SOCCER RETURNS FROM COVID-19 BREAK

Bundesliga resumes May 16; Dynamo, Dash back at training

Bundesliga resumes May 16; Dynamo, Dash back at training
Midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia, the club's longest-tenured current player, reports to training at Houston Sports Park on Thursday, May 7, 2020. Photo: Houston Dynamo

Soccer leagues around the world begin life after a temporary suspension due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The German Bundesliga, one of Europe's big five leagues, prepares to return to action this coming weekend.

In the United States, professional soccer teams have been given the green light to return to their training grounds - with certain restrictions.

Return of the Bundesliga

The "powers that be" in Germany met last Wednesday and the green light was given for the first and second divisions to resume their 2019/20 season. The previous Bundesliga matchday took place on March 8 but clubs resumed training a month later, awaiting a decision on when play would resume.

Bayern Munich leads the tight race for the Bundesliga title. The top four clubs clinch a UEFA Champions League berth.

Upcoming TV Schedule (All times CT):

Saturday, May 16

  • 8:30 a.m. - Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 (FS1, FOX Deportes)
  • 8:30 a.m. - RB Leipzig vs. Freiburg (FS2, TUDN)
  • 11:30 a.m. - Frankfurt vs. Monchengladbach (FS1, TUDN)

Sunday, May 17

  • 8:30 a.m. - Cologne vs. Mainz (FS1, FOX Deportes)
  • 11:00 a.m. - Union Berlin vs. Bayern Munich (FS1, UniMas, TUDN)

Monday, May 18

  • 1:30 p.m. - Werder Bremen vs. Bayer Leverkusen (FS2)

Complete listings at WorldSoccerTalk.com

Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A clubs return to training

Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona returned to their training ground for individual workouts as Spain begins to ease restrictions. Sevilla, Villarreal, Osasuna and Leganes also resumed training and more are on the way including Real Madrid on Monday.

Five players in Spain have tested positive for the Coronavirus and are under quarantine. La Liga continues to see June 12 as a potential return date.

Clubs in Italy, one of the hardest countries hit by the Coronavirus, have returned to training including Fiorentina who have six players that have tested positive for COVID-19. The Italian FA have maintained their desire to resume the season.

Houston Dynamo and MLS clubs report for individual drills


Photo: Houston Dynamo

Forward Mauro Manotas (pictured) and other MLS players around the country were able to report to their club's training grounds for the first time in almost two months beginning last Wednesday. The Dynamo began their individual workouts, the only training permitted at the moment, on Thursday.

"Mentally, being again on a soccer field, where you go out to touch the ball, where the field is prepared for that, not being in a park where someone is throwing a Frisbee on the side, it is another world," said Head Coach Tab Ramos. "Being able to enter a real soccer field where everything was ready, I think the players were happy and well, I think mentally it's a giant step."

MLS policy on indivudial player workouts

  • Workouts will be voluntary for players
  • Any workouts must adhere to local public health or government policies
  • MLS moratorium on small group and full team training remains in place through Friday, May 15
  • Prior to initiating any individual player workouts, every team must submit to MLS a club-specific plan
  • Training facility restricted to essential staff, with specific staff listed in the plan.
  • Sanitization and disinfection plans in place for all training equipment and spaces, including disinfection of any equipment used by players (balls, cones, goals) between every session.
  • Standard Screening Assessment completed by each player prior to every arrival at the training site, including temperature checks
  • Staggered player and staff arrivals and departures, with designated parking spaces to maintain maximum distance between vehicles.
  • Player use of personal protective equipment from the parking lot to the field, and again on return to the parking lot.
  • Staff use of the appropriate personal protective equipment throughout training while also maintaining a minimum distance of 10 feet from players at all times.
  • Hand washing and disinfectant stations for required use before and after individual workouts.
  • Clubs will have the use of the outdoor fields at their training facility, divided into a maximum of four quadrants per field. A maximum of one player per quadrant may participate per training session with no equipment sharing or playing (passing, shooting) between players.
  • An Emergency Action Plan for all COVID-19 related issues.
  • Access to club facilities is prohibited, including locker rooms, team gyms, and team training rooms.
  • Team gyms and training rooms may still only be accessed by players receiving post-operative and rehabilitation treatment (in HOU case: Jose Bizama, Aljaz "Kiki" Struna)
Only three players (Sam Junqua, Cody Cropper and Niko Hansen) are the only players not training at Houston Sports Park while they serve a five-day quarantine after club-permitted out of town trips.

Houston Dash and NWSL back at training with small groups permitted


Photo: Houston Dash

Midfielder Christine Nairn (pictured) and other NWSL players were able to return to their club's training grounds for the first time in almost two months last Wednesday.

"We have been chomping at the bit to get back," said Nairn. "Some of the measures we had to take today began with us arriving in 10-minute increments. We had a time that we had to be here, that gave us enough time to check in, check our temperature and get to the field. We also had to wear (masks) to the field and off the field, so the Dash and Dynamo organization are doing everything they can to get us back on the field as safely and quickly as possible."

NWSL policy on indivudial player workouts

  • Voluntary, individual player workouts on outdoor fields
  • Access prohibited to club facilities including locker rooms, weight rooms, and indoor team training rooms.
  • Training center (incl. locker rooms, etc.) only accessible to players receiving medical treatments that can't be performed at home.
  • All activity must follow government, state, and local mandates
  • Each team must have approval from their medical staff to advance to the next phase
  • Teams should limit staff to the essential personnel necessary to conduct each phase of training and competition
  • Players will undergo a daily symptom screening prior to entering team facilities
  • Players who are fulfilling self-quarantine for any reason are not permitted to train with other individuals or at team facilities
  • Players, coaches and staff who are sick or have close contact with individuals who are sick must inform the team's Certified Athletic Trainer, stay home, and not participate in training
  • All individuals should practice good hand hygiene, and avoid touching their face, nose and eyes with their hands as much as possible
  • Clubs will thoroughly clean and disinfect all commonly touched surfaces daily

The league-wide moratorium on full team training remains in place through Friday, May 15.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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