Toronto FC camp still closed, nine cases of COVID-19 reported among players, staff

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Toronto FC’s camp remains closed as the MLS team works with local health authorities on a plan to resume training in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak.

There have been nine positive tests in the TFC camp, according to figures released Friday by the city of Toronto.

“I’ve spoken to everyone on our staff who’s been affected and everyone feels good,” team president Bill Manning said in an interview. “So that’s good news.”

Toronto has not trained since March 3. Manning said the cases involve players and staff.

“We’ve had full confidence in the health and safety protocols,” he said. “Our group has been diligent but, as we’ve seen, almost every team in every league has had to deal with it at one point or another.

“I think it actually reinforces the success of the process because the testing protocols allowed us to identify very quickly and we were able to remove everyone from the situation so that we can get on top of it.”

Dr. Ira Smith, the club’s chief medical officer, has been the point man in working with Toronto Public Health.

“You listen to them and you follow their guidelines and their advice,” said Manning.

Players and staff were initially tested every other day during camp and are now being tested daily as the club looks to put together the consecutive negative tests needed to resume training.

There is a clearer view of what lies ahead, however. Manning says the team hopes to leave for Florida the week of March 22 to get in some pre-season scrimmages ahead of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 tie against Club Leon.

The first leg is April 7 in Mexico. The return leg will be played April 14 at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla., where Orlando City’s USL team used to play.

Toronto, which finished out last season playing out of East Hartford, Conn., has chosen Orlando as its U.S. base for the start of the 2021 campaign. The hope is pandemic-related border restrictions will ease at some point and the team can return to BMO Field, which only hosted four league games last season.

TFC opens the regular season April 17 against CF Montreal at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, where Montreal will be based. Toronto’s “home” opener will be April 24 against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium. The Whitecaps will be based out of Sandy, Utah, to start the season.

Friday marked the one-year anniversary of TFC cancelling training to await word from the MLS after the NBA suspended its season due to the growing COVID-19 outbreak.

The Toronto players were at BMO Field, ready to train for a weekend game against expansion Nashville SC, when the club sent them home. The team did not play again until July 13 at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.

Toronto, which had already played one game at home, only played three more at BMO Field before relocating to East Hartford.

Manning says the three Canadian MLS teams have shared information about vaccines. The trip to Florida might help, given that the state appears to be looking at giving shots to the general public, including tourists, at the end of April, he said.

“If we have the opportunity to get vaccinated, it’s certainly something we’re going to consider,” he added.

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press