Minor league soccer is getting ready to play for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. And players from a Virginia team are learning new health and safety rules, as well as how to stay healthy.
“It feels like the first year of school, kind of linking up with the friends after a long summer,” Loudoun United FC team captain Peabo Doue said.
The return of the United Soccer League Championship comes with many safety rules in place because of the pandemic. Many of the new rules center on social distancing when playing at home or on the road.
“We’re kind of schooling each other and trying to teach each other how to follow those rules and just get used to them,” Doue said.
The rules include how to stay safe at hotels and even what players should not do when celebrating goals. It also includes taking proper care when using equipment and not sharing water bottles.
“It’s breaking old habits. In soccer, the brotherhood is always, you want to be close to each other, high-fives, everything. It’s just been kind of different, kind of adjusting to that,” Doue said.
The players on the team are also receiving weekly COVID-19 testing, and they are being urged to limit contact with others, as much as they can.
The stay-at-home orders in the early stages of the public health emergency were tough on many players, according to Doue. But a team workout plan and Zoom workout sessions helped players hold each other accountable for staying in shape, he added.
Doue spent many hours practicing in empty fields by himself and taking a lot of walks. He used the time to connect with others in the sports industry, watch old games, listen to podcasts and watch “The Office” with his girlfriend.
The Germantown, Maryland, native said it was tough not seeing members of his family, who only lived a couple miles away. Doue said it was a “humbling period,” which he is glad is over.
He and his team are now focused on winning during what will be an abbreviated season.
“Obviously, it is not against every single team in the league, but you know, 15 games are better than zero, on my opinion,” Doue said.
The team’s first game is an away battle against Hartford Athletic on Monday at 7 p.m.
Loudoun United FC will also return to play in the national spotlight with the game being broadcast on ESPN 2.
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