A League Together
By Connor Zimmerlee and Haley Riley
For the past year, soccer for many has been a perpetual COVID-19 red card, a harsh penalty suspending play for players for only trying to do the right thing during a pandemic.
On March 15 of last year, the city of Austin implemented a lockdown that prohibited gatherings of more than 250 people. For the Austin Men’s Soccer Association, things were no different as they were forced to suspend play to comply with the city of Austin’s health protocols.
Unfortunately, for AMSA, this order came during the middle of their spring season and effectively ended the season. Austin Manning, the league treasurer, said that Covid drastically altered their season and the schedule they try to maintain throughout the year.
“A standard season for us will start in late September and end in late April or early May,” Manning said. “We stopped playing immediately though, due to the dangers of the pandemic and for the safety of our players.”
As a result, AMSA was unable to finish the spring portion of their 2019-2020 season. Beyond the inability to play on the weekends and enjoy the weather with their teammates and friends, Covid affected the league financially as well.
While AMSA is a recreational league, they still bring in money through fees and the ability to rent out the fields they use to youth leagues in Austin. However, as the lockdown was put into place, the fields they use laid dormant and unused in the months after. Along with the inability to use or rent out their fields due to the pandemic, they were still tasked with upkeep and maintenance of the fields, even though they were not bringing in any money in.
“We are in charge of maintenance of those fields,” Manning said. “Even though play hasn’t been happening costs still accrue throughout the year with water, upkeep of the grass, etcetera.”
For a league that is a non-profit, who relies on fees and renting out their fields to help the cost of upkeep, the pandemic hit them hard. While the pandemic has been hard on the league from a monetary aspect, it has been, simply put, hard for league members to not play on Sunday’s.
Robereto Silva, the league’s VP, believes that the inability to play on Sundays in an organized manner through the league as opposed to pick up games between players is a health risk itself. To help lower the number of potential pick-up games players were involved in, Silva said they just approved a futsal league that should be starting in the next few weeks after teams get a chance to register. Futsal is a football game played on a hard court, smaller than a football pitch, and mainly indoors.
“We needed the futsal league because the city did not allow us to play on our fields,” Silva said. “It’s better that we do organized sports rather than just letting people play pick-up games at Zilker Park or wherever.”
However, Silva does believe that they will be able to play a somewhat normal spring season as Austin continues to open up, citing the fact that Lonestar Soccer Club has begun play again with some of their fields opening up.
Whether they are able to resume play for a spring season or must wait until the fall to begin their new season, there will be increased safety measures in order to ensure the health of all players, referees and those who are in contact with the players.
“We had to submit a Covid plan that met all the standards that Texas health officials, as well as local officials, required for adult recreational leagues,” Manning said. “This includes changes to the format of our fields, spaced out game times, and suspending spectators from attending.”
With the possibility of a spring season in the cards, teams in the league are preparing for practices in a Covid world. For the Goldstars, this includes a change to practice protocols in order. Chris Laguna, a member of the team since 2007, said they have implemented new policies to comply with health and safety protocols.
“We’re doing our best to keep practice spread out when we can, so less drills with a lot of close contact,” Laguna said. “Of course, that can be difficult in our sport, but we are doing our best to maintain a safe environment.”
While the last year has been tough on the league, some of the players also struggled mentally due to the inability to be on the field with their teammates and friends. Owen Allsopp, who has been a member of the Goldstars also for six years now, opened up about how it affected him personally.
“For me, not being able to get out on the field, whether it be for practice or a game, was really difficult mentally,” Allsopp said. “I’ve been going for runs when I could, but nothing can fill that emptiness of kicking the ball around with friends.”
These struggles have impacted Allsopp and the rest of the league, but he hopes that there will be a spring season so he can get back on the field with his team and friends.
“The second a spring season is approved, I will be the first one on the field with my cleats on and a ball to kick around,” Allsopp said. “Honestly, I think I’ll go to the field and kick a ball around before I go see my parents or family that I haven’t seen in a year.”
It is still to be determined if AMSA will be able to host a spring season or if they must wait until the fall to resume play. As it stands though, the infrastructure within the league and the community of players and members they have built over the years will allow for a smooth transition into playing again post-Covid.