As of this afternoon, the Colorado Rapids are still scheduled to attend the MLS is Back Tournament, despite a slight travel delay due to two positive COVID-19 tests on Sunday. As professionals, the players are now trying to focus on playing matches with real consequences and real results from their time in Orlando.
“The focus starts off that we’re not just coming to the tournament just to participate. We’re coming in to compete and to win,” midfielder Kellyn Acosta told Burgundy Wave. “That’s first and foremost and [HC] Robin [Fraser] has ingrained that in our heads.”
Another key point that Fraser has instilled in the players’ mindset is not to focus on the external distractions like weather, according to defender Drew Moor. “It’s going to be hot, it’s going to be humid, but Robin has really preached concentration. The teams that concentrate the most, stay in their shape, don’t let the game get opened up, and concentrate for 90 minutes gives themselves a good shot at doing well in this tournament.”
That may be tough to do with the teams seeing the same news we do back home — enormous spikes in positive COVID-19 cases in Florida, positive tests for players from various teams — all while getting down to playing meaningful matches for the first time in months.
“We’re going to be a hotel, it’s going to be a big open space with fields, but at the end of the day it’s a soccer match,” Moor said matter-of-factly. “We need to go and concentrate on what we do and let all the other intangibles and variables take care of themselves.”
“We want to remember what made us successful in our first two games, and we felt good about ourselves throughout pre-season as well. We tried to carry that momentum into this different pre-season,” he continued.
Colorado had a dream start with two thrilling victories in their only two matches so far in 2020. They’ll try to rekindle that confidence in themselves and their system in a very different set of circumstances, according to Drew. “With it being a tournament design, I think it’s important that we just do what we’ve been training on — stay very concentrated on our tactics. We’re a good, exciting team in that we can attack extremely well, but when we stay in our shape — and we stay in our defensive shape — we have a lot of joy.”
Another consideration is the unknown fitness and mental levels that will be put to the test by all teams at the same time. As Acosta put it, “We’re going to go there and give it our all, do the little details that will go a long way. Obviously, fatigue will set in but everyone’s in the same boat. If anything, we might have an advantage on other teams because some of the teams couldn’t start training until recently and we kind of got a head start on individual training. We need to use that head start to our advantage.”
“At the end of the day we’re all experiencing this pandemic, we all have similar issues that we have to go through, so for us it’s a mental game,” Acosta continued. “The strong-willed will prevail. Robin always iterates that we just get on with it. No matter what it is, whether it’s little things like we like to moan — [Assistant Coach Chris] Sharpie is the ref and he’s a terrible ref — so we have to get at him and then it starts a lot of bickering and all that, so he always says ‘Get on with it’. Same thing with this pandemic: it is what it is, it sucks, but we’re all part of it, and now we have an opportunity to compete and we want to win a trophy.”
The huge unknown is the same as it has been for the general public throughout the nation as well as the world and that is the threat of contracting the virus. Both Acosta and Moor acknowledge safety will generally be first and foremost on their minds, but also see this as a chance to get back to some sense of “normalcy” if possible.
“Obviously we want to be healthy and safe in an environment that’s good for everyone,” said Acosta. “The scary part is the virus is real. Part of me is definitely excited to get back into it, get back playing games. We don’t want this year to be wasted either but the safety of all of us is more important than the game.”
“I’m not leaving my room, I’ll tell you that much,” said Moor, part humorous, part foreboding. “I have my worries about how safe it actually is going to be, with a family back home, and really just my health and my teammates and everybody around us I’m going to do everything I can to avoid. In an environment like this, you can only protect yourself so much. It’s something that’s important that we get some games in, we get ourselves back on tv, but it needs to be done the right way.”
MLS hopes they’ve set up the right way in their proclaimed “bubble” environment on Disney property in Orlando. However, cracks in that bubble have already started to surface with hotel quarantines not going quite as planned, simple things like meals becoming a challenge, and even a match delayed due to test results.
The bottom line on competition is that like all Colorado Rapids players and coaches, Drew Moor is competitive. That instinct will take over for veterans and rookies alike once on the pitches in Florida. “Obviously as a player, our job is to take it one day at a time and that starts with Salt Lake which should be fun. If it’s a preseason game or MLS Championship game we want to win. This will be the most competitive thing we’ll have done in months. I think once we get on the field things will be more normal and we’ll want to go out and win these games.”