Montreal Impact not ruling out leaving province to commence training

MONTREAL — If the MLS decides to resume its suspended season, Montreal Impact players may have to leave the province to train if they aren’t permitted to practice on the outdoor pitch of the Nutrilait Centre.

It’s one scenario put forth by team president Kevin Gilmore during a recent telephone interview with The Canadian Press.

Gilmore said the Impact are one of six teams whose players aren’t permitted to partake in individual training sessions due to strict public health rules, despite guidelines put forth by the league on May 1 and which came into effect five days later.

Two other Canadian teams — Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps — have resumed training.

The league protocols stipulate that grounds must be divided into four squares of equal size that only one player at a time can use to respect physical distancing measures.

Players are required to take turns arriving on the field, wearing a mask when entering and leaving the pitch, and undergoing a body temperature test upon arrival at the facility.

However, Gilmore said the Impact were refused a request to open its training facility by the city’s regional health authority on May 7, and authorities have not budged since then.

Meanwhile, rumours started to circulate in recent days that the MLS could resume its season this summer, with all teams playing out of Orlando without any spectators present.

Gilmore wouldn’t discuss the rumours, saying the situation is constantly evolving. But the soccer club’s president said while he’s concerned with the health and safety of his players, he’s also worried about the preparation of his team on a competitive level.

“If we do come back and you come to the common site and you haven’t trained individually or even in small groups yet, you’re at a disadvantage,” Gilmore said.

“Honestly, we will have to start looking, maybe, to take the team, get out of town and go to train elsewhere … we will have no choice,” Gilmore said. “It’s not as if athletes of this level can prepare to return to play overnight.”

Gilmore said they’ve even checked with clubs in other markets to see whether it would be possible to accommodate the Impact.

The club’s inability to hold individual workouts at their training facility has proven costly, with the club announcing Wednesday that midfielder Steeven Saba will be sidelined eight to 12 weeks after breaking his left foot ‘on a routine jog” near his home in Montreal.

“It is guaranteed that he does not break his foot while running at the Nutrilait Center,” Gilmore said of Saba, a 27-year-old Haitian international who joined Montreal after attending the 2020 training camp as a trialist.

Provincial health authorities allowed certain outdoor activities to resume this week, for recreational purposes, notably golf and tennis.

The province also announced this week it will allow gatherings of 10 people or less from three households to gather outdoors, while keeping with physical distancing measures.

Gilmore is of the opinion that MLS-proposed measures meet the province’s five criteria for allowing certain activities to resume outlined by Isabelle Charest, a former Olympic athlete and the province’s junior education minister.

Charest said the province is working with federations to adapt different sports to meet COVID-19 public health guidelines and discussions are ongoing to allow certain professional sports and amateur athletes to get back to training again.

MLS suspended play March 12, two weeks into the season, due to the pandemic. Each club had played two games.

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