YORK REGION – These are uncertain times.
It has been less than two weeks since the world began to go on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Professional sports across the globe have been paused, while the start of the 2020 Canadian Premier League has been postponed.
With CPL pre-season efforts in full swing, the news came as a blow for each CPL club, as well as the fans, eagerly awaiting the start of the sophomore campaign. But for two clubs in particular – Atlético Ottawa and York9 FC were both abroad as talk of borders closing became a reality – it was even more so.
Morey Doner and his York9 teammates were in Florida, building towards an April 13 home opener against HFX Wanderers FC at York Lions Stadium. Then they had to come home.
“Oh man, it was crazy because it all happened so quick,” Doner told CanPL.ca. “We went down in high spirits. We started (training) before everyone else did, so we were feeling really good about ourselves. We went down there ready to go and then it just seemed like every day we woke up and it wasn’t right.
“We were watching the news in the hotel and it just kept getting worse and worse. We thought we were in the safest spot, Florida – news said you needed to be in a hot place – so we’ll stay here, it’s good to stay here and just try to do our thing on the field. Just put it off and put it off, and it became this reality that this is a serious thing, this is going to be a problem.”
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The pre-season camp in Orlando was designed in part as a getaway from the distractions of everyday life as York9 prepared to go one step further than they did last season, finishing a distant third behind league-leaders Cavalry FC and inaugural CPL champions Forge FC.
The set up was perfect, but then the outside world intervened.
“We were all in camp, working hard, isolated in our rooms, focused on soccer. We were there for soccer: one reason,” 19-year-old newcomer Max Ferrari said. “And then we started to find out that people are starting to test positive with this virus.
“It started to get into our heads that we’re probably going to have to go home.”
Then matches started to get cancelled and postponed.
“We had two friendly games (scheduled) that week, the day of, (the first one) got cancelled. We were supposed to see an Orlando City MLS game that weekend, and it got cancelled. MLS came out with a statement saying that they were going to suspend play and we’re like freaking out,” Doner stated. “The gaffer said be ready to leave whenever because the CPL is trying to get us home to be as safe as possible.
“We were supposed to be there for 14 days and about eight days through they pulled the plug and we had to come home.”
Y9 coach Jim Brennan, no stranger to the pressures of the game, brought that same demeanour into this new, different role.
“It’s our job to try to keep them calm, cool, and collected,” he said. “As it starts coming out, you’re down there, (President Donald) Trump starts talking about closing the borders… We were in a good spot where we were a training: away from everybody. We were quite low key, but it was getting to the point where the league said, ‘Right, everybody’s got to come home.’
“We were fine. Our travel was good, we got back with no problems. The guys, they’re watching TV down there, they know exactly what’s going on. Everybody was very, very calm throughout the whole thing which was good.”
While the players were sad to leave Florida prematurely, it was the sensible thing to do.
“We were told, ‘Yes, we have to go home’ and about the 14-day (isolation). It’s the right thing,” Ferrari agreed. “At the end of the day we’ve got to stay safe. Everyone’s got to stay safe.
“It was the right thing to do. It is time off, but we got to stay working because we worked for a month and we’ve got to keep it up.”
It was at the airport that the gravity of the situation really struck some of the players.
“We didn’t know – we started to – how serious it was,” Doner recalled. “The physios were giving us gloves, we didn’t know whether to wear masks or not. The reality was sinking in that this could really be a detriment to the season and what’s happening; seeing within each other’s eyes that something’s not right here.
“It’s concerning. And then coming home we have to go straight into isolation. The physios and the boss were telling us to stay calm and to stay positive, but it’s a lot tougher than it looks. Waking up and doing what you love every day and then having to compromise, stay inside and put your health first. It’s frustrating.”