LEWIS GETTIER/ISI PHOTOS

Megan Oyster is a defender for the Houston Dash of the NSWL, who just last week returned to training for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Oyster spoke with Just Women’s Sports about what it was like to be back on the field, how the Dash are keeping players safe, and what happens next.  

The Dash are officially the first team back in training. What has that process been like and how has it been communicated to the players? 

It’s definitely been a whirlwind. The league has broken up our schedule and our timeline into phases, which I think has really helped all of us with our mindset. The communication has come mainly from the NWSLPA. They’ve done a phenomenal job keeping us in the loop. As players, we’re just trying to take everything day by day. There’s phases that we have to go through, and right now we’re in phase 1B, which just means individual training and being able to get back out to the facility. Mentally and emotionally it’s definitely been a lot of ups and downs, because we still really don’t know what’s going to happen next. But our team, and the girls around the league that I’ve spoken to, are all on the same page. We’re just trying to stay focused, trying to stay sharp, and doing all that we can to just stay sane. We still don’t know if there’s going to be a season, so we just have to take it day by day and wait for the next phase to be implemented. Keep communicating with each other, and just make sure that everyone’s kind of doing their part and staying with it.

What was that first practice back like? How was safety enforced? 

It was pretty crazy. I’m very thankful that they opened the fields for us, because quality field space has been really tough to find. Going into practice, we had to wear a mask. We got our temperature checks before we took the field. Everything’s six feet apart, obviously. All of the different fields at our training grounds have been sectioned off into different quadrants. I was on field 5B and could only be in that quadrant. If players are roommates, they can share a quadrant, but otherwise we’re not even allowed to pass to each other. It’s all really regulated, and we know we have to follow the protocols for safety measures.

And the club is really strict, too. It’s not like, “Oh, hey, we’re going to look the other way. Do you whatever you’re going to.” There’s actual people, like field marshals, watching our workouts and making sure we’re staying in our quadrants. And then after training the Dash and Dynamo equipment managers go around to wipe down all the goals with sanitizer. It’s really, really intense. They’re not messing around.

How would you describe the team’s overall reaction to being back on the field? 

It was tough to be next to each other and not be able to play with one another, but I think everyone was just really excited to be out on the field. It’s kind of a weird feeling, but to see your teammates doing what they do behind the scenes in their own homes, working extremely hard, setting up technical drills to work on their game, and to up their game, and shooting, and sprinting, and doing agility drills just to stay sharp — It was really inspiring. And it was really cool just to know that we’re all in it together and that we’re all working towards the same goal.

Were there any moments of frustration or were you just happy to be back? 

There are definitely moments. When you’re sectioned into your own quadrant and you look to the right and left and you see your teammates right there but you’re not allowed to pass them a ball — that doesn’t really make sense. I know that this is what has to happen right now, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of frustration. But obviously the whole world is going through this, so what are you going to do? It’s easy to lose perspective, but it quickly comes back.

I’m actually really impressed. This is a huge organizational effort on behalf of the club. 

Totally. The club is really mindful about the protocols that have to be followed, and I think they’re setting the tone for the rest of the league. Because obviously everyone wants to play and everyone wants to get back out there. But if we’re going to do it we have to do it the right way. We can’t take any shortcuts when peoples’ health is at stake. There can’t be anyone going behind the scenes and doing things that aren’t sanitary or not taking it seriously. And right now the club is taking it very seriously and I really appreciate it.

Things are opening up in Texas, but, for example, in New Jersey they’re still under shelter in place. What do you think that means for the league? 

Yeah, Chicago’s in the same boat. Portland, Seattle, they’re all still under stay at home orders. I mean, it’s going to take a long time. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t predict the future, because no one really knows. But, again, I think the league is doing all they can for us as players to give us the resources that we need to stay ready, and stay prepared for whenever this is over. I feel very thankful to be able to be a step ahead, but I think it’s just going to take time for the league to come together.

Do you think a May 16th start for preseason is realistic or ambitious? 

I think it’s pretty ambitious, I’m not going to lie. They leave a huge window, though, for the preseason start date. That’s been a big improvement for the NWSL. In the past they’ve been quick to say, “This is the date, this is what’s going to happen.” And then, you have that expectation and then you’re let down when it doesn’t. I think this time going around, they’ve been very cautious of that. There’s a giant window for an actual start date. May 16th is there and that’s the goal, but we obviously know that things can change and it’s not just about us. It’s about our country and about making sure that everything is safe. It’s not just our specific city.

How have you mentally dealt with all the uncertainty? You’ve basically been asked to stay ready for weeks on end training by yourself, even though there’s still a chance the season won’t happen. That can’t be fun. 

Honestly, I see it two ways. I mean, yes, it does suck big time. We were all in top shape, ready to go for preseason. I was finally ramped up, all the way ready, had the first week of preseason under my belt, and then quarantine started. And that’s been its own journey. But I’m good, honestly. I’ve stayed busy. Like a lot of people, during that first week I was kind of intrigued, like, this is new, I get to stay home and just kind of chill. Then week two goes by and it’s like, “Wow, this is real. We’re going to be here for a bit.” Then after those two weeks I gave myself a bit of rest and settled into a routine. I’m just treating this as a new normal and trying to make the most of it, trying to see the positive in each day. I work with Athletes for Hope, which is a nonprofit, and have been spending a lot of my time doing that.

These workouts have also kept me sane and motivated. Yes, the situation sucks, but having these workouts during the day means I have something to look forward to because I know that I’m making myself better. And knowing that your teammates are also doing it and that we’re in it together helps a lot. It’s really hard to stay fit and stay ready, and to go through all these ups and downs, but to know that you’re not the only one is definitely helpful.

There’s talk that the NWSL could be the first league back. What are your thoughts on that? 

I’m very hopeful. I’m not going to lie. I’m hesitant to say for sure that our league will have a season, but I think that if we do what we need to do, not only within our league, but as a country, I think we can rally and bring this together. I know that all of the girls in the league, not just myself, not just the Dash, are going to be extremely excited whenever any kind of soccer opens up. It’s going to be extremely competitive, just because of how long we’ve waited. We’re ramping up and if you release us, we’ll be ready.