UPDATE: As of the morning of June 19, USL Championship and USLPA have reached an agreement on a return to play. Preparations are underway for resumption of games on July 11.
The USL Championship and USL Players Association have reached a tentative agreement on a return to play scheduled for July 11, according to Jeff Carlisle of ESPN.
The return to play agreement still needs to be ratified by both sides, but an official announcement could be made by the end of the week. Negotiations for a return to play have been going since March when play was initially suspended. These negotiations have taken place during a pause in negotiations for the league’s first ever CBA after the league recognized the newly founded Players Association, and those negotiations should resume once the return to play is finalized.
The USL Championship won’t be the first league to return to play in the US, but if the return proceeds as planned, it will be the first league to play games in the home stadiums of its teams, rather than as part of a single-site tournament or competition. With no schedule confirmed or announced, it’s unclear when exactly the Defiance will return to action, but the league’s return will provide a follow-up to the little bit of history the team took part in over three months ago when they played San Diego Loyal at Cheney Stadium in the final professional soccer game before the pandemic forced the world to push pause back in March.
The presence of fans in stadiums will depend on what, if any, restrictions are placed by local and state authorities. The inconsistent application of such restrictions around the country means that some teams will have fans in the stadiums, while other teams in harder-hit areas or areas with more proactive governments may follow suit with that last game between Tacoma and San Diego and play in empty stadiums.
Although not all teams were in favor of a return to play, it seems likely that the Defiance — from players to coaches and staff — will be eager to return to the field. Not only are these professionals who will certainly be grateful to get back to work, as coach Chris Little explained in April, “Obviously we’re working with young players, and so we knew we couldn’t lose any development time with them.” At the time, Little was referring to finding ways to continue training and educating players while apart amidst stay-at-home orders, it rings just as true with the potential for real, competitive games on the horizon. With Josh Atencio and Ethan Dobbelaere signing first team contracts, the return to play will provide a platform for the next wave of Sounders talent to make their case for a move from Tacoma to Seattle.