The Chattanooga Red Wolves have returned to the practice field for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most sports worldwide in mid-March, with their sessions at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge far from typical but still a move toward playing soccer in 2020.
The United Soccer League announced May 6 that its teams could begin training in small groups starting this past Monday, and the Red Wolves did just that Friday, setting up predetermined time slots for players to maintain appropriate social distance within a practice environment. Each individual was given a designated area of the field to work on soccer and fitness activities that were provided by the coaching staff.
According to the USL's guideline, a small group means no more than four players, one athletic trainer and one member of a team's technical staff. The USL also said such training is voluntary for players and that teams should follow local and state government orders.
"We're one step closer to soccer," Red Wolves general manager Sean McDaniel said in a team release. "After the training moratorium was lifted by the USL, we developed a plan under the regulations and guidelines of local and state health authorities to allow our players and technical staff to safely return to training in small groups. The players have been on an intense individual training regimen since the lockdown but now have the ability to safely continue that training at CHI Memorial Stadium per USL regulations.
"It's great to get the guys back out on the pitch to start prepping for what we hope will lead to the return to the 2020 USL season."
Since the coronavirus pandemic, the USL has already announced the cancellation of its League Two season, while it has temporarily suspended the seasons for Championship and League One, with Chattanooga a member of the latter. On Friday, the USL announced an extension of its order barring full team practices. That moratorium would only be lifted once a plan for returning to play has been adopted, but teams are still allowed to train in small groups until that occurs.
According to a USL release, all options are currently on the table, including "regionalized competition as well as other alternative structures in the event that a traditional league format is no longer possible."
"We are all very excited about the opportunity of getting back out on the field," first-year Red Wolves coach Jimmy Obleda said in the team release. "It's a glimmer of hope for everyone that we will be playing soon. However, our top focus is to continue to be abundantly cautious and measured on how we operate our training sessions. The most important part is to follow the guidelines set and put everyone's safety and health as a priority."