and operated by Marriott.
Commissioner Don Garber discusses how the MLS Comeback Tournament came about and the process the league will go through if a player is diagnosed with the coronavirus.
This has long been a source of concern among players, especially given the freedom that hotel workers will have in terms of leaving the bubble. Each team will have a dedicated food room, as well as access to one of the hotel’s restaurants. Players can also receive food through Uber Eats, DoorDash, or other local vendors. Hope the coaches take advantage too.
In the countryside
Practices and games will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Each team will be allowed one 90 minute session per day at 8 am, 10:30 am, 7 pm, or 9:30 pm ET. Games will be scheduled for 9 am, 8 pm, or 10:30/11 pm ET every day during the tournament. Given the need for teams to eat before the game, the 9am starts will be as popular as you might imagine, though it still beats playing in the heat and humidity of the midday summer in central Florida. All of these events will be held behind closed doors, with members of the media limited to certain areas of the complex while undergoing a health questionnaire and temperature controls. Anyone who does not pass the test will be denied entry or “asked to leave.”
Once inside the bubble, each side will be allowed to scrimmage against another MLS club, but only if the teams have been in the complex for seven days. Players and staff must undergo a COVID-19 PCR test 24 hours before scrimmage.