Major League Soccer’s return to play plan has accelerated in the last 48 hours.
A deal between the MLS Players Association and the league was agreed to Wednesday and the moratorium on team training was lifted Thursday.
The Philadelphia Union, who did not practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday due to negotiations between the players union and MLS, were given clearance to return to small group training Thursday.
“Today was the first day we had some type of group session where we could actually pass the ball to one another,” Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya told reporters on a video conference. “That was fun getting back hitting the ball and working on technical stuff.”
Previously, the Union participated in voluntary individual workouts at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware. The club is still practicing on the turf field outside that facility while it awaits clearance to return to the Power Training Complex in Chester, Pennsylvania.
In the near future, the club will move to team training, which was approved Thursday afternoon, and then a trip to Disney’s Wide World of Sports for the resumption of play.
Getting to that point was a difficult process after the league's owners threatened a lockout Sunday night.
“For me personally, I don’t think I was super stressed. I just think at the end right there they showed their true colors a bit,” Bedoya said. ‘A bit disingenuous from their end to try and pull that considering that we were already really close. I felt like we were about to have a deal and they threw that right back at us.”
“I guess it’s, what do you want to call it?, a regressive bargaining tactic that didn’t really sit well with us, but I guess that’s part of negotiations, right? All these tactics thrown at you,” Bedoya said.
Bedoya admitted parts of the negotiations to return left a bitter taste in the mouths of the players, who agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement before the start of the 2020 season.
“I think they saw that they were kind of in the wrong with the type of action that was taken,” Bedoya said.
“I would say throughout the process, at times, we were preaching this whole partnership thing and it left a bitter taste in our mouths from the way they opened it with the 75 percent pay cut in the initial proposal to how they wanted to end it with a lockout. That’s just not for the players. It impacts everybody. It wasn’t just an insult or slap in the face to us players, but across the league. That’s our coaches, our physios, PR team, front office, everybody at the club. A lockout means everything stops functioning. It is what it is. We move on. We signed it and we agreed to a deal and I think everyone is now looking forward to Orlando and just competing again.”
Bedoya stated that he feels comfortable with the safety protocols MLS is putting in place for the Orlando tournament.
When it begins, each team will play three group-stage games followed by a knockout round. Full details of the tournament have yet to be finalized.
“I think the health and safety protocols they’ve put in place were very reasonable and we went through all that, the types of testing we’re going to have down there,” Bedoya said. “There’s still some questions to be answered, but I have no doubts they are going to make sure we are all taken care of and looked after and in safe hands.”
Due to the intense nature of the negotiations, the players and ownership may need a while to fix their relationship, but Bedoya does not deem any of that irreparable.
“I don’t know if it’s taking a step back, but it certainly left a lot to consider and I’m sure it’ll be repaired as time goes on,” Bedoya said. “Because, like I said, we should all be in this together in terms of wanting to grow the league, wanting to have the league be better and all that. They harp on this partnership between the players and the league. At times, we thought that fell just a little bit short. Let’s not forget that the initial proposal about Orlando was having us play for more than two months and didn’t initially sit well with us for reasons from the human aspect. It’s not like we’re leaving our families behind during normal circumstances.
“There were a lot of questions to be asked and they answered a lot of them. Credit to the league. I can’t imagine how many phone calls they’ve been on too. They have to deal with players, owners and medical staff,” Bedoya said.
Bedoya has also been paying attention to the protests against police brutality in wake of the murder of George Floyd.
“You feel this energy that they hopefully will bring about change and some of the policies people are starting to listen to at least. They can’t tune this out. That’s what I hope comes out of this. All the athletes in the communities that are posting on social media. I hope that it’s genuine. I hope it’s not just to satisfy whatever for the time being. I hope this is something that will bring about change in the future,” Bedoya said.
“The energy feels like something will happen and we’ve already seen things happening in Philly with the removal of a certain statue, or police laws, I guess the way they go about certain policies and their business is going to start changing. It’s just all about accountability, right? I think that’s what we’re going to start seeing more of. Credit to the peaceful protesters that are out there and making a difference.”
Bedoya lives in Philadelphia and has shown support for protesters in the city as well as current and former teammates that have spoken out on the issue.
“It’s very moving. Credit to them for continuing to press on the issues. For myself, having those guys as teammates and hearing their stories in the past or being with them, I’ve been with Mo (Edu) a lot and seen a situation where he got pulled over and they talked to him differently. These are things that these guys have experienced personally. It’s important for us to really listen to what they’re saying and how they’re really feeling at this time,” Bedoya said.
“I think one thing I’ve seen here in Philly is the diversity of the protestors, and everywhere for that matter, coming together to amp this movement up and bring about change. We just have to continue to support them, listen to them, feel what they’ve been experiencing because you have to try to put yourself in their shoes. I think the more people they get a handle on and educate and people learn from them, the better our society will become.”