SEATTLE – Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan lives on a hill and sprints up it regularly. Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei goes with the treadmill in his house.
On Wednesdays, the team will gather via Zoom meeting to chat and keep the camaraderie going. Other than that, these guys are waiting around just like us during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, Roldan and Frei had a video news conference to discuss what they’ve been up to lately. They offered their thoughts on a potential salary reduction, the prospect of playing in fan-less stadiums and even a little Michael Jordan.
The bottom line: They’re doing everything they can to stay ready but are itching to get back on the pitch.
“There’s a decent program to work on our fitness and our strength, there’s little drills you can do to work on our cognitive behavior … but there is no emulating what we do on the training field,” Frei said. “There are certain things that will need a little bit of time.”
Nobody knows when or if MLS will return this season. When it ended, the defending-champion Sounders were 1-0-1 and were hoping to avoid the type of slow start that has plagued them over the past few years.
Now? Well, it’s pretty much the definition of slow with video games and TV binges filling the void.
Roldan, like millions of others, has been watching ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” which focuses on Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls. Asked which teammate most reminded him of MJ from a competitive standpoint, Cristian said former Sounder Clint Dempsey, who had to win at everything he played.
These days, gaming has been Roldan’s primary form of competition, but it hasn’t been going too well.
“I’m just not that gifted in that regard.”
But he is certainly gifted in soccer, which is why he gets paid handsomely to play it. Given the circumstances, though, he and all the other players around the league might have to take a pay cut this season.
Obviously, a fewer number of games would hurt revenue regardless of who’s in the stadium, but MLS relies more on ticket sales for income than leagues such as the NFL. So with no fans, there will be less money coming in, which probably would mean less money going to players. Can they accept that?
“For me, personally, we are part of society just like everybody else, and this affects everybody, and I want to do my part,” Frei said. “If that means some of the money that I was promised that I’m not going to be getting, or that I’m going to be getting at a later point, or whatever we come up with, I think we’re ready to do our part. I sense that within the union.”
Roldan echoed Frei’s thoughts, saying the players understand the situation and have bought into the idea of a reduction.
As for not playing in front of fans?
“There’s nothing like playing front of people, whether they’re rooting for you or against you, they make the sport so emotional, and that’s why I love playing. However, it’s a tough time,” Roldan said. “We’d love to play in front of them, but based on safety precautions we may unfortunately have to play without fans.”
Before any type of real practice resumes, there likely will be a chance for players to get back on the pitch at Starfire Sports so long as they practice social-distancing guidelines. When that would happen is to be determined, but it will at least allow players to work on some skills that aren’t being honed right now.
As Frei said, if he can go one-on-one with somebody for an hour, it would allow him to improve. It won’t be anything like an actual training session, but at least it’s something.
But ultimately what the players want is a season. When? Who knows? What it would look like? Can’t say that for sure, either. But something, anything, would be sufficient – so long as the quality doesn’t take too much of a hit.
“I don’t think there will be a normal season. It would be nice if we could play all our games, do it in a safe manner, and also get quality games out of it. That’s another thing. Do we really just want to have 30-plus games thrown out there and the quality is really lacking and players are getting hurt left and right?” Frei said. “I have full confidence in the people who make those calls in terms of how that shapes up.
“I was really looking forward to defending our title … but there are bigger things in life.”
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