VANCOUVER — Lucas Cavallini tried his best to not to worry about his wife and kids this season.
It was the Canadian striker's first year in Major League Soccer, and playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps was supposed to bring him closer to his family than his previous post in Mexico's La Liga.
Instead, the 2020 campaign saw the 'Caps spend more than 100 nights away from home, keeping Cavallini separated from his wife and three kids by hundreds of kilometres.
He worried about them struggling day-to-day because of a lack of English.
“Honestly, you try to not think of things outside the pitch like leaving my family at home and things like that," Cavallini said on a video call Thursday. "But it tends to get at you sometimes and maybe you tend to lose your focus a bit."
Other players and staff left behind growing families, including midfielder Andy Rose, whose wife, Ryan, gave birth to the couple's second child, a little girl named Scottie, in July.
Rose opted out of travelling with the club to the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando in order to spend a bit of time with his family.
Just weeks after Scottie's arrival, however, he was back with his teammates, joining the Whitecaps for an all-Canadian series with stops in Toronto and Montreal before the club returned home for three games in Vancouver.
Then it was back on the road as border restrictions forced the 'Caps to relocate to Portland in mid-September. Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact - the other two Canadian MLS clubs - also had to move south of the border.
The team lived in a hotel downtown, trained at the University of Portland and shared a stadium with the Portland Timbers. Families kept in touch with phone calls and FaceTime, but for dads like Rose, it wasn't the experience wasn't the same as being at home.
"That wasn’t much fun, having to miss out on some special moments," Rose said. "But obviously this season was difficult for everybody, not just for us. Completely unprecedented how it all unfolded. So that was the sacrifice that we had to make."
Living out of a suitcase for so long was difficult for the team, said coach Marc Dos Santos.
Unlike their opponents, the Whitecaps couldn't get in their car after a long day of training or a tough game and drive home to decompress with family. They didn't have the comforts of their own facilities and, unlike some teams, they couldn't play in a home stadium with thousands of fans in the stands.
"It was new for all of us," he said, adding that Montreal coach Thierry Henry and TFC's Greg Vanney are the only people in the league who truly understand what the team has been through.
The Whitecaps finished their season Sunday with a 3-0 win over the L.A. Galaxy. The club missed the post-season for the third year in a row, finishing just three points under the playoff bar.
Players and staff alike showed resilience until the end, Dos Santos said
“What an incredible attitude and mindset they had throughout the process," he said. "It was incredible to see the group grow, to know the people that we work with every day, how they act in the day-to-day situations.”
The unusual living conditions meant players who didn't know each other well ate meals together, rode the bus to training together, and hung out together during their down time.
"It was good, the team bonding together," Cavallini said. "We did a lot of things together off the pitch, that was good, got the team gelling a bit more. And it showed on the pitch as well towards the end of the season.”
Being around one another constantly can be tough on a group, Rose said, and "tensions can run high."
"It’s not easy. And I think the group responded to that really well. There was never any issues, everyone always had an awful lot of respect for one another," he said. "We had a lot of fun off the field, which was important as well.”
Now the group is back home and getting used to being back with their families.
The adaptation isn't always an easy one, said Dos Santos, who is adapting to living with his wife and three kids again.
“Now every time I take a bag from somewhere it’s ‘No, don’t take that bag out of there, it goes there. The ketchup doesn’t go here, you have to to keep it there.’ Everything I’m doing right now is wrong. So I think they got used to me not being here,” he said.
For now, the coach is simply looking forward to the day that his quarantine period is over.
“I just can’t wait to get out of my house and have a normal life. I haven’t driven a car for three months," Dos Santos said. "So it’s going to feel good.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2020.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press