Chicago Fire FC Set to Enter MLS “Bubble” in Orlando

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Chicago Fire FC will play a full, 90 minute intrasquad game tomorrow morning before departing for Orlando in the afternoon. Chicago Fire FC will participate in the MLS is Back Tournament, where they will open play against expansion club Nashville SC on Wednesday, July 8, at 9:30 p.m. CT (ESPN and ESPN Deportes).

The Fire will resume Group A play against another expansion side in Inter Miami CF on Tuesday, July 14, at 8:00 a.m. CT (ESPN and ESPN Deportes). The Fire will closes out the group phase of the tournament against New York City FC at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 19 (FS1 and TUDN).

As has been the plan all along, every MLS team will be in its own confined bubble down in Orlando for at least three weeks.

Depending on how they perform in the group stage, and then later the knockout round of the MLS is Back tournament, a team could find itself in in central Florida for up to six weeks. In the state of Florida, the coronavirus pandemic is worsening, and thus staying in the bubble and cut off from the rest of the population is of the utmost importance.

It’s going to require a real commitment to remaining socially distant. This afternoon, Chicago Fire manager Raphael Wicky provided his final media availability before departing to Orlando.

Wicky was asked by a reporter how the team is preparing to for the mental challenge of being away from their families for several weeks.

“That’s a very good question and a very good point and actually a very important point and I don’t think any one of us has really gone through that,” he responded.

“Three weeks is okay, I think three weeks we can manage. Often in pre-season you go away for about two weeks, sometimes two and a half. Some teams in this league even go away for a whole month or five weeks depending if you’re in a winter market and you can’t really train at home. So I think that’s manageable.”

“The difference is we are actually stopping there and we cannot really leave and when we give them days off they can’t really go to the beach or so. So from what I understand is the complex is quite big.”

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All the teams will be put up in the Disney ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, and obviously it’s going to be a really nice, big set up. It’s literally a resort so that means plenty of pools and other amenities to stay cool in the July Florida heat.

The key will be to try and make sure everyone stays mentally healthy, in addition to physically right. It’s something all of us are struggling with right now amidst this awful global pandemic.

“If we feel in that a guy maybe struggles because he’s away so much from his family or whatever goes on mentally, we have to listen to the players and maybe sit down and talk to them,” Wicky continued.

“I think that it’s not always talking about football it’s more talking about, how are you.

“And then as well just to find the right balance in doing team activities, team meetings, team meals and giving them a little bit of time off, even if the time off they cannot really do much or they cannot go outside of this complex.

“But that will be I think an important point when you’re together so long. That’s actually like when you are in a World Cup or Euro Cup or in a big tournament, there you are together quite long.”

“Again, there you have sometimes family come, which is not the case, but also there sometimes you have an evening off and you give them time for their own. I think that’s going to be important to find that right balance.”

Indeed work/life balance is going to be a challenge, when everyone is away on an all business trip like this. As for the tournament itself, expect to see Wicky play a lot of different players and do some heavy squad rotation. He said that he hasn’t completely settled on his starting XI as of right now.

“I have an idea, but there is always two, three positions still open, which is good,” Wicky continued.

“I have good choices. I have not only 11 players, we have a bigger number of players which could be potential starting players. This is a good problem for me to have.”

The complete MLS is Back Tournament Broadcast Schedule is available here.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TVSports IllustratedChicago Now and SB Nation.

You can follow Banks, a former writer for Chicago Tribune.comon Twitter and his cat on Instagram.

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