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Gaming out how Sounders could return in short term

Gov. Inslee extended the stay-home order but also provided a roadmap that could lead to games being played by mid-July.

SOCCER: MAR 01 MLS - Seattle Sounders FC v Chicago Fire Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Seattle Sounders may finally have a roadmap to their potential return following Gov. Jay Inslee’s Friday press conference.

While Inslee announced he was extending the “stay-home” order through May 31, not only did he indicate that smaller counties could apply for variances from the order to open up early, he also outlined a four-phase roadmap to reopening the state to large public gatherings, possibly as soon as mid-July.

To be sure, that timeline assumes that the current stay-home order continues to have its desired effect in flattening the infection curve of the virus, and there is nothing that guarantees the promising data from Washington state continues on its present course. But at least there is a glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Phase 1 is where we currently are: No public gatherings, limited travel and essential business operating. This obviously prevents the Sounders from participating in MLS’s newly unveiled training protocols. This phase is now extended through May 31. However...

In Inslee’s press conference, he also outlined how the state will graduate from Phase 1 to Phase 2. The next phase would allow outdoor recreation and gatherings of up to five people, as well as limited business operations. In response to a question regarding the MLS policy, Inslee indicated that Phase 2 would allow the Sounders to avail themselves of the new MLS protocol.

“In Phase 2, we essentially allow outdoor gatherings of under five, so that could include training facilities,” Inslee said. “And we’d go into a 50-capacity in Phase 3 and unlimited in Phase 4. So this would allow smaller groups in Phase 2 and larger groups in Phase 3.”

MLS has extended the its training moratorium through May 15 and has postponed games until at least June 8.

Inslee indicated in his press conference that, at best, it would take about three weeks between moving from Phase 1 to Phase 2 assuming all goes according to plan.

“If we do the contract tracing and the isolation, there is really good reason to believe it could be very effective [at continuing to flatten the curve],” he said.

That would put Phase 2 on track for the third week in May.

Moving to Phase 3 thus would mean gatherings of up to 50 could commence in mid-June, with Phase 4 — lifting restrictions of large public gatherings — starting in mid-July.

“If you do the math, it tends to get to that for the large gatherings,” Inslee said. “That’s a realistic assessment.”

That would be earlier than is generally expected to have fans at CenturyLink Field watching games, and it depends on a number of factors well beyond the control of the Sounders. First, the timeline outlined by the governor would have to come to pass, hardly a guarantee. It also assumes the infection rate generally is at a place that MLS feels comfortable playing games, that there is sufficient testing capabilities, and that teams from other states are in a similar position given their respective infection rates. Most importantly, it also presumes that there is not a spike in the infection rate as Washington loosens restriction.

Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer has also gone on record stating that increased testing capacity will likely need to be in place before fans are welcomed back to CenturyLink Field.

All that said, the announcement from Inslee at least provides a path for the Sounders to return. That’s as good news as soccer fans have heard since the infection took the beautiful game away over a month ago.

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