After practice Thursday, Nick DeLeon emerged from the gym at Toronto FC’s training centre with a smile and a bag of ice on his left knee.
Just “normal” maintenance, the veteran midfielder explained.
Off the pitch, DeLeon is still adjusting to the pandemic’s new normal. But he is going his own way.
His wife and two kids are back in Arizona where they have a better support system with family nearby. DeLeon has left the family home north of Toronto – he is a fan of wide open spaces rather than cities – and is living with some roommates in an Airbnb near Toronto’s training centre.
“This is the best part of my day right here – coming out here and getting to train. That’s what I live for,” DeLeon said.
After the unknowns of 2020 and not knowing how long the team might stay in Orlando this season due to pandemic-related border restrictions, DeLeon said the decision was made to have his wife and kids set up shop in Arizona, although they visited him in Florida three times.
“She’s got a job [in Arizona]. The kids are in school and they’ve just been in a good routine,” he said. “I don’t want to mess that up. And I’ll join them in three, four months.”
He might not be back. His contract with Toronto expires after this season.
In March, DeLeon said he had no plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’ve never had vaccines, I don’t get the flu shot. I don’t do any of that,” he said at the time. “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.”
Today, he is one of the very small minority in Major League Soccer not to be vaccinated,
“It’s definitely made my life more difficult but I knew that from the beginning,” said DeLeon. “It’s nothing strange.”
A so-called “National Interest Exemption” obtained recently by MLS and its three Canadian teams means players and staff like DeLeon who are not fully vaccinated can cross the border with a modified quarantine. It essentially allows him to train and play.
“Which is all I need to do at this point I don’t need to go and party, I don’t need to do all that. I’m in straight grind-mode. Finish as strong as I can for three or four months and then rejoin my family. And that’s strictly where my mindset’s at.”
During TFC’s time south of the border, DeLeon was open about the mental toll that being away from home took. He’s home now, but without his family some of the same challenges remain.
“There’s good days and bad days but the majority are good days,” he said. “But I’ll have a day or two a week where it’s heavy. I just really miss my family.”
“But at this time, everybody’s got stuff,” he added. “I have roommates at my house who are going through the same thing, Their family is back in Russia or wherever. There’s just so many people going through this right now.”
DeLeon said he knows what he plans to do after this season, although he’s not willing to share it just yet.
“I’m not retiring,” he did say.
While reading between the lines his future seems elsewhere, DeLeon said he has been treated well by TFC.
“The only thing that’s been different has just been the changes in the world,” he said. “And they have to abide by that.
“My time here with Toronto has been unbelievable. And the treatment that they’ve given me, pre- and post-COVID, is above and beyond. It’s as simple as that. I know they’re doing everything they can to make life as simple and as easy as possible. I know they’re bending over backwards to do that. I have no complaints over that end.”
The 31-year-old DeLeon, in his 10th MLS season, has appeared in 11 games this season but has only made four starts and has seen limited playing time under coach Javier Perez. He has one goal.