Fire preparing for mental side of confinement in MLS bubble

The isolation brings a different challenge, and it’s one that the Fire are aware of as they prepare to restart their season.

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The Fire’s Mauricio Pineda controls the ball during their March 1 game in Seattle.

Courtesy of the Fire

The large MLS bubble has plenty to offer the Fire and other teams. There are activities, recreation and entertainment to help keep people occupied. Players and coaches might even run into old friends and find a way to socialize on the campus’ grounds.

But plush accommodations aside, the Fire will be confined to the campus for three weeks — and maybe even six if they advance to the end of the MLS is Back Tournament. That isolation brings a different challenge, and it’s one that the Fire are aware of as they prepare to restart their season.

On Tuesday, one day before the Fire left for Orlando, Florida, coach Raphael Wicky compared the trip to preseason training, in which clubs often leave their home market for about a month. The first-year Fire coach also alluded to playing in major tournaments like the World Cup, in which teams are together for weeks at a time. But those mentions come with a caveat: On days off in normal circumstances, players and staff can explore the surrounding areas.

Other than the complex’s grounds, that’s not the case now. 

“It’s just going to be important to feel [how] the players [are doing], to talk to the players,” Wicky said. “If we feel that a guy maybe struggles because he’s away so much from his family or whatever goes on mentally, we have to listen to the players and maybe sit down and talk to them. I think that it’s not always talking about football; it’s more talking about, ‘How are you?’ ”

After the chartered fight Wednesday, the Fire settled into the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, where they have a floor to themselves and each player gets his own room. 

And like his coach, standout rookie Mauricio Pineda compared his mindset to how he’d approach a preseason trip. Of course, there are differences.

“I walked into my room; there’s two beds but only one person in here,” Pineda said Thursday. “It’s a little bit different. It’s a little bit more challenging to deal with, I guess. There are rooms where we can hang out. I think there’s like an Xbox room, a PlayStation room, Ping-Pong room. 

“I think we’ll be able to get together with the guys. So that will be nice.”

It sounds nice now, but the Fire are only days into a trip — and isolation — they hope will last six weeks. Wicky knows managing the players’ emotional and mental states will be crucial and will require the right touch.

“And then as well just to find the right balance in doing team activities, team meetings, team meals and giving them a little bit of time off, even if the time off they cannot really do much or they cannot go outside of this complex,” Wicky said. “But that will be I think an important point when you’re together so long.”

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