Keaton Parks: (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
If Florida is the recent huge outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic these days, then New York City FC just might be in the center of the storm and the bubble as it puts its finishing touches on preparation for the MLS Is Back tournament.
It was reported Wednesday that Florida had a record 10,044 citizens testing positive for COVID-19.
Even before the competition kicked off Wednesday night, FC Dallas pulled out because 10 players tested positive for COVID-19. Wednesday’s encounter between Nashville SC and Chicago Fire FC was postponed because five players on the former team had tested positive.
Some NYCFC players enter the tournament with trepidation. City starts its tourney by meeting the Philadelphia Union at the Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla. Thursday at 9 a.m.
“There’s definitely a lot of worry,” midfielder Keaton Parks said during a media conference call on Tuesday. “It’s a global pandemic, you know. Everybody reacts differently to it. Clearly, it’s here. It’s in the bubble, so there’s definitely a lot of worry throughout our team. I know for sure, through all of the other teams here. We’re doing the best we can keep ourselves safe, keep others safe. We just hoping that we stay away from it.”
FC Dallas players could not stay away from the disease as the team withdrew from the competition on Monday.
Parks felt the Texas side and Major League Soccer did the right thing.
“I think it’s just for the safety of the rest of the league,” he said. “I think they already know that the virus is spreading within the team because they react with each other every other. If they continued in the tournament, they would be playing games and interacting with other players and staff, MLS staff and just a bunch of other people. I think they needed to do it just for the safety of everybody else.”
Midfielder Ismael Tajouri-Shradi agreed and elaborated.
“Of course, this is not the best thing,” he said. “The tournament doesn’t start and already one team gets [out of] the tournament. It’s really bad for them. The most important thing is that I have to look to myself and for my teammates, the whole New York City FC. So far we are doing really well.”
Head coach Ronny Deila preferred to look on the bright side, accentuating the positive on the spirit of his squad and how the players have dealt with it.
“I think the boys are dealing very good with it,” he said. “They have a good atmosphere in the group. They are ready to play, very happy to start playing games. Of course, we feel safe, as a whole group, staying healthy. So far, as I understand, nothing has happened inside this bubble. It was something that was coming from the outside. That makes it more secure of course.”
Deila was referring to the fact FC Dallas and Nashville players had contacted COVID-19 prior traveling to Orlando.
“We try to focus on football and give information on what’s going around,” he added. “So, we had a good time. Everything down here has been very good. The pitch has been unbelievably good. Good food, hotel … The testing has been very good. In my opinion, it has been good so far.”