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Season on hold slows rush to recover for England's Beth Mead

Beth Mead was running around a park when she spotted Arsenal teammates at a distance. “All we can do is wave at the other side,” Mead said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s hard. But we are so excited to see each other.”

Such are the necessities of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. There is no approaching teammates you are used to spending so much time with, so often meeting for coffee and lunch away from games and training sessions.

“It’s the same with everybody not being able to see their families,” Mead said. “This is our football family. So it’s been tough.” Mead was separated temporarily from her Arsenal family on the field even before the pandemic led to sporting events being shut down in England a month ago.

The 24-year-old striker, who has scored eight times for England, damaged a medial collateral ligament in mid-February, forcing her to miss England’s trip to the United States for the SheBelieves Cup and putting hopes of making the Olympics in jeopardy.

So the pause in play is bittersweet for Mead, knowing she benefits. “I don’t want to say I ever wanted anything like this to happen. But it’s kind of helped me get back fitter," Mead said. "Hopefully by the time the season, fingers crossed, starts again, I will be fit enough to be playing again so I won’t miss too many games. But probably for the wrong reasons.”

With the Tokyo Olympics postponed until 2021, she's able to pace her recovery, no longer feeling she needs to rush back to fitness. But when Mead is fit, she hopes, like everyone else, there will be a season to complete. The English Football Association has contentiously already canceled tiers three to seven of the women's leagues, expunging the results. There has yet to be a decision on how to conclude the second-tier Championship and Women's Super League, where defending champion Arsenal is in third place.

“It’s a tough one — as a footballer, you want every game to be played," Mead said. "But at the same time if it was null and void, we would obviously have no winners and we would automatically qualify for the Champions League.

"For an Arsenal player, maybe not that we want that because we want to play football, but it wouldn’t be the worst situation.” The greater concern is for the players in the lower leagues and the wider financial repercussions of the pandemic, which got Mead thinking back to the start of her career at Sunderland.

“The men dropped down to League One and had a massive effect on us as a women’s team,” she recalled. “We were full-time at the time and now we had to go back to part-time in the top league.” Now Sunderland Ladies have fallen into the third tier as well, with players on part-time contracts facing being without games until September.

“At least we have something to be motivated for still at the moment,” Mead said, “whereas they have got nothing which is quite sad.” Being on lockdown means spending even more time at home on fitness alongside partner and teammate Daniëlle van de Donk. It's only in recent weeks that Mead has been able to resume running after being restricted to cycling indoors.

“I have exercises that I do exactly the same every day,” Mead said. “It sounds quite boring, but it’s kind of what I need to be doing right now to get my knee back to where it needs to be." At least Mead knows she is in the same position as millions of people at the moment, limited to an hour's daily activity outside. To offset boredom in her little flat, Mead has been sharing fitness routines — and baking experiments — with fans as part of a video series promoted as #TrainAtHome by UEFA women’s football sponsor, VISA.

And her recovery has received more morale boosts when she runs or shops with Van de Donk around the London commuter town of St. Albans and they spot more teammates. “We’ve seen Leonie Maier in the park," Mead said. “We were both sweating and laughing and waving."

And wondering when they will be passing balls to each other again.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.instagram.com/RobHarrisPix

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