The return of players and staff to the Columbus Crew SC Training Facility at Obetz is, of course, a step forward, said Head Coach Caleb Porter, but in the grand scheme of things, it's simply yet another shift upwards in the long sprocket of gears before more meaningful group training can begin.
"Even though it's not going to be a huge change with what we are doing ... what is different is the feel of being on your pitch," Porter said. "And I think there's something to be said about showing up at work, showing up in your training gear, and being on the pitch you normally train on."
The nature of Columbus's market has allowed the Crew players to more easily find a place to train since mid-March than, for instance, players in denser metropolitan areas.
Still, during these voluntary individual training sessions at the Crew SC Training Facility, the staff and players abide by a number of rules that limit any form of group instruction.
However, there are opportunities, as Porter said, for some structure, primarily in the form of technical circuits and ball striking. There has been a lot of "hidden fitness" as well, Porter mentioned, presumably referring to guys having to set up and complete every step of their workout on their own, and truly putting the idea of "individual" into these training sessions.
Along with the allowances the Columbus market has granted, a high level of buy-in from players and staff alike has been necessary for the Crew to maintain a competitive advantage over the past two months, Porter emphasized.
"I can't speak for other players and other clubs, but our players have been unbelievable in how much they've done and their attitude," Porter admitted, "and I would say our performance [staff members] have been real heroes because they have gone above and beyond in checking in with the players and making sure they have workouts to do and making sure we deliver weights, bikes, and delivering online workouts."
"I felt really good before the individual training started because our players were already doing, over the last eight weeks, individual training on their own. ... So this individual training, while optically it seems like all of a sudden we are doing things we haven't been doing, our players have really been doing individual workouts for the last seven, eight weeks, and they've been doing ball work, running, and lifting."
Porter's aforementioned comments about the habit of getting back to a familiar training area has an effect on the mental health of the team, and with strict physical distancing guidelines in place at Obetz, maintaining the feeling of comfort and inclusivity that comes with being a part of a team continues to be a main focal point for the technical staff and leadership council.
"Over the last couple of months, there are a lot of things you can be doing or not doing, and what we've done is we've stayed in close contact with the players and our number one priority has been to make sure that they are doing well; that they are safe; that they are feeling well, they're healthy; that they don't feel isolated and that we take care of them first. That's number one," he said.
Follow the first day back at Obetz late last week, captain Jonathan Mensah gave his perspective of what it felt like to be back.
"We’ve been doing a lot, as I said, on video Zoom calls, but it’s always great to have a conversation with teammates, with the staff. But … it felt good to see them face to face, have some chats, and talk about everything," he said.
The players will take the concession of being outside, Mensah happily said, as the team now patiently awaits the next progressional phase, whenever that may be.
"We are just happy to be back outside with some fresh air. Seeing the teammates, seeing the staff, seeing everyone on the team, and hopefully, this phase will help us get to phase two quicker."