MLS is back, mostly

After four months off, MLS returns to action on Wednesday night when Orlando City faces Inter Miami in the opening game of the MLS in Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.

Not all of MLS is back, though.

As part of the agreement for the return to play MLS struck with its players association, players with health issues or family issues or injuries have been excused from taking part.

They include 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela, who is with his wife has a high-risk pregnancy in Los Angeles, and 2019 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara, who is rehabbing an injury in Minnesota. Such absences were anticipated.

How secure the so-called bubble at the host Swan and Dolphin resort would be was -- and is -- a concern. But getting all teams safely into the bubble has proven a lot harder than previously imagined.

Covid-19 risks were always going to be present, but just how prevalent the virus would again be spreading when the tournament kicked off would have been hard to believe when MLS and the MLSPA announced their agreement on June 3.

The 7-day average for new Covid-19 cases in Florida jumped 10-fold from 826 on June 3 to 8,597 on Monday when the last five MLS teams arrived in Orlando.

By then, one team -- FC Dallas -- had already been withdrawn from the tournament because of a Covid-19 outbreak (10 players and one assistant coach), and the participation of a second team was becoming more and more problematic.

Nashville SC has not trained for a week and been confined at its hotel after two players received confirmed positive results after the arrival, three other players received confirmed positive results on Monday night, and four other players received inconclusive test results requiring further testing.

FC Dallas made it to Orlando without any delays -- its players had tested negative to tests three times in the week before their departure -- but Nashville SC was one of five teams whose departure from their home market was delayed by inconclusive test results for Covid-19 or members of the travel party reported experiencing symptoms.

All that uncertainty has clearly weighed on players and staff of the 26 teams in the bubble. (FC Dallas is still there.)

On June 3 when there was a go-ahead for the tournament, the USA was averaging 21,958 new Covid-19 cases on a 7-day average. That average stayed about the same for the next 10 days, but it has climbed dramatically since then to 50,499 on Monday. The proportional increase was even higher in Texas, where the 7-day average went from 1,492 on June 3 to 7,223 on Monday.

The bottom line is that less than 24 hours before the opening game, a lot was still up in the air about the tournament:

  1. Will Nashville SC be withdrawn from the tournament? (Its participation was being "evaluated" was the word from MLS on Tuesday.)
  2. If it isn't, when will its postponed opener, scheduled for Wednesday against Chicago, be played?
  3. How will the groups be adjusted for the fact that FC Dallas is no longer in Group B?
  4. If Nashville SC in Group A must be removed from the tournament, how will the groups be further adjusted? (The easy answer is to move Chicago from Group A to Group B but it destroys the grouping structure of placing Eastern Conference teams together and Western Conference teams together.)
  5. Given the experience with FC Dallas and Nashville SC, will the late arrivals all test negative in the days leading up to their openers? (Already one game -- Toronto FC's opener against D.C. United -- was pushed back two days because of the Reds' delayed arrival.)
2 comments about "MLS is back, mostly".
  1. Valerie Metzler, July 8, 2020 at 10:01 a.m.

    What a mess.

  2. beautiful game, July 9, 2020 at 9:26 a.m.

    MLS 2020 season was placed in the wrong venue at the wrong time. Its incompetence is a result of tunnel vision mentality, and lack of strategic planning and risk management accountability. 

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