Major League Soccer has always tried to avoid the costs of charter flights, but with the threat of COVID-19 that aversion has gone out the window
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To Vancouver Whitecaps playmaker Ryan Gauld, long travel days are old hat.
The 26-year-old Scot spent seven years playing in Portugal, where six-hour bus trips were not out of the ordinary.
“You’d travel the day before a game. You’d train early and finish early. Then the bus would leave the stadium at 11 a.m. You’d travel for two hours, then stop somewhere for lunch. Then another four hours,” he said after Tuesday’s Whitecaps practice at their training centre on the University of B.C. campus.
Just like a family trip.
There really is no comparing buses vs. planes, even if flying involves a little more hassle at the beginning and end.
“It’s more comfortable sitting on a plane than on the bus. So I’m definitely more of a fan of flying,” Gauld confirmed.
Still, a long trip is a long trip. And the Whitecaps travel more than any other team in Major League Soccer.
Thankfully, the Caps don’t have any especially long trips left this season, but four of their next six matches are on the road, a crucial stretch that could make or break their playoff hopes.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. L.A. Galaxy
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They play in Los Angeles this weekend, then in Salt Lake City, San Jose and in Colorado in three of the following five weeks.
None of those flights are especially long, but two of the four road opponents play in cities at high altitude which, like humidity, is a whole factor for travelling teams.
“I think this is the hardest league in the world to win away. That’s what I think,” Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini said.
In the past, travel has been a huge disadvantage for the team, when most flights were taking on commercial airlines, with just a handful of charters allowed by Major League Soccer rules per season.
Two examples from the 2019 season bear this out: An eight-day stretch in April where the Whitecaps played on a Friday in Chicago, a Wednesday in Vancouver and the following Saturday in Orlando, Fla; or the week in May where they played in Kansas City on Saturday, had to fly to New Jersey to face the Red Bulls midweek, then home to play Dallas on the following Saturday.
The latter trip saw the Caps have their Kansas City to Newark flight cancelled before the league came in and booked them a late-night charter that didn’t get them to the Big Apple until 3 a.m. Their flight home was via Seattle, but the initial leg was delayed, meaning the team missed its connecting flight home to Vancouver from SeaTac airport.
The team was able to rebook the players on a later flight to Vancouver, but the team’s staff ended up driving home across the border.
Those kinds of nightmares are a thing of the past, at least for the pandemic time being.
Because of COVID-19, MLS teams have been flying only on charters — and for a team like the Caps, that has made a huge difference.
“To be honest, with COVID, things have improved a lot. For us. Only for us. Only for the team,” Sartini said.
So, the Whitecaps, underlined.
“Because we travel charter for every game. And so it’s much less demanding than before,” he went on. “I give you an example: We would never do that performance in the second half in Nashville if we had to travel commercial.”
The 1-1 draw in Nashville at the end of July came just four days after the Caps won the Canadian Championship at home. In the old days, once they’d picked themselves up from their celebrations, they’d have had to spend a long day flying to Nashville, with a connection somewhere, likely in Chicago.
There are no direct flights from Vancouver to Nashville, you see.
But with a charter flight, where the seats are more comfortable, with more leg room and there’s no layover, the competitive disadvantage is lessened, Sartini argued.
“It’s easier to win away now than in 2019 but it’s still very hard,” he said.
WHAT’S UP, DOC? — The six Whitecaps who tested positive late last week for COVID-19 remained away from training on Tuesday, but Sartini was hopefully three or four would be able to return to training on Wednesday, assuming they tested negative on follow-up PCR tests. “If they are coming back, they should all be good on Thursday,” he said, before knocking on metaphorical wood. … Striker Tosaint Ricketts trained on his own Tuesday, the team calling it simply a maintenance day.
Whitecaps 2, Dynamo 1: Vancouver leaves it late — again — but comes away with all three points
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