With only two weeks of full team training under their belt, all coming after they arrived in Orlando late last month, Matias Almeyda knows his San Jose Earthquakes will face "many difficulties" in the MLS is Back Tournament.
But they can still control their mentality. To do that, he wants them to embrace their surroundings in the Magic Kingdom.
"I told the players that they are in a place where happiness and energy reign, because really in this place all kids smile," Almeyda said Thursday during a conference call. "It’s a place for family unity, where Mickey and Minnie are at. And we have the virtue and the possibility to play soccer here. I told the players to try to convert themselves into these characters and try to transmit happiness to those who are going to watch them."
The Quakes were the first club to arrive at the tournament in part because local health regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from training as a full team in the San Francisco Bay Area.
And while the extra time away from home could be trying mentally, Almeyda is hoping his side keep the bigger picture in mind.
"We should enjoy the place we’re in, because if you look around the world, we’re privileged to be here," he said. "We’re in Disney. We’re in a hotel. They give us a good food. We have hot water. We have air conditioning. We have a gym for ourselves, excellent training fields, an excellent organization. And if we look around we thank God for giving us this possibility. In other parts of the world they’re suffering human loss due to the pandemic and in many parts of the world people are suffering from hunger."
That doesn't mean the charismatic Argentine is expecting miracles. Between the abbreviated nature of training and his demanding man-marking style, he concedes just getting players to complete 90 minutes in their opener Friday night against the Seattle Sounders (9 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada) could be challenging.
That shouldn't be confused with a lack of willingness. If anything, the recent circumstances around the world highlights how precious the opportunity is, Almeyda says.
"A fundamental thing that this pandemic has taught us: let’s enjoy life. With safety, with responsibility, with respect, with attention. That’s it," he said. "Soccer is a game. Soccer has to be enjoyed. Soccer has to be lived with passion – a measured passion. But there are other things in life that are sad, different. There are ugly things. We need to take advantage of where we’re at and try to play soccer."