CARSON, Calif. — LA Galaxy central defender Nick DePuy had what he wanted. Then it rudely was taken away.
All the 25-year-old native of Irvine was looking for was an opportunity with the five-time MLS Cup champions, and he got it in the form of two starts — he went the full 90 minutes each time — in the first two games of the regular season. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, soccer around the world was put on hold, and DePuy was left wondering about an uncertain future.
He and his teammates were back at Dignity Health Sports Park on Thursday after the club received approval for players to use practice facilities for individual workouts in accordance with strict health and safety guidelines. Among protocols were staggered player and staff arrivals and departures, temperature checks upon arrival and hand washing, and disinfectant stations for required use before and after workouts. Gym equipment, locker rooms, and showers were not available.
DePuy, jokingly asked if he had an air freshener in his car, laughed and said, “I know. I had to get a change of clothes. I had to bring about five water bottles, too.”
DePuy said he saw Alexander Katai, Sebastian Lletget, and Efrain Alvarez, among others, during his hour-long session of agility and fitness drills on his section of the field, but any interaction with teammates consisted of nothing more than waving and screaming hello.
“It’s definitely a little weird, but under the circumstances, it was definitely great to be back and pull through that long road into Dignity,” he said. “Being back out there on our practice field, that’s definitely a step in the right direction.
“Definitely a relief being there, being in that environment again and that facility.”
DePuy was asked how much he missed it.
“I can’t put it into words,” he said. “It’s been brutal. I’ve watched the games against Houston and Vancouver both games, probably ten times. I wish I could be back out there. Those were good times, this is our job, and we can’t do that.
“Obviously a huge bummer, but this is only temporary. You have to be professional and mentally strong and say this is just a bump in the road. Once this is over, we’ll be back.”
To say DePuy has had mixed emotions would be an understatement. He signed with the first team in early February, had an impressive training camp, started the first two games of the regular season, and then watched his blossoming career put on hold. It’s not exactly how DePuy envisioned things, but he chose to look on the bright side of it all.
“I’m very thankful I got those opportunities in the first two games,” he said. “I feel like my case would have been more difficult if I didn’t get those to show what I can do and prove to everybody I can play at that level.
“It was obviously very high times for me playing against Houston and Vancouver … the home opener was something I’ll never forget … then this (pandemic) hit. I know there’s a lot I can take from those first two games and bring with me going forward. I know things will resume eventually.”
Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who turns 35 in September and just started his 11th MLS season, understandably was thankful to return to Dignity Health Sports Park.
In some ways, it was like his personal field of dreams.
“It was really nice to get out there and do a little workout again on a really nice grass field,” he said. “Most of the time I’m just doing running out on the street in front of my house. I have like, tape marked off for like 25, 50, 75 and 100 meters to do my interval running and things like that.
“So it was actually nice to get out and touch a ball and just do my individual workout on a really nice grass field again.”
Kljestan said returning to Dignity Health Sports Park surprisingly was a moving experience.
“It’s still an individual workout,” he said, “but at least I got to see some of my teammates, albeit from a small distance. Just to be back to see the stadium again. Even if I was just looking at it from the outside also, but just to return to some type of normalcy where it seemed like I was getting back and it seemed like a step in the right direction as hopefully, we push towards playing a season.”