What We Know (So Far) About the Novel Coronavirus and What It Means for Soccer

It seems every day there's a new piece of information about Covid-19, and with that another layer of confusion and frustration. Scientists are still discovering aspects of the virus, complicating timelines for a return back to normal.

The reality is we won’t be going back to normal any time soon. When it comes to soccer, and sports as a whole, the game is undergoing—has already undergone—a massive transformation. 

At USP, we’ve compiled all the information we know so far on safety measures, return to play guidelines, and overall best practices to help players and those in the business of soccer navigate these murky times. Despite the challenges ahead, we remain optimistic about the survival of the game and are committed to helping the larger soccer community ensure the future of the sport. 

Return to Play: Timelines and What to Expect

As U.S. states enter different phases of re-opening, soccer clubs at all levels are strategizing their return to the pitch. Abroad, we've seen multiple professional leagues resume matches, and stateside, two dozen MLS teams have returned to full team training, ahead of the MLS is Back Tournament in July.

But while youth soccer clubs in Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, and Washington are among the first to return to play, health experts continue to warn of the consequences of returning too soon. Professional soccer leagues have all had to implement extensive health and safety protocols, yet just this past week, players on both Atlanta United and Inter Miami—two teams that had resumed full team training—tested positive for Covid-19, as has an NWSL player.

While both the MLS and NWSL insist that all appropriate contact tracing and testing are being conducted, the new cases are a testament to the relentless nature of the virus, and the probability that youth soccer games, practices, and tournaments will need to make significant alterations in order to proceed.

 

ArizonReturntoPlay

 

INDIVIDUAL AND SMALL GROUP TRAINING

While every club is subject to the regulations of their local jurisdiction, the ideas behind the safety protocols are more or less the same—minimizing contact, sterilizing facilities and gear, monitoring symptoms, and keeping the number of players and staff to a minimum.

In fact, individual and small group training will likely be the new norm for clubs at all levels. The ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) recently released its “Recommendations for Returning to Play in a Training Environment," which in its second phase allows for group training of no more than 10. Arizona’s Phase II is restricted to 4v4, while major European clubs only returned to practice in groups of 10 prior to full match play.

Urban Soccer Park field

 

The USP mini-pitch is the ideal training ground for individual and small-sided play. Our profession-grade fields are designed for groups of 10 or less and customized by size and surface, with newly added features for safety and health protocols. Our slate of products cater to both individuals and organized groups—our 1v1 Panna cages are perfect for the backyard; our 5v5 mini-pitches have been a staple for serious clubs and neighborhood rec centers; and with walls for solo practice, built-in barriers and double doors for safe distancing between player and coach, we have a safe, effective field for every type of club, company, and soccer family.

 

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The probability that Covid-19 won't be fully eliminated in the near future, even with the development of an effective treatment or vaccine (the latter of which is likely multiple years away) means that even the biggest clubs will have to face long-term changes and perhaps a permanently altered industry. For soccer to continue, players, coaches, staff, and parents must embrace small-sided play as the path forward.

 

Bundesliga

MAINTAINING ENGAGEMENT

Quarantine has been difficult on many, including on young athletes who rely on team sports as a vital source for social interaction. Since shelter in place orders have been enacted, physical activity amongst kids has plummeted, while anxiety and depression have increased.

A USP mini-pitch can be a truly life-changing experience for individuals and a game changer for organizations. Not only do our fields enable small group gatherings, but they are also incredibly engaging for all ages and skill levels. The fast-paced format provides more touches, more goals, and more dynamic play, making the experience both more enjoyable and an excellent teacher of the game.

USP’s 5v5 fields are also renowned for efficiently developing technical and tactical ability, giving players essential skills like quick decision-making, creativity out of small spaces, and intelligent movement off the ball.

As more and more kids return to play, one of the chief concerns for coaches aside from safety measures is injury prevention. Coaches will no doubt want to manage workload for athletes returning to the pitch after months off, and USP’s mini-pitches are versatile spaces that allow individuals to stay fit while away from the team, and enable clubs to quickly and safely get their athletes up to speed.

 

rendering of a mini pitch in Pennsylvania

 

A SUSTAINABLE SOURCE

Whether for personal use, for a club, a school, or neighborhood, USP’s bespoke, professional-grade fields are built to last and are a reliable source for long-term revenue. Many clubs are going to face tough questions about sustainability. Whether or not they can provide safe and quality training may be the difference between folding and staying alive.

We’ve already seen major changes with the recent closure of the Development Academy, and questions surrounding club, college, and professional soccer will continue to evolve. As a soccer community, we have to prepare for the long haul. Covid-19 is going to be around for a while, but the good news is soccer can and will survive. At USP, we genuinely believe our mini-pitches will help clubs survive and players adapt, while participating in first-rate football. Not only are our fields constructed with the highest-quality material and designed by passionate experts in the industry, but owning and maintaining a small-sided field with built-in safety features is one of the surest ways to create a sustainable club for years to come. Contact us today to get started.

 

COVID-19 US / YOUTH SOCCER RESOURCES

MLS Health and Safety Protocol

ECNL Return to Play FAQ

CDC Considerations for Youth Sports

US Youth Soccer: Return to Activity by State

Florida Youth Soccer Association Return to Play Guidelines

US Soccer: Phase 1 Recommendation Guide

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