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Sounders adjust to new reality in wake of postponement, COVID-19 concerns

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They’ll be flying to Houston on charter, postponing next home game and it’s unclear what might be next.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA, Wash. — What was widely assumed was made official on Wednesday, as the Seattle Sounders announced the postponement of the March 21 contest against FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field. That announcement was inevitable once Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ordered that public gatherings of more than 250 people would be banned in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties through the end of March.

What that means going forward is anyone’s guess.

Sounders General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey attempted to answer as many questions as he could following Wednesday’s training session, but with events on the ground changing seemingly every hour, the answers he provided to reporters threaten to be obsolete before the day is over.

Setting aside the public health concerns — if that’s even possible — there are a number of logistical issues for the Sounders to navigate in the wake of the postponement. First and foremost, there is a game set for this Saturday in Houston which the Sounders are scheduled to depart for after training on Thursday. Lagerwey said that game will be played as scheduled.

“As of right now, that game is going ahead,” Lagerwey said. “There are contingency plans in place for every possible scenario.”

Whether that means that the Houston game is played behind closed doors, or likewise postponed are potential outcomes, but Lagerwey stressed that right now, those aren’t likely.

“That is not is what is going to happen as of this moment,” Lagerwey said. “The game is going to be played in front of fans in Houston.

“It could evolve, the situation is fluid, but we are going down to Houston with the intention of playing in front of fans.”

With one game — at least — already needing to be rescheduled, that will require adjustments to the Sounders schedule down the line. It’s generally been the Sounders’ philosophy to not schedule games during international breaks. Because the Sounders generally have a large number of players picked by their respective national teams, playing during international breaks has left them fielding an extremely limited squad. However, if multiple games need to be rescheduled, they may have no choice, though Lagerwey was quick to quell any talk of those contingencies.

“Speculating about what might happen a couple of months from now, I don’t think that’s the right message to send,” Lagerwey cautioned. “We have contingency plans, and there’s things you can consider. Those things are not on the table right now precisely because we are trying to be proactive to try to mitigate the impact on our community and we want to be a good partner with everyone else in protecting the health and safety of our fans, our players and our staff.”

One change that has been instituted Wednesday by Major League Soccer was a modification of the charter flight requirements. The new CBA, which was agreed to by MLS and the Players’ Association last month mandates that each team use eight charter legs for the 2020 season. However, MLS announced that all teams will be chartering to away matches until further notice.

Lagerwey said as a precautionary measure, the Sounders had already made the decision to charter to Houston.

“We were originally on a commercial flight, but we took action to switch to a charter flight to protect our players as best we could,” Lagerwey said.

With the health of the players top-of-mind, Lagerwey said that none of the players have exhibited symptoms of the virus, nor have they requested testing. That said, the Sounders are not taking any chances.

“In a locker room environment, you have to be extra vigilant,” Lagerwey said. “The guys are not sharing towels, they’re not sharing water bottles, everyone has their own individual hand sanitizers.

“We have contingency plans as to how we would handle things [if a player got sick or exhibited symptoms], but given that the advice literally changed this morning, I think it’s prudent of us to say we have a couple of things in mind as those things become necessary, we’ll put those into place.”