If anyone needed a reminder that MLS is still living in a sports world dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, look approximately 3,000 miles to the east where Toronto FC has yet to get fully untracked with their preseason. Nine of their players and staff tested positive for Covid-19, which effectively closed their training camp five days ago. Additionally, a scrimmage between Inter Miami FC and The Miami FC was postponed due to a positive test.
Closer to home, Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer revealed that the team has suffered through Covid-19-related issues of their own, noting that there have been some positive tests involving the team.
“We have had some confirmed cases, but that’s something that I can’t publicly talk about,” Schmetzer said. Pursuant to the league’s agreement with the MLS Player’s Association, the identities of players who have contracted the virus cannot be disclosed, though the players are free to disclose that information if they wish. Raúl Ruidíaz said he tested positive for a second time over the offseason.
The good news is that vaccine production and administration has accelerated greatly across Washington state and the United States. The USA recently surpassed 100 million vaccine shots, and Washington has expanded eligibility as well.
The list of those eligible does not yet include the general public, and there is no exception for professional athletes and/or staff unless they otherwise qualify through one of the existing criteria. The Sounders have been careful about not “jumping the line,” so to speak, but increased availability lends some hope that the team will be able to be vaccinated sooner rather than later, especially with the directive from President Biden that all adults be eligible to receive a vaccination by the early part of May.
“When it’s our turn, I’m hoping that everyone gets the vaccine,” Schmetzer said. “When Gov. Inslee makes that decision, I’m hoping that everyone will do that.”
That raises one important issue: What happens if a player declines to be vaccinated? In response to a previous question, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the league has no plans to mandate players receive a vaccination. “We have not made any decision on whether we’re going to require vaccination. I can’t imagine a world where we would,” Garber said at the time.
Schmetzer said the coaching staff and front office have not discussed such a possibility, but he was firm in his stance that he will recommend that everyone receive the vaccine.
“We have not talked specifically about a player who might not believe in vaccination,” Schmetzer said. “I can tell you it would be my counsel to that individual person to point out the benefits to that, and the reasons why they might consider doing it.”
The guidance from CDC outlines several of those benefits. Vaccinated persons can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask. They can also gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household and if a vaccinated person has been around someone who has Covid-19, they do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless they have symptoms. Efficacy of the vaccines ranges from 72-95% and all of them have proven to greatly reduce the chances of serious infection.
While it’s unclear what MLS or the Sounders will do in the event a player refuses to take the vaccine, Schmetzer hopes those benefits will motivate the players to take the vaccine when offered. “A lot of the chatter here, not just from the coaches who are a little older, but players inside the locker room [that] there is a renewed optimism that the vaccine rollout is coming and that everybody can get back to normal,” Schmetzer said.