Starting tomorrow, D.C. United will be able to take the pitch at Audi Field for the first time since defeating Inter Miami at the beginning of March. In compliance with local and league guidelines, United will begin holding voluntary small-group workouts on Buzzard Point as the team works towards returning to play amid the coronavirus pandemic.
There are significant changes from the recent Segra Field training sessions. Notably, while the prior template only allowed for four players to be on the entire playing surface at one time, United will now be allowed to have a dozen players (six players in each half of the pitch) train at once time. Players are still obliged to keep social distance, with each half of the field divided into up to six zones, and each zone must be 10 feet away from all other zones.
Players are allowed to switch zones, but only one player may be in a given zone at any time. Another major change: players are allowed to exchange passes or shoot on a goalkeeper, though players must still maintain the required social distance of at least ten feet at all times.
Once a training session begins, players from one group of six must stick within their group and their side of the field. While United can re-arrange the groups from day to day, once a group is set, that’s the group for the entire session. Coaches are allowed to be present, but must wear masks and are restricted to the perimeter of the field.
Audi Field itself is not fully open. Players will have to proceed straight to the playing surface itself rather than going to locker rooms or other parts of the building. Only players needing treatment or rehabilitation exercises that require special equipment have access to the areas that equipment is in.
Many facets of the Segra Field arrangement are still in place. Staff must still be named in the plan United submitted to the league and local officials, and parking still requires both assigned spots and staggered arrival/departure times to maintain social distance outside of the training itself. Players are required to wear masks at all times other than when they are actively training. As with the prior arrangement, media and fan attendance is barred.
With word of the MLS Players Association ratifying both their Collective Bargaining Agreement with MLS and a plan to return to play with a tournament in Orlando next month (details of which are still being finalized), United has a limited amount of time to get players fit enough to play, let alone able to play well. Full-team training sessions are still not allowed, though the league’s initial statement on that front expired on June 1.