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Former MLS player helping Spain in fight against coronavirus

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MADRID — Toni Dovale has a different routine than most Spanish soccer players during the coronavirus pandemic.

While some have been spending their time trying to stay fit or negotiating salary reductions with their clubs, Dovale is working to guarantee there are enough protective masks, gloves and medicine to help in the fight against the virus in hard-hit Spain.

The former Sporting Kansas City and Celta Vigo player who came through Barcelona’s famed youth academy has put on a white coat and is working in his family’s small pharmacy in the northwestern city of A Coruna while soccer remains on hold because of the virus.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

He had been playing in Thailand before coming to Spain for the holidays and got stuck when the outbreak started.

“I was packing my bags to go back to Asia for the new season, but the situation with the virus started to become tough,” the 30-year-old Dovale said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press this week. “I was not expecting to work now, but the only thing I could do was help. It was the right moment to come into the pharmacy and help my people.”

Spain has struggled with the coronavirus, registering more than 140,000 confirmed cases and nearly 14,000 deaths. The country has been in a tight lockdown since mid-March and the restrictions are expected to remain in place at least until the end of April. The nation’s health system has been overwhelmed and the government has been seeking any help it can get.

“I decided that the best thing I could do was to help my community, to come to the pharmacy and try to help people, to do my best so we can get back to our normal lives as soon as possible and hopefully I can go back to playing soon,” said Dovale, who has a pharmacy degree.

“With everything that is going on in our society, it was the moment for me to take a step forward,” he said. “I know there is a risk, because I’m exposed to the virus, it’s an uncomfortable situation, but I think that in the tough times it’s always the time to take a step forward and show your character.”

Dovale is one of four workers at his family’s pharmacy, and that’s including his mother, who is among the high-risk group for infection because of her age. They have been keeping social distancing among themselves and only three customers can enter the pharmacy at a time.

Dovale is a do-it-all employee, but one of his main responsibilities is to negotiate the purchase of medicine and supplies with laboratories and other providers.

“There is a shortage of many medicines. We don’t have masks, we don’t have alcohol. Gloves are not easy to find,” he said. “I try to call labs and everybody who can provide me material to help these people. It’s really painful when people come to the pharmacy asking for a mask and you cannot get this kind of stuff for them.”

Dovale said pharmacies have been crucial for people with non-coronavirus illnesses.

“We cannot forget that people can still become sick,” he said. “People still have diabetes, still have hypertension and many other problems. It’s very important that we take care of them, because the hospitals are collapsed and crowded.”

Dovale, an offensive midfielder with good playmaking and passing skills, scored four goals and had four assists in his 25 matches with Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer in 2014.

He started at Barcelona’s youth academy before joining Celta Vigo, where he played under current Spain coach Luis Enrique. He later also played for Spanish clubs Leganes, Rayo Vallecano and Lugo, where he played under current Barcelona coach Quique Setien.

“Great experiences,” said Dovale, who also had a stint with Bengaluru FC in India and was playing with Thai club Navy FC before the coronavirus pandemic left him stuck in Spain and led to the end of his contract.

Dovale said he feels he has four or five years of good soccer ahead of him, and he wouldn’t mind going back to Asia or the United States.

“The challenge of playing for titles and playing in international competitions is what makes me keep going forward,” he said. “In Spain, it is really difficult because only two teams can fight for titles.”

Dovale is trying to stay fit as well as he can, training in the morning at home and in a parking lot before going to the pharmacy.

He said he hoped the United States would be spared the things he has witnessed in Spain.

“My only advice is that they should take it seriously, because I never imagined that in Spain we would see that much pain. I never imagined that many people would be dying. I never imagined that so many hospitals would be absolutely collapsed. I never expected that we would be missing things like alcohol, masks and gloves,” he said.

“This situation just hit us from the back,” Dovale said. “My people, my community, are going through a lot of pain. I just pray for the people in the U.S. to stay safe. Hopefully they can stop it a little earlier than us, because for our country, for our community, it’s really painful and we will not forget about this situation, for sure.”

Brighton, Cincinnati prepare to discuss Locadia’s future

Jurgen Locadia
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Jurgen Locadia’s big MLS transfer has not gone as planned, through no fault of his, FC Cincinnati’s, or parent club Brighton and Hove Albion.

Locadia’s loan to Cincinnati was sealed Feb. 3, giving him just under five months to decide whether he had interesting in staying in the U.S. for the next part of his career.

The 26-year-old got all of two matches to feel it out, scoring once before MLS shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The extremely small sample size has been kind to Locadia, who says that his agent had spoken to Brighton and that he’s open to making the move permanent. That’s a loaded statement given the money it might take to acquire a player who was Brighton’s transfer record signing just over a year ago.

“I like it here so far in Cincinnati and the league also,” Locadia told The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati.com: “I talk with my agent also and he said at the end of the day it’s my decision, and I told him I’m happy here, so if we can figure something out with Brighton and Cincinnati, which I understand is going to be difficult, we can try and fix the situation.”

FCC general manager Gerard Nijkamp said he’ll be talking with Brighton in the next few days, but that the situation is a massive challenge. Imagine the questions: What does Brighton want? When can the player move? Has the end of the loan window changed at all? And what reinforcements will Brighton be able to buy given the wildly unusual conclusion to this season (and their possible relegation)?

Locadia was also asked what he likes about MLS.

“I think here in the States, the fans enjoy the game more and in Europe I get the feeling that people are more judge-y about the game,” Locadia said. “Here in the States, they come to enjoy the game and see the players and drink beer. And in Europe it’s more like, we need to win and they’re gonna judge you. They don’t like when you play the ball back to the goalkeeper.”

Well, maybe wait on that one. There might be a bit more patience in Cincinnati given it’s their second year in MLS, but other clubs have plenty of fans amped up for victory.

The Latest: Brighton, Bournemouth aid workers; MLS extends moratorium

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The Latest on the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on soccer around the world:

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 


Major League Soccer has extended its moratorium on team training through April 3 and still wants players to stay in their team’s local market.

MLS has targeted May 10 as a potential return date.

Team training facilities may be used only for physical therapy purposes at the direction of the team’s medical staff.


The Spanish soccer federation has announced measures to help smaller clubs financially.

The measures include a loan of 4 million euros ($4.3 million) to help pay the salaries of players and coaches.

The loan will be available to clubs from the third and fourth divisions, and futsal clubs. It can be paid back without interest over two seasons.

The federation also says it will negotiate a credit line for teams in the first and second division.

Federation president Luis Rubiales says the federation’s doctors will be made available to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, and the national team’s hotel can be used as a hospital if necessary.


Premier League teams Brighton and Bournemouth have become the first clubs to sign up to a campaign to make 100,000 free soccer tickets available to medical workers on the front line during the coronavirus outbreak.

The initiative was conceived by executives at Brighton, which has committed to giving National Health Service workers 1,000 tickets for matches and has invited other clubs from the Premier League, English Football League, Scotland and Northern Ireland to join in.

Bournemouth immediately followed suit, offering “a minimum of” 1,000 tickets.

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber says “we feel this is a small way in which we can show our gratitude for those NHS staff on the front line who are fighting the battle on behalf of all of us and give them something to look forward to.”

MLS extends training ban until March 27

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One day after announcing that matches would be suspended for a further eight weeks due to the spread of the new Coronavirus, MLS stated on Friday that training across the league would be banned for at least the next seven days.

In a statement, MLS said its “training moratorium” would be extended through the end of March 27, with all players and staff encouraged to practice social distancing and remain in their team’s markets. “At this time, team training facilities may only be accessed for physical therapy purposes at the direction of club medical staff to ensure adherence to safety protocols,” the statement added.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Though it seems like months ago, it was only on March 12 when MLS announced a 30-day suspension of the season, just two weeks into the 2020 campaign. Training was stopped across the U.S. and Canada at that point, and was since extended to today, and now to March 27. In both cases, the match suspension and training ban, MLS has stated it is in contact and taking cues from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. On March 16, the CDC adjusted its guidelines, advising against groups of 50 people or more in one area for at least the next eight weeks.

If somehow, MLS is able to return to action in eight weeks, that would bring us to the week of May 11. By then, most teams would have already played around 11 games and be well into the heart of the season. Instead, teams will need to conduct a second preseason to get back into full fitness, and then somehow play more matches in a condensed season to finish the entire campaign. If MLS teams in theory could return to training by the end of March, they could seemingly be in good enough shape to go again by May 11.

But the way this virus has continued to spread across the country, it seems optimistic at best.

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez: ACL surgery went well

Josef Martinez
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Atlanta United star striker Josef Martinez says his ACL surgery was success.

Martinez posted a photo from his hospital bed following surgery to repair the ACL torn in the Five Stripes’ season opener versus Nashville SC.

He’s expected to miss six months, but the coronavirus suspension may not give him the chance to return to the club this season.

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According to the Associated Press, Martinez’s surgeon Freddie Fu is credited with saving Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s career following a 2017 ACL tear.

Martinez turns 27 in May. He’s had an explosive career in Atlanta, and had two goals and two assists in three 2020 matches spread between MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League.

He’s posted 90 goals and 12 assists in 103 matches for the Five Stripes following time with Torino, BSC Young Boys, Caracas FC, and FC Thun.

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In the midst of the humanitarian crisis we are all living through, in which more than ever we need to think about and take care of each other, just wanted to share that I'm blessed that my knee surgery today went well. I want to personally thank UPMC in Pittsburgh, doctors Freddie Fu and Volker Musahl (pictured), @atlutd , my teammates and most of all the city of Atlanta for the unconditional support. Also, everyone in Venezuela and around the world for the good wishes and support. God bless and protect us all in these challenging times 🙏❤️. En medio de todo lo que está padeciendo la humanidad, que nos tiene aferrados en cuidarnos, protegernos y orando por quienes más lo necesitan, quisiera hacer un paréntesis para anunciarles que gracias a Dios todo salió bien hoy en la operación de rodilla a la que fui sometido. Agradezco al Hospital UPMC de Pittsburgh; a los doctores Freddie Fu y Volker Musahl (foto); al @atlutd y a la ciudad por el apoyo constante; a mis seres queridos; y a todos ustedes mi gente querida de Venezuela y desde muchas partes del mundo por sus buenos deseos, muestras de cariño y darme fuerzas en la recuperación. Dios nos bendiga y proteja a todos por estos días que tanto lo necesitamos 🙏🏻❤

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