SANDY — Real Salt Lake coach Freddy Juarez believes the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando beginning next week will be the ultimate mental test for teams around the league.
For starters, living in the MLS bubble with ample downtime will be an obvious challenge, but so will different practice times as teams share training fields and vary game times.
“Saturday will have another challenge, that’s arriving in Orlando and having to deal with a different climate and a bubble. We’re going to have to control the controllable there as well. Be mentally as strong as we can, but the only way we can do that is together.” — RSL coach Freddy Juarez
In some respects, RSL has already been dealing with that over the past week because of the NWSL Challenge Cup going on at the RSL Academy. Juarez said his team has been forced to be flexible with field availability, sometimes practicing at Rio Tinto Stadium and other times at America First Field in Sandy.
Juarez hopes the inconveniences have prepared his players for what awaits them in Florida when they depart on Saturday in preparation for their first MLS is Back game on July 12.
“Saturday will have another challenge, that’s arriving in Orlando and having to deal with a different climate and a bubble. We’re going to have to control the controllable there as well. Be mentally as strong as we can, but the only way we can do that is together,” said Juarez.
To prepare his players for the rigors of the unique tournament, Juarez said he’s put his players through some rigorous, long training sessions — sometimes during the heat of the afternoon. The response has been good, and he’s noticed that as the tournament draws closer the intensity in training has picked up.
Maybe it’s prepared his players for success, but he’s also trying to be realistic.
“I don’t know if you’re going to see a lot of great football. We’re asking a lot of our players going into this thing, we really are. I get being optimistic and loving that, but don’t forget they’re humans too and this is the second preseason in six months, it’s been tough on the guys.”
Real Salt Lake opens group play with rival Colorado on Sunday, July 12 at 8:30 p.m. Its second game is against Minnesota on Friday, July 17 at 8 p.m., followed by the group finale on Wednesday, July 22 against Kansas City at 7 a.m.
Additional games will followed if RSL advances out of the group into the Round of 16.
As far as a potential resumption of the regular season after the MLS is Back Tournament, Juarez said he and the players aren’t worrying too much about that.
“I haven’t given much thought to anytime afterward. I think the point we’re at right now, where life is right now I don’t think we should be looking too far forward. Right now the focus is today, enjoy today, work for today and tomorrow we’ll take tomorrow as it comes,” said Juarez.
The MLS is Back Tournament officially kicks off next Wednesday in the tourney opener with Orlando facing expansion Miami. All games will be televised across ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision’s family of networks.