Saturday marks the 30th day since Orlando City first arrived at the Swan and Dolphin for the MLS is Back Tournament. It’s been a month of isolation as the Lions adjusted to a routine of early training sessions, late matches and frequent COVID-19 tests.
Yet players said their time together has made a deep impact, creating a bond between teammates after months of separation due to the coronavirus shutdown of all team activities. And the Lions’ chemistry off the pitch is seeping into their play, creating a cohesive look and style built from camaraderie among the players.
“We’re just getting to know each other,” Mueller said. “That chemistry off the pitch is kind of showing itself now on the field. In my opinion, I think that we’re a much stronger group. We’re very together in the sense that this has been a tough time and we stood by each other, we’ve had each other’s backs. I think that when you look at it from that standpoint it’s been great in here.”
Orlando City players got a taste of this lifestyle during a 10-day preseason training camp in Cancún. Those days proved valuable in creating a bond between new and returning players alike, and the team was visibly more cohesive — both on and off the field — when they returned from Mexico.
The same has held true in the Disney bubble. Players spend almost every moment of their days together — training, eating meals, watching Premier League matches in their NormaTec legs during recovery.
Orlando City players have found unique ways to adapt to the summer camp vibe at the MLS hotel. When the Lions spend their off days relaxing at the pool, it typically evolves into yet another competition, whether that’s a game of volleyball or a relay race on oversized floaties.
Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese picked up a new job in the bubble, becoming players’ designated barber and giving haircuts to teammates including Santiago Patiño. Striker Tesho Akindele spends his down time playing chess, going up against midfielder Uri Rosell and teaching tricks to other teammates.
These activities have helped the Lions as they struggled with the time away from their families. More than half of the players have young children at home. Goalkeeper Brian Rowe and defender Alex DeJohn are both missing a full month of the first year of their newborns’ lives. Gallese missed his son’s third birthday.
The Lions operate with a team-wide understanding — if they’re going to make the sacrifice of time away from their families, they’re going to make that time worth it.
“I always miss my family,” Gallese said. “I can’t be with my kids right now and that’s really difficult. But my family understands that I’m here to do a job and every time I step out on the field, I’m happy that they know that and that I can represent them.”
Throughout the experience, coach Oscar Pareja has emphasized the importance of embracing gratitude during the team’s daily routine. Captain Nani has reiterated this to the team on a regular basis. Coming from poverty in Portugal, he wants his teammates to recognize the privilege they have to safely play the game they love amid the pandemic.
This attitude has helped the Lions to enjoy their time together in the bubble.
“Oscar has been continuously reminding us of the message just to continue to be grateful for the little things,” Mueller said. “When you focus on the things that we have to be grateful for here and you look at those little things, I think that that perspective can really drive your performance on the field. That mentality from that standpoint, I think it’s really done us well and I think that’s why we’ve been doing good so far.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at email@example.com.
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