After The Athletic obtained a full schedule for the “MLS is Back” Tournament in Orlando early Wednesday morning, continuing the ongoing feud between the site and the league, the Vancouver Whitecaps officially announced the dates and times for their first three group stage matches. All three matches will be taking place at 7:30PM PT (or 10:30PM ET), which will hopefully make for both an enjoyable viewing experience in the pacific time zone and offer the players some form of relief from the unrelenting Florida heat.
The Whitecaps begin the tournament with a July 9th matchup with FC Dallas, then taking on San Jose Earthquakes on July 15th, and rounding out the group stage with a cascadia clash against the Seattle Sounders on July 20th.
When asked about the schedule, Whitecaps Head Coach Marc Dos Santos downplayed the importance of playing specific teams in Group B at a given time.
“I don’t think it makes a big difference in my approach. I wanted to have Seattle first, but that was more from a fan engagement perspective...That third game with Seattle could have a lot of meaning for the group, but once you’re in a group stage, you can’t think too much about the second or third game.”
As Covid-19 cases continue to soar in Florida, Dos Santos also commented on the level of concern amongst his staff and players as they prepare for travel.
“The pandemic is real.” Said Dos Santos. “Some players have brought us concerns about the rise of the virus, especially in Florida.”
MDS added that his players were given MLS handbooks yesterday which detailed safety procedures, and that he feels that the team can travel to Orlando confident that the conditions they will find there are as safe as they can be.
“We feel that the setup in Orlando allows us to go there feeling safe. Once we are there, the wearing of masks outside, social distancing, washing our hands, wiping down the things in our hotel rooms, these are individual responsibilities that we’re not only doing in Orlando, but also here.”
Beyond the obvious concern of Covid-19, only one member of the Whitecaps squad is still doubtful for Orlando from an injury perspective. After making his loan move from Argentina permanent late in the offseason, centre back Erik Godoy has been nursing a foot issue, and may not be available in Florida as he continues his recovery.
Continuing on the theme of injuries, Dos Santos was quizzed on how he and his staff would get players match fit and prevent injuries under the unusual circumstances Florida is going to offer. With injuries in both Germany and England having seen a significant uptick since the restart, Dos Santos affirmed that this is something on the minds of everyone at the club.
“It’s one of the biggest concerns from coaches [across the league]. The players don’t have a preseason of exhibition. So are the players going to arrive at 100%? No, that’s for sure...But our players have been very committed since they stopped training before the match with Colorado. The fitness levels are very high. But is it a concern for me as a coach? Of course.”
Dos Santos also reflected on the challenge of coaching such a unique format, and the attitude he feels is necessary in order for his team to have success.
“This is going to be a tournament for people willing to pay a price. The teams and coaches that cry about the food, or a training session being changed, those are the teams with more chances to fail...I want to make sure that the guys going to Orlando are ready to pay a price. You are going to have to suffer and deal with changes and things like that.”
“The mindset of the guys is important, what can we do outside of soccer to keep the guys eneganged? You can’t stay locked in a room for five weeks. We have to be smart and manage different activities and educate them on how to be responsible.”
Lastly, Dos Santos commented on the style of play he expects to see in Florida, and whether or not this is likely to make for exciting and engaging football.
“I think we will see games that are going to become very open. I see a lot of goals in this tournament. Heat is going to play an important factor. Teams might start out compact, but the games are going to open up. Some players also might feel less pressure without fans there...We want to stick to what we have been building. But we want to play a game with so much intensity that we have to be careful when the fatigue sets in. What kind of moves can we make to keep the team strong through the full 90? That’s going to be our challenge.”
What do you think of the schedule? Also, with FC Dallas players recently testing positive, what is your level of concern as the Whitecaps ready for travel to Orlando?