Task at hand: 'Caps settle in and focus on prize amid tourney adjustments

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL – Whitecaps FC are settling in well in their "bubble within a bubble" in Central Florida, as they rev up their preparations for their tournament opener on Wednesday versus San Jose Earthquakes.

Axel Schuster and Maxime Crépeau detailed how a day in their life looks, their reactions to the tournament changes announced this week, and how the team is keeping their focus on the task at hand.

SHIFTING GEARS

Schuster shared his thoughts on the withdrawal of FC Dallas and Nashville SC, and Chicago Fire FC’s subsequent move to Group B.

“We were aware of that for a few days and were involved in the process,” Schuster said. “We had a Zoom call with all the sporting directors of the teams in Groups A and B a few days ago where we discussed solutions. I think there are two important messages: One is the league was on that and was aware of that from the very beginning and was looking for solutions to keep the bubble safe, so they isolated the team very early and were looking at alternatives for what they can do for the tournament format to keep that alive; the second thing was that everybody was very open and very helpful.”

Schuster went on to emphasize the importance that the league is placing on structuring a successful tournament system in an ever-changing environment.

“The most important thing is to get a good set up in this tournament to find a good solution so the tournament itself is still a good format and all teams have three games in the group stage,” Schuster said. “We found that for us it means what we already knew, that our first game is still on the 15th against San Jose. That's the only game we prepare for right now because that’s the only game we can win right now.”

As the ‘Caps prepare for their first match of the tournament on July 15, Schuster knows that the playing field is even and every team is working around the clock to shake off the rust.

“I think it's the same for all teams, it’s like an exhibition game coming out of the pandemic and a very special situation,” Schuster said of the early games in the tournament. “For every team’s first moment of coming back onto the pitch, coming back into the situation, to be stressed, to be in a competition, to have an opponent there, they need a little bit of time to adjust to that again and you see that.”

LIFE INSIDE THE BUBBLE

While it’s taken time to get adjusted to, the 'Caps currently find themselves in a bubble within a bubble in Orlando as they focus on the health of everyone at the tournament.

For goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau, life inside the bubble may be different but still means one thing: business as usual.

“To be honest with you it's a normal working day,” Crépeau said. “Wake up and get the breakfast and then some guys want to do their activities in the morning, so they do it before training. For myself, I get my morning breakfast and then have a little bit of a chat, go to the lounges and some guys are just hanging in there, having conversations, relaxing. Others went straight back to sleep because we're training late at night, so everyone has their little secrets and their own routine to be ready for training in the evening. Then we have our team meal during the window of lunch. After that, for me, it's just about training really.”

The activities in Vancouver’s bubble vary and the team is finding different ways to stay entertained in their free time. While keeping the players accommodated in the bubble, Schuster still stresses the main reason the team is here.

“First of all, we are here to work so entertainment is not our first issue here,” Schuster said. “We built two lounges here, one for players and one for the staff. I saw some players hanging in the lounge and playing cards, some guys told me that they brought some books here. You are free to go out, there is space to go out, there's a walking course of one mile. There are some outdoor activities you can do. I think there’s a lot you can do here but we are not making recommendations because every person is different. Right now, the only thing we do is stay connected with our players and ask them what we can do and if they need something what we can help with.”

On the health side of the tournament, Schuster discussed how every team is focusing on the health and safety of all involved, specifically mentioning extra precautionary measures taken by the ‘Caps.

“The protocol about testing is very easy,” Schuster said. “We got two testings in the first 24 hours and now we get tested every second day. The protocols itself are that every floor is isolated. Nobody is allowed to enter the floor of another team. Everybody has to wear a mask at every single place. There are only two exceptions which is your own room and the pitch for the players on the pitch. We have to keep social distancing and we have sanitizers all over the place. Those are the main rules that everybody has to respect. We created some of our own rules to make the entrance to our floor safer, so everybody has to sanitize before they enter our floor.”

With limited options in the bubble and with health and safety being paramount to everyone in the bubble, Crépeau looks on the bright side of being with his team and working towards a trophy.

“It's been really good so far honestly,” Crépeau said of the tournament. “We created our own little bubble in the bubble to be safe and to not take any further risk that we have to expose ourselves. We have a good group of guys that are committed to this club and we have a group that is nice together. We don't take any chances to go out there and get mixed with other teams or to go to the beach just to go out the beach. We’re being really careful, and we take care of business. It's true, it’s like a vacation here but we’re here to prepare for games.”