If the Fire and Major League Soccer return this season, it’s likely that games will be played in front of zero fans. And that would be an adjustment for the players.
“It’s going to be completely new,” Fire defender Johan Kappelhof said. “Nobody is used to playing with no fans. It’s going to be something we need to work with and be able to still perform at the highest level. It’s going to be challenging for sure.”
MLS is proposing to gather all 26 teams in Orlando for a tightly quarantined tournament that would restart the season after it was paused in March due to concerns over COVID-19. It’s unclear how the remainder of the season would proceed after that event, but arenas full of fans are hard to picture.
Since that experience would be new to him as a professional, Kappelhof said he didn’t know exactly how he would prepare. But he did make it sound like he has figured out his mindset.
“What I would do is just accept and know that there is going to be no fans,” he said. “Don’t look at the downside. Just try to play your game and focus on that. If you’re still, ‘There’s no fans and it’s horrible,’ then you’re not going to perform well. You have to accept that there’s going to be no fans for a while and try to make the best of it. You’re a professional. You get paid for what you do. You have to perform no matter what.”
That said, Kappelhof feels the importance of the crowd. He even feels it before the match when he and his teammates are just getting ready as the buzz builds in the stadium.
With fans absent, that building atmosphere won’t exist.
“That’s what I need, having fans in the stadium, to perform at the highest level,” he said. “That’s that little extra it gives you to perform at your best. If there’s fans rooting for you and fans coming to the games, it’s like a special feeling. The whole [pregame] preparation, it’s getting more crowded, and fans are cheering for you. That’s that little extra feeling you have, and also as a little kid you always wanted to play in a full stadium. That’s what you dreamed of. That’s the reason a lot of players want to be a professional athlete: to play in front of big crowds, not to play in front of empty stadiums.”
Games have resumed in Germany, where the Bundesliga plays in front of empty seats.
On Tuesday, powerhouse Bayern Munich visited archrival Borussia Dortmund in a key match. The league contests between the teams usually help determine the eventual German champion, and the atmosphere always equals the importance of the game.
Well, except this version. Because of concerns over COVID-19, Bayern beat Dortmund 1-0 in front of zero fans when the same fixture last season drew 81,365 to Signal Iduna Park. Those players dealt with the circumstances and the oddity of playing one of world soccer’s biggest matches in an empty stadium.
Something similar could be waiting for Kappelhof and the Fire, whether it’s on a practice field in Florida or perhaps an empty Soldier Field.
“If that’s the way it is we’ll have to deal with it,” Kappelhof said. “We’ll have to be at our best even though there’s going to be no fans.”