The San Jose Earthquakes became the first club to arrive in Orlando for the MLS is Back Tournament on Wednesday, meaning they were the first to experience what life is like at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, where all 26 teams will be staying for the duration of the event.
For the moment, the goal is simply to get acclimated to their new surroundings and get their fitness up to speed as quickly as possible, but there's also the challenge of tackling a stretch of what will be lengthy isolation. It's an adjustment period, to be sure, but Quakes defender Tommy Thompson said the players are doing what they can to start to figure out how to manage the mental grind.
"It took a little bit to get used to, but we have all our own rooms, so that's been a real positive," Thompson said on a video conference call with reporters on Friday. "Everyone spends their time differently. I actually had the opportunity to run a couple Zoom training sessions with some youth soccer teams in California yesterday, which was a lot of fun. It's been good, I think it was a little bit intimidating at first but I think already guys are starting to feel more and more comfortable.
"So far guys have pretty much stuck to their rooms but we've had the opportunity to eat meals together which has been great because I haven't eaten with a group in a long time," he added. "Apart from that we've been training together but as of right now guys have pretty much stuck to their rooms. ...I do feel safe. I think there's been a ton of precautions that have been taken, I've already been tested [for COVID-19] twice, so it's good to see that there is a process in place to protect us from the virus. I'm really optimistic about this tournament and what's going to transpire here in Orlando."
Getting acclimated to the hot and humid Orlando climate will be imperative for every team traveling in for the tournament, but it might be even more crucial for San Jose, given their physically demanding playing style.
Head coach Matias Almeyda's high-pressing, man-marking system requires as much running as any team in the league, which may have contributed to the club's decision to head to Orlando early. Defender Oswaldo Alanis said he'll leave it to Almeyda to decide whether they need to adapt their style to accommodate the climate, but added he feels good about the club's ability to maintain their normal style in the heat.
"Matias will manage the strategy and know what we're going to do for our style of play," Alanis said. "It's harder than usual, but we'll do the best we can, knowing that we have five [subs] and Matias will [manage] those and manage the best we can with the players we have and make the changes he wants us to make on the field knowing what we know about the weather."
All told, Thompson said it's simply been a weight off the mind to have a concrete goal to be working towards after the uncertainty following the league's postponement.
The Quakes have a challenging group, starting with a bout with the defending champion Seattle Sounders on July 10 (10:30 pm ET | ESPN) before matchups with a tough FC Dallas side and a Vancouver Whitecaps squad intent on showing they've improved from a difficult 2019 and boasting an imposing new striker in Lucas Cavallini.
"We're excited about our draw," Thompson said. "I think it was a big step forward to us to have a start date and to have something to look forward to. For a while there in the quarantine process we weren't sure what was going to happen, so to finally know there's a reason behind it, it's just been such a relief because now we're putting in work and we know why we're putting in work. I'm excited for that first game against Seattle, I'm excited for the other games as well and we're ready for anything that comes our way."