TORONTO — The 9 a.m. kickoff is daunting. So is the 5:30 a.m. pre-game meal.
Toronto FC gets one heck of an early start to the MLS is Back Tournament on Sunday when it faces D.C. United at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex in the Orlando area.
The league has scheduled games in the morning and evening to avoid the Florida heat.
Toronto and D.C. may not be getting much of a break Sunday. The forecast Sunday calls for a temperature of 30 C at kickoff, which will feel like 36 C. There's a chance of a thunderstorm around the final whistle.
Toronto captain Michael Bradley is no fan of the morning kickoff.
"It's a shame we're playing games at that time," he told a virtual media call Friday.
It's a time that seems at odds with the league wanting to have as many people watching as possible, he suggested.
Not to mention that the conditions are hardly conducive to sterling play.
"When you think about what a 9 a.m. game in Orlando at this time of the year is going to means in terms of the weather and the humidity, I'm not sure it makes a ton of sense," he said with a slight chuckle. "But obviously those decisions get made above our heads.
"We're going to deal with it like we always do and make sure that it's no excuse and make sure that we're ready to go when that whistle blows."
Toronto and D.C. were supposed to play Friday evening but the game was pushed back to Sunday morning due to Toronto's late arrival in Florida, following the need for more COVID-19 testing before departure.
D.C. United coach Ben Olsen said his team had tweaked its schedule to try to adapt to the kickoff time.
"But ultimately it's early," he said. "They're not going to get a great night's rest and they're going to have to have an extra cup of coffee and get out there and compete."
Toronto coach Greg Vanney said he plans to delay his pre-game talk slightly, so the players can have a little more time after breakfast to wake up.
"I'll do a team talk before we get on the bus because I feel like they'll at least have been up for an hour, an hour and a half. Hopefully guys won't go back to sleep. And they'll be a little bit more awake and a little more engaged."
The time spent in the locker-room is shorter than usual at this tournament, so teams arrive closer to kickoff. The bus ride to the playing field is only five to 10 minutes.
Vanney said the team has experimented with shortening its warmup to keep the players out of the heat.
Toronto has a quick turnaround after Sunday's game, facing the Montreal Impact in a game Wednesday evening. Then it's another early morning wake-up call for a July 21 contest with the New England Revolution.
One plus of the Florida heat is the hydration breaks during play, which allow Vanney and his coaches a chance to communicate directly with the players.
"I think the hydration breaks are mini-timeouts," he said. "You get an opportunity to address your whole group ... and try to put them back out in the best way possible."
Vanney says he has been getting up by 6 a.m. in Florida with the staff taking the field an hour before the players to make sure everything is set up for training.
They have started training between 8 and 8:15 a.m., with players hitting the gym afterwards.
"I said to somebody today I accomplish more by 11 o'clock in the morning while I'm here than I have in a lifetime really," said Vanney. "So a lot of things happen early but it's been nice. And then at the end of that, there's a lot of rest and recovery."
Vanney said he and his players and staff are no strangers to spending time on the road in hotel rooms.
"It's what we have to do to play and, for me, playing is why I'm here and it's what my life is about. We're here to try to win and to play and do the best we can. (And) stay safe obviously in the process."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press