The WhatsApp chat requests can come at any time of the day, as late as 1 a.m. But for FC Cincinnati players who are coping with social isolation like everyone else, a buzzing cell phone can be a welcome sound.
“Except maybe for the guys with kids who have their phones on silent because we’re in bed by 9,” said defender Greg Garza via video chat on Friday. “The group chat is where we’re able to get a good laugh out of each other.”
After five weeks of training and two weeks of the regular season, FCC’s roster was split apart by the COVID-19 pandemic which halted the MLS season and forced residents of Ohio to shelter in place.
So, 30 FCC players who are accustomed to being together almost every day are turning to social media to keep in touch. It has become particularly important for the players who live alone and those who are a long way from their families in a time of crisis.
WhatsApp allows users to send text and voice messages, make voice and video calls and share images,
For FCC, the WhatsApp chats have evolved into a virtual dressing room, with a frequent exchange of pictures and memes, plenty of jokes and the usual suspects leading the gags and taking the brunt of the ribbing.
Defender Nick Hagglund is the court jester.
“He’s probably the class clown,” Garza said of the Cincinnati native and Xavier grad.
And defender Andrew Gutman is the prime target.
“Poor guy,” said Kendall Waston, smiling. “The youngest guys know they can come to us. We have our group chats where we make jokes and talk about any single thing. We have great chemistry.”
For many people in the world, social media is helping keep us in contact, serving as a source of information and helping keep things as normal as possible.
And interim manager Yoann Damet and FCC’s technical staff are using various communication and social media platforms to keep the players on track with daily workout regimens, nutrition tips, and tactical data.
Garza, who has three children including a newborn, is keeping busy during this hiatus, changing diapers, doing school work, having snack time and reading with kids, while still managing to run outside twice a day. He said he’s treating this like a mini offseason and keeping focused on family.
“Besides running around with two kids and having a newborn and not getting much sleep at night, trying to get out as much as possible and run around parks with social distancing in mind,” Garza said. “Trying not to stay locked down in the basement doing weights.”
Waston is staying in touch with family and friends in his native Costa Rica, where the coronavirus is beginning to take its toll. As of Friday’s video chat, Waston said everything was fine with his family, but the situation in the country is worsening. In the meantime, Waston is training as best he can with limited equipment available.
“It’s never going to be the same, without the possibility of being on the field with a ball, and sprinting and making different movements,” he said. “Everybody is assuming that when this is over, the season is going to come very quickly and we have to be as sharp as possible.”
Garza said the players are receiving regular communications from the MLS Players Association regarding the status of the season and issues impacting players during the shutdown. He said the tone of the messaging from the MLSPA is optimistic that there will be a 2020 season.
“It’s a week-to-week thing right now, getting messages from the players’ association,” Garza said. “We’re trying to cope with it the best we can.”
Both Garza and Waston agreed that when the regular season starts up again, it’s going to be a quick turnaround for clubs to prepare and a loaded fixture list unlike anything the league has seen.
“Once we get back to competition, everything is going to be as fast as possible,” said Waston. “I don’t think we’re going to have one game a week, like Sunday to Sunday. We’re going to have at least two games a week. Everybody has to be as sharp as possible.”
As veteran defenders, both Waston and Garza agreed that they wouldn’t need much time to get ready. Garza, who spent six seasons playing in the Mexican top-flight which played two split seasons, said he’s accustomed to having as little as two weeks to train. Every player is different, but Waston said once the green light is given, he wants to start playing matches as soon as possible.
“Two weeks would be great, I don’t want too much preseason,” Waston said, smiling.