Veteran midfielder Nick DeLeon admits to some dark days during Toronto FC's recent quarantine due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among players and staff.
The 30-year-old from Phoenix managed just four or five training sessions in Toronto after completing his 14-day quarantine upon entering Canada. The outbreak among players and staff — the city of Toronto cited nine cases — forced DeLeon and everyone back home until all the tests came back negative.
The last training session before the lockdown was March 3. Some players were given the green light March 15 to resume modified individual sessions at the club's north Toronto training centre with full team practice starting up again March 19.
With his wife Jordan and their two young kids — daughter Marlee and son Milo — back at the family home in Arizona, DeLeon was by himself.
"That was a mental grind, I'll say, that second quarantine we had to do," DeLeon said Thursday. "For me, I went down to the depths, I'll tell you. I'll be honest. It was dark. It was a dark time. Especially with my family being gone. So I was just in my house, by myself, with my own mind, with my own thoughts.
"Yeah, it was very stressful. When I came back (to training) that first day, talking to a lot of the guys, it was hard on a lot of guys. I just think it's very inhuman to treat people that way."
News that the team was having to relocate again this season was unwelcome.
"Not again. How am I going to get through this? Last year was so difficult," he recalled thinking. "All those kind of doubts crept in. But this situation overall is much better."
But while still missing his family, DeLeon is in a better place now that the team has arrived in Orlando, where it will set up shop until pandemic-related border restrictions ease. The team, which flew in Wednesday, is training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
DeLeon finds Florida less oppressive.
"The weather's better. The fields are nice. It's a consistent routine. I just think the setup is a little better down here, which makes all those things you miss kind of fade away a little bit. Right now we've only been down here for a day and a half. Ask me that again in like a month and we'll see where we're at."
Not knowing how long the stay in Florida will last, DeLeon said his luggage consisted of five of six "big duffel bags."
"I just brought a bunch of everything," he said.
Entering his 10th MLS season and third with Toronto, DeLeon says the club is "bending over backwards" to help accommodate everyone's needs in terms of family.
"They're definitely going above and beyond to make it as comfortable as possible, for sure."
The hope is his family will spend a week with him in Florida in April.
"I'm counting down every day," said DeLeon, adding he has peace of mind knowing his family is in a good situation in Arizona.
While detailing his own difficulties during lockdown, DeLeon is quick to acknowledge he is more fortunate than many.
"I understand that there are way worse and there are different circumstances out there — people losing jobs. There's so much crap going on. But for us personally, it was tough. It was challenging and we definitely leaned on each other to come through, that's for sure.
"And now we're playing footie again, it definitely helps. Because that's kind of where guys can release that anxiety, release that stress. You can get on the pitch and kind of let it go there."
DeLeon acknowledged last October that the time away from his family was hard, with the team spending time first in Orlando for the MLS is Back Tournament and then taking up residence in East Hartford, Conn
"Last year was just tough. I had a very weak mentality," he said. "There was a lot of pity parties and all that BS. This year, my mental's a lot stronger, which in turn makes my physical a lot stronger. So I'm feeling good. No complaints. Healthy. All good."
Toronto opens Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League play on April 7 in Mexico against Club Leon. The second leg of the round-of-16 tie is April 14 in Orlando.
TFC opens the MLS regular season on April 17 against CF Montreal in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
As for what the rest of the 2021 season holds, DeLeon said he is trying to live in the moment. While the future is uncertain, he is not going to stress about it.
And while government and health authorities are urging the public to get vaccinated, DeLeon says he has no plans to do so.
"I've never had vaccines, I don't get the flu shot. I don't do any of that," he said. "I don't take medicine, I don't take prescription crap, any of that. That's my personal choice and that's the way I choose to live my life. And I will not change that for anybody,
"I know who I am and I'm confident in it."
He says he is "one of a few" who think that way among his teammates.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press