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Optics of MLS is Back look awful

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Even if players’ safety can be reasonably assured, the upside is looking smaller each day.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

I’ve been hoping to write this story for at least several days. I rarely talk about the creative process because it’s usually beside the point and rather tedious. This time, however, I think it’s illustrative of the situation we’re all dealing with and how it relates to the MLS is Back Tournament.

The reason it’s taken me so long to actually publish this column isn’t so much that I’m not sure what to say — although that is part of it; rather it’s simply about the inability to find time to get it done.

Like most of you, I’ve been essentially stuck at home for the past four months. I think I’ve allowed myself a reasonable amount of freedoms to run errands and go for walks — and I’ve even engaged in some socially distanced, outdoor interactions with people outside my household — but my day-to-day life only shares a passing resemblance to the “before times.” Even as a seasoned work-from-homer, I’ve found my new reality — which includes having two young children to look after — to be a completely new experience.

Despite all this, I feel like I’ve fared better than many. We’re healthy, my wife and I are still employed and my family has managed to keep from completely destroying one another, even if I feel like I lose a lot more battles than I win.

Part of me is definitely looking forward to having the distraction of the MLS is Back Tournament, to have Sounders games to watch again.

I am genuinely interested in seeing how the Sounders look with Nicolas Lodeiro in their revamped midfield. I’m intrigued by the potential of the Xavier Arreaga-Yeimar Gomez Andrade centerback pairing. I’m curious to see who ends up securing the starting left back spot. I’d love to immerse myself in these questions over the next few weeks.

Are definitive answers to these questions even possible during this abbreviated period? Any failure can be written off as not having enough time to prepare and any success can be discounted for the same reasons.

Beyond any sporting concerns, I’d be lying if I told you that I thought it was going to be anything more than a few-hours-a-week distraction for me. I’ll probably be able to find time to watch the games and to do some basic analysis of them, but I can’t imagine taking them seriously enough to get too deep into the weeds. Re-watching games — like I usually do — will likely be almost impossible. Other teams’ games will almost certainly be relegated to little more than background noise while I do everything in my power to keep my kids from being attached to screens all day. I don’t think I’m alone in any of that and I seriously doubt MLS is going to get the bump for which they had originally hoped.

I appreciate that MLS is trying to make this feel like a competition with real stakes. I’m choosing to believe that there’s at least a chance the regular-season will commence — giving real weight to the group stage games — and the prize money, Concacaf Champions League spot and bragging rights are all worth ... something.

The bigger issues are the ones in the real world. I’m hardly breaking any news by pointing out that MLS has chosen to play these games during a worldwide pandemic, in the country with the largest outbreak and in the state with some of the fastest rising numbers. As if that weren’t enough reality for you, there have also been daily countrywide protests against police brutality and systemic racism for more than a month.

The disease has already impacted the tournament. FC Dallas has been withdrawn, Nashville SC might be soon behind and a dozen or so players have chosen not to participate for one reason or another, including reigning MVP Carlos Vela. Every day we read reports from players expressing concerns about quarantines, accommodations and generally expressing discomfort with forging ahead.

MLS has gone to great pains to insist that the protocols they’ve put into place will be sufficient to keep players healthy and there are clearly medical professionals willing to sign off on this. It’s at least within the realm of possibility the so-called “bubble” will hold and that the tournament will play out reasonably close to as-planned.

None of that will keep the realities of the outside world from being the backdrop of these games. None of that will shake my personal concern that now is the wrong time to have these distractions.

We are, of course, living in that outside world, dealing with those realities and maybe even hoping to effect some of the change protesters are demanding. I understand the desire for the distractions and won’t begrudge anyone for allowing themselves to enjoy the tournament. I definitely don’t blame players for making the most of this. But I know I won’t be fully engaged and I strongly suspect many of you won’t be either.