Stefan Frei, Cristian Roldan discuss keeping communication open during COVID-19

Sounders MLS Roldan
Cristian Roldan answers questions in February 2020, during MLS preseason. Photo courtesy of Mike Fiechtner/Sounders FC Communications.

Seattle, Wash. — MLS is currently opening up individual training. However, while some clubs are basking in the sunlight and working out on the pitch, others are still forced to stay home. All clubs are outlined to follow state and local guidelines.

One club that has not yet been cleared to host individual training practices at club facilities is the Seattle Sounders FC. However, the Sounders players are working out at home. They’re even taking part in trivia night and team meetings via Zoom. Cristian Roldan and Stefan Frei chatted with media this week about the new normal for their club.

Roldan said that he would love to get back to Starfire, where the team practices. However, “we need to make sure we’re doing our part in society,” Roldan said.

Workouts are done individually and as a group, Roldan explained. He says that everyday he does some kind of workout, and it’s a benefit that he lives with his brother, Alex, who also features for the Sounders.

“I try to prepare myself to the best of my ability,” Roldan said. When we’re back in preseason, which we’ll probably have again, I will hit t he ground running… I’m really looking forward to that moment. I’m excited to get back on the field and pass and cut to my teammates. You can’t really practice turning or playing a long ball during this time.”

Meanwhile, Frei said his training is a bit more difficult. Being a goalkeeper, Frei has found COVID-19 restrictions difficult to work on his reaction times and reflex training.

“You try to do whatever you can to stay as ready as you can for when we’re ready to return,” Frei said. “There’s certain things that are going to need a little bit more time to fine tune.”

Communicating entirely online and on mobile

The Sounders are still finding time to keep communication open with teammates and coaches, too. Roldan says that playing video games with his teammates keeps him connected. Meanwhile, Frei said that there are little group chats among the players.

However, on a more routine note, there are Zoom meetings and workouts three times a week. On Wednesday night, players are put to the test during a “Know Your Fellow Sounder” trivia night, orchestrated by the coaches.

It’s an opportunity for people to see each other, banter back and forth,” Frei said. “We’re itching to get back in the locker room and see each other and move on.”

Meanwhile, Roldan said that he’s keeping communication open not just with the Sounders, but with his national team partners are well. He praised the staff from both teams for keeping the situation as normal as possible.

Sounders provide connection, sense of community

The Sounders players are making the most of their time in quarantine to connect with fans, too. Plenty of players have dived into charity work, Roldan and Frei included.

“It’s not about money, but more about engaging with all of our fans, and the kids who look up to us players and want to be us in the future,” Roldan explained. “I think I raised close to 10K [on Twitch and by streaming video games]. But for me, it’s about engaging with kids who don’t have the chance to have a conversation with me.”

When COVID-19 hit, Frei said he dove right into his art projects. Then, once he realized COVID-19 would last longer than originally anticipated, he began thinking of ways to reach out to fans. “Soccer is part of the entertainment business, so I wanted to connect, entertain and engage with fans,” he said.

“I’ve been involved with Rave [Sounders official charity organization], and they’ve made a relief fund,” Frei said. “I’m part of the board or council that goes over the phases and the cycles of which small business and individuals get that. I’ve been humbled to be part of that. I’ve done artwork with Roger Bennet from Men in Blazers, which is going to charity as well.”

Looking toward a future for MLS

In some parts of the country, teams began hitting the field for training this week. As mentioned, Seattle has not yet been given the green light from their state and local officials. So, for now, the players and staff are pondering what a return to MLS will look like.

Roldan said that there’s a competitive advantage for teams who are allowed to train. However, he was quick to explain that this is a situation out of his control. “All we’re doing is trying to stay fit and be ready for when the time comes,” he said. “It’d be great to be on the field soon or in the near future.”

Will there be 34 games this season? Roldan and Frei don’t know the answer to that question. However, both players mentioned that every team will need another preseason to get back into physical shape.

Roldan did have potential ideas for how the MLS could work the schedule, though.

“To make it fair for everyone, you play every team once,” he suggested. “That’s my opinion. It’s not something the league has even talked about. Whatever that adds up to seems pretty fair to me. At the end of the day, it’s not my decision… To have a decent schedule and try to keep it as fair as possible, and to keep playoffs in the picture, you’ve got to minimize the games.” 

Mental, as well as physical, challenges

Meanwhile, Frei said that there’s going to be a tough mental obstacle to hurdle. The Sounders opened up the MLS season with a win over the Chicago Fire, and a draw against the Columbus Crew.

“The difficult part has yet to come, on that mental aspect,” Frei said. “You work your butt off in preseason to be in shape and get amped up to be on  the pitch. Then it gets taken away… I think that [mental] challenge is still ahead of us. I’m eager to face it, obviously.”

Will the stadium be empty in 2020?

In Germany, the Bundesliga is about to get rolling next weekend. However, all clubs are going to be missing a few thousand people in the stands. Stadiums will be empty for the return of sports all over the world, due to safety concerns.

Frei said that playing in Seattle provides one of the best atmospheres in MLS. “I want to play in front of the fans,” he said. “They’re part of the experience and they’re part of what makes playing soccer as a professional great and so rewarding.”

Meanwhile, Roldan said that getting sports on TV earlier would help fans cope with being quarantined.

“There’s nothing like playing in front of people, whether they’re rooting for you or against you,” Roldan said. “They make the sport so emotional. That’s why I love playing in front of fans… Fans are everything in this sport.”

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