Commitment was the key word Peter Trevisani used when it came to the new COVID-19-related guidelines the United Soccer League Championships unveiled Wednesday.
The league released “return-to-play” protocols totaling 51 pages Wednesday that outline the expectations and guidelines players, coaches and personnel agree to work under for the truncated 2020 season, which is set to begin July 11.
Trevisani, the co-owner of the New Mexico United club, said the document was a result of collaboration with other professional leagues, the United States Soccer Federation’s COVID-19 task force and the USL Players Association.
He said the players’ input and agreement to abide by the league’s guidelines was a key element in ensuring there would be a season, which was halted after the first week of play in March when the pandemic hit the United States. A crucial item is that players must wear masks any time they leave their homes and cannot maintain social-distancing measures. The only exceptions are for training and matches.
Trevisani said a few players were supposed to take part in a Black Lives Matter event last week but elected not to because of the guidelines.
“We are all making the commitment not to be out in public,” Trevisani said. “We are restricting our activities to something that is even more restrictive than we have in [New Mexico]. That is a commitment and a responsibility that shows that everyone wants to come back and try to play some soccer this year. This gives us the best chance to do so.”
The USL will also limit the amount of air travel teams will take by breaking the 35 teams into eight regional divisions for a 16-match regular season that ends during the weekend of Oct. 2-4. Most of the matches will be within the division, with a few contests against teams within the regions. Trevisani said the league will announce Thursday the teams in each division, but he envisions the United will be able to travel by bus to its destinations.
The teams nearest to the United include the Locomotive of El Paso, the Colorado Rush of Colorado Springs, Colo., and the Phoenix Rising.
Even bus rides will be closely scrutinized, as social-distancing measures will be enforced. That could mean multiple buses instead of just one. Trevisani said teams will likely have to make one trip by plane, and he said the club would likely buy a section of seats and spread its traveling squad among it. He added that players who live together or in the same complex will more than likely be seated together.
“In many cases, you’re going to be sitting next to your roommate, whether it’s on a bus or a plane or in a van, or changing in a locker room,” Trevisani said. “We are trying to minimize the amount of interaction. Also, that helps us because if someone, unfortunately, were to test positive, we can isolate them and their roommates and ideally continue on while those guys are taken care of.”
Teams also will be required to abide by stringent cleaning protocols, whether they are traveling, in the locker room or working out at the team facility. Prior to all training sessions, players and coaches will have their temperatures checked and answer a checklist of questions about their health. Players with temperatures higher than 100.3 degrees will return home and immediately self-quarantine until the team physician can determining whether further testing is needed or the quarantine needs to continue.
Players, coaches and staff who interact with each other will be tested weekly. In the event that players test positive for COVID-19, they will be immediately quarantined and any area they were in will be closed for cleaning for 24 hours.
As for the matches themselves, Trevisani said they will play without fans for as long as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s current stay-at-home orders remain in effect.