Bill Manning has his family on hand as he works from home during Major League Soccer’s hiatus due to COVID-19.
He and wife Jennifer have both sons in the house – 20-year-old John is back from college while 17-year-old Will is in Grade 11. The two are now taking courses online.
“We’ve found our routines which has been good,” Manning said on Monday. “We’re playing some video games and doing some of those things teenagers do.”
Manning, meanwhile, is doing what team presidents do.
The Toronto FC and Argonauts boss is in regular contact with staff at his MLS and CFL teams. There are also calls to his peers throughout the three leagues he is involved in – MLS, United Soccer League (home to TFC 2) and Canadian Football League – as well as those at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.
“Just staying connected,” Manning said.
Manning’s staff have set up everything from meal delivery to daily virtual workouts for the Toronto FC players, who were two games into their season when the league shut down March 12. When it comes to his connecting with the players, Manning chooses his times.
“My feeling is to let the guys have this time to recalibrate,” he said. “When they come back, I think there’s going to be just such a consideration for what we do every day. Because as nice as it is to be with your family, you can go stir-crazy as well.”
For Manning, it’s “finding that right balance of staying connected.” Technology has helped, be it training by video-conference or shooting aliens. He cites one young player who lives alone who told him: “Thank God for video games.”
“It’s just making sure they’re in a good place and don’t fall into a rut without the social [interaction],” Manning said. “Because we live in a social environment. They get to see their teammates every single day and interact.”
One player who is putting the suspension of play to good use is TFC captain Michael Bradley, who underwent ankle surgery on Jan. 21 to repair an injury sustained at the MLS Cup final that failed to respond to treatment.
At the time of the surgery, the club said Bradley was expected to return to full fitness in approximately four months.
“He’s really coming along,” Manning said.
Bradley is expected to start running soon and with the league’s goal to squeeze in its full regular-season schedule, “We may come through this with him missing two games.”
‘He’s been good,” Manning added. “There’s no one certainly that’s going to work harder than him to get back.”
Manning says the TFC and Argo players and their families are healthy. The exception has been Toronto FC defender Chris Mavinga, who lost his uncle to virus-related complications in his native France. Mavinga has also mourned the death of the team doctor at Reims, a French club he played for.
Monday marked the anniversary of MLS’s first match – April 6, 1996, when the San Jose Clash defeated visiting D.C. United 1-0 before a sellout crowd of 31,683 at Spartan Stadium.
At the time, Manning was a young executive with the USL’s Long Island Rough Riders. He had played the previous year with the New York Fever alongside Peter Vermes, now MLS’s longest-tenured coach in his 12th season as manager and sporting director of Sporting Kansas City.
“You watch the film of the [first] game and it seems like it’s ancient history,” Manning said. “But I’m proud that the league, MLS, is 25 years in and where it’s at from where it was. It’s certainly come a long way.”
Manning joined MLS in 2000 as president and GM of the Tampa Bay Mutiny. So he was involved when the league cancelled the final two weeks of the 2001 regular season due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Manning, a native New Yorker, knew two people who died that day.
The 2001 postseason eventually took place, but the lowly Mutiny missed out at 4-21-2 and folded the next year.
Manning went on to work for the NBA’s Houston Rockets and NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles before returning to MLS in 2008 as president of Real Salt Lake and Rio Tinto Stadium. He joined TFC in 2015.