MLS continues its holding pattern, as the country continues to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But on Monday MLS Commissioner Don Garber outlined some of the conditions which would provide a glide path for the resumption of the season, and what that might look like in light of the social distancing protocols around the country.
Speaking to Taylor Twellman of ESPN, Garber provided an update of sorts on what the 2020 MLS season might look like, should games resume later this year. The MLS moratorium on training was extended to April 24, but Garber has hinted that will likely be extended into May at least.
As for the games themselves, Garber indicated the format of the season, and the amount of games played could change drastically, but nothing has been decided given the “stay at home” orders currently in place.
“Our hope is still continue to do that [34-game schedule], but that decision can’t be made sitting here today,” Garber said to Twellman. “As you know, the stay at home orders are rolling out across the country and in a different time period both here and in Canada.”
Garber indicated that prior to the season restarting, there could be a tournament of sorts to allow teams to ramp back up to competitive games. As expected given the social distancing protocols, Garber said it’s unlikely that fans would be able to attend games for at least several months.
“Later in the summer, [we would] play regular-season games in our stadiums, likely without fans,” Garber said.
Even before playing competitive games, MLS needs to establish the parameters for allowing players to train together so as to mitigate injuries and ensure quality on the field. A source within MLS confirmed to Sounder at Heart that it is extremely unlikely that once the moratorium is lifted that team training with all players would begin in earnest. The source indicated that it is more likely that players would be brought in individually ahead of any group training. Such a scenario would likely take at least a week or two.
Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said in a previous interview that at least three weeks, and as many as five would be needed to get players to a sufficient point of fitness such that injuries could be reasonably mitigated, and play on the field didn’t suffer.
“Provided they’re doing what they’re suppose to be doing, we could probably get it [ready] in three or four weeks,” said Schmetzer during a media call earlier this month. “We could make do, we’ll have to make do. There’s going to have to be some ramp-up period for players’ safety.”
The other issue is that a return to play seems to be predicated on widespread testing being available. Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer indicated in an interview that play is unlikely to resume prior to that benchmark being met, a sentiment confirmed by both MLS sources, and Garber himself. With the April 24 training moratorium likely to be extended, the May 10 deadline to resume play seems destined to be pushed into late June — at the earliest.
It’s unclear whether a June or July restart that would necessitate cutting games, but the source didn’t foreclose the possibility of extending the MLS season into January if it were to come to that, though that would likely necessitate a MLS Cup final in a neutral warm-weather site. MLS Cup has been played as late as Dec. 10 — in Toronto no less — but pushing the final firmly into the winter months would likely force the league’s hand. The last neutral site game was the 2010 MLS Cup in Toronto, widely considered the nadir for the league championship game due in no small part due to the freezing temperatures. That game was played on Nov. 21.