Over the past few months, the unknown has enveloped us all and many of us are seeking to get to some kind of “normal” as soon as possible. The Colorado Rapids are no different in that sense, but are also being thrown directly into the middle of our country’s professional sports experiment as the nation struggles to cope with a pandemic.
The MLS is Back Tournament is now on the immediate horizon and the nation will be watching how everyone reacts to playing and living in the “bubble” the league has created in Orlando, Florida. Clubs have been preparing for weeks, and hopefully the Rapids will resume the winning form they showed in their blazing start to 2020 back in March.
It hasn’t been easy, according to Colorado’s Kellyn Acosta, who (like most of us) was starting to go a bit stir-crazy while under quarantine. Unfortunately, Rapids players couldn’t really do much “work from home” in their profession and he is glad to be back at it. “For me being at home was so difficult — I thought the walls were closing in on me. I was bored. TV was getting old, video games were getting old, you can only do so much,” the midfielder told Burgundy Wave. “Just being back with the guys, not fully back, but just seeing them was definitely a bright spot in the day. I was looking forward to training no matter how hard it was because I was so happy to see everyone.”
Drew Moor and his wife felt the same pressure as most parents with small children who were now at home 24/7, but admits they took advantage of the family time. “The first couple of weeks, the boys were home all day, which was fine, but they’re 3 and 4 so they’ve got a lot of energy. Our boys’ preschool is open which is nice—we’re making the most of it. This is something that’s affected everybody in the world.”
The Rapids began individual workouts at team facilities back in mid-May as Phase 1 opened after months of riding stationary bikes and getting in runs around their homes. Acosta said it was a tough restart, but was definitely welcome. “I was going to the fields, getting some touches, doing some runs, working on trying to stay as fit as possible, and then Phase 1 happened.”
“Individual trainings were a grind,” Acosta laughed. “The first days were great because it was the first day back, I got to see some of the guys, see the coaching staff, got to touch the ball, so that was a lot of fun. Then it kind of gets redundant going through a grind… we weren’t game-level, game-speed, and you have to adjust quickly. Everything after that was like, ‘when is this going to stop, when can we go to full training, my teammate is right there when am I going to be able to pass him the ball?’ We all did the same thing but you want some kind of interaction and not just a hand gesture from 40-50 yards away.”
“It was basically individual training but with coaches’ guidance so (HC) Robin (Fraser) and another coach were there,” he explained. “They weren’t hands-on but they were kind of in the distance telling us what kind of drills to do. They divided the field in quadrants, with one player per quadrant, so there was four of us on the field at a time.”
Veteran Moor agreed that it was not a case of easing back into shape, but rather getting after it right away so they could move on more quickly. “Phase one was tough. Robin and the coaching staff wanted to really hit us hard. There’s only so much you can do individually. They really used that to get our fitness level up and cardio up. Most of what we did didn’t involve the ball, it was also very intense, high-volume cardio work so that way when we started Phase 2 for only a couple sessions, then once we got into full team training, we were as fit as we could’ve asked for from our individual sessions.”
“When we progressed into Phase 2, it wasn’t direct contact, but we can pass the ball to each other,” explained Acosta, who also said there was no sympathy from the staff. “That made it a little bit better, but there’s no way for you to hide. If you’re tired and it shows, everyone can see it. Otherwise, in a full practice you might have moments where you can catch your breath or relax a little bit. Here, you’re right in the headlights. [The coaches] are watching you and they’ll be on to you if you’re not going quick enough.”
“You can’t miss three months of full-team training and jump right back into it and expect to be match fit,” said Moor bluntly. “I thought our base from Phase 1 and 2 was very good. That way when we did get into full-team training we were able to work on actual tactics and playing rather than being worried about our fitness. It wasn’t like we had to ease back into it.”
Acosta also made another good point in that soccer players have very regimented routines. Repetition breeds success, and when you all have a common goal there’s an overall vision for every player. That hasn’t been the case this spring/summer. “Even during quarantine it’s hard to define a routine with so much uncertainty behind everything,” he said as the players wrapped up their final preparation for Orlando. “I think that was the most challenging aspect for me. There were days where I just didn’t feel like going to the park, going for a run, or going to touch the ball. Once we started having more structure, I feel like things are slowly starting to creep back to having a normal life.”
A big part of that normalcy has been full-team training with few restrictions on the pitch. Being back inside the stadium at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with teammates has really lifted the spirits of the squad. “We’ve been full training for a couple weeks now, but it was actually very weird,” Acosta admitted. “You go from doing individual trainings, to passing each other the ball, to full contact. It was weird but everyone is just excited to get back to grinding.”
“Once we actually get out on the field and start training it feels very normal,” Moor said. “But, I think the Rapids and [GM] Padraig [Smith] and the staff have done a good job of making us feel safe.” Moor said there’s always a bit of caution but also knows they need to follow the set protocols for themselves, their families, and their teammates. “We’re in different locker rooms, we’re not able to just go wherever we want. We have protocols that we have to go through — we’re wearing masks, we’re basically carrying around the gel soap — but this is something that we don’t want to catch and if we do, we don’t want to spread it to each other.”
Acosta agreed that the COVID-19 virus is always something in the back of their minds, but getting back to their jobs in a safe way has always been the goal. “The system in place they have is supposed to protect the players as much as possible. With this virus you can virtually get it anywhere — going to the grocery store, grabbing a random handle, it lingers in the air and you walk through it — it’s pretty scary in a sense.
We’re hoping we can get to Orlando and everyone remains healthy, without any injuries, without any illness and then see what the future holds. We’re responsible for ourselves in our off periods and make sure we’re good and our teammates as well.”
The Rapids are leaving for Orlando on Sunday, July 5th and their first game is scheduled for Sunday, July 12th at 8:30 p.m. MT against Real Salt Lake.