As virus spreads, Fire trains for Florida tourney
Raphael Wicky is putting his faith in Major League Soccer.
Even as the number of COVID-19 cases in Florida soar, the Chicago Fire and the rest of the MLS teams are preparing to travel to Orlando for the MLS is Back tournament. Teams can arrive in Orlando beginning June 24, with the tournament starting July 8.
"We trust the league that the league is doing the best to have and keep us safe," said Wicky, the Fire's first-year coach. "Should the league think that, OK, this is going to be unsafe, then we trust them that they will react to that. It's out of our hands."
The pandemic that forced MLS to suspend its season in March is just one of the issues facing teams and the league ahead of this unusual, World Cup-style tournament.
The Fire got a favorable draw in the tournament. It will play both expansion teams, Nashville SC and Inter Miami, plus New York City FC. But it also is in the only six-team group in the tournament, Group A.
It's an awkward and unavoidable issue.
"It is a fact that it is probably a little bit more difficult to qualify in a group of six than a group of four," Wicky said in a video media conference call Tuesday. "It's a fact. But it's out of our hands."
Each team will play three games in group play, with eight teams in each conference advancing to the Round of 16 for single-elimination play. The games will count toward the regular-season standings.
The regular season is expected to start after the tournament ends in August, if all goes well.
The Fire played two games in March before the 2020 season was suspended, losing one and earning a draw in the other.
Teams will be allowed five substitutions per game, more than the standard three, because of the unusual circumstances regarding player fitness.
Wicky said it's likely he won't use all five subs.
"Sometimes as a coach you don't want to change too much. That's just how it is. If you feel the energy level is fine, don't change too much," he said.
The Fire has resumed full team training at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, and Wicky is happy with the players' fitness level. Still, there will be an adjustment period as they try to get match fit again.
"It's completely different than what they have done for the last three months," Wicky said. "That's just a fact. It's different physically."