The new normal -- another day of drama and doubt at MLS is Back

MLS's schedule-makers -- and its Covid-19 testers -- have been working overtime in Florida.

After five days of the MLS is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, games have had to be postponed or cancelled on four of them because of Covid-19-related outbreaks or protocols. And on the fifth day, a weather delay pushed the conclusion of Saturday's doubleheader to past 1 o'clock in the morning.

The most dramatic moment came hours later, on Sunday morning, when shortly before the 9 a.m. kickoff to the D.C. United-Toronto FC game, MLS announced the match was called off.

A D.C. United player tested positive for Covid-19 and a Toronto player’s test was inconclusive in the required pre-game testing on Saturday. D.C. United players arrived at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex field for the game, but Toronto FC never left the nearby Swan and Dolphin Resort, where all the teams been staying.

In a media call on Sunday morning, MLS president Mark Abbott said, "The most prudent call was to postpone the match. We believe the tournament can be carried out safely. In case it isn't, we'd make a decision."

The two players with positive and inconclusive results were retested again on Saturday night and their second tests came back negative -- but not before the postponement. All players on both teams were tested again on Sunday, and the tests were negative, clearing the way for MLS to reschedule the game -- for 9 a.m. ET on Monday. (The players with positive and inconclusive results will undergo additional testing and will not play in Monday’s match.)

The D.C. United-Toronto FC game had already been pushed back from Friday night, due to Toronto FC's delayed arrival in Orlando. TFC was supposed to fly to Orlando on July 3 but its charter was twice delayed, first so the team could complete pre-flight testing and the second time because a member of the travel party "reported experiencing symptoms to the team medical staff."

Before Toronto FC's departure, Coach Greg Vanney admitted that there was concern about the situation in Florida, where new Covid-19 cases were spiking, and there was no need to "go barreling down right now until they know that have everything under control." (Florida on Sunday reported more than 15,000 new cases of the coronavirus, the highest single-day state total so far during the pandemic.) By the time TFC arrived at the Swan and Dolphin, both FC Dallas and Nashville had suffered outbreaks and were later removed from the tournament.

"These days nothing's really normal,” Toronto FC general manager Ali Curtis said on a virtual conference call after Sunday's postponement. “If anything the normal is kind of uncertainty. There's a different situation each different day, for each different week. And you just have to adapt.”

In an interview with French sports daily L'Equipe that was published on Saturday, Toronto FC defender Chris Mavinga, whose uncle died from Covid-19 in March, said TFC didn't want to go to Florida and until the last minute thought the tournament would be cancelled or postponed. He said he was speechless when MLS players approved the league's restart plan, suggesting that no one in Europe would have ever let it happen.

"It’s as if they sent us to Wuhan in the middle of the pandemic," he was quoted in L'Equipe as saying. "It’s not our safety that worries them but making money."

Despite the multiple postponements and schedule changes -- the dates of the second games for both D.C. United and Toronto FC were pushed back a day because of the latest postponement and the kickoff time of a third game was changed -- Abbott is confident the tournament will proceed.

“We believe the tournament can still be conducted safely,” he said. “At the point we determine we can’t, obviously we would make a decision then.”

In the meantime, testing and retesting will continue with the quick turnaround times MLS needs. Abbott said the league was appreciative of its role in the community -- where there have been long lines for tests and long waits for test results  -- and its relationship with testing lab BioReference.

“It’s our view we are not impacting the ability of the public to get tests," he said, "but that is something we would continue to evaluate with them.”

6 comments about "The new normal -- another day of drama and doubt at MLS is Back".
  1. beautiful game, July 13, 2020 at 10:58 a.m.

    MLS kahunas threw caution into the wind and took a "gamble" with Covid-19 soaring in FL. Toronto player Chris Mavinga has more common sense than MLS president et al.

  2. Alan Gay, July 13, 2020 at 12:55 p.m.

    MLS, in agreement with the players union, took a calculated risk that they could create and play in a bubble that is at least as safe for the players as they would be sitting at home, unemployed and in many cases uncompensated. They made the decision in late May based on the info they had. It may yet prove to be a bad decision, but so far ALL the diagnosed cases (to our knowledge) arrived on the plane with the teams.

    The DC and TFC cases turned out to be a false-positive and an indeterminate test, both subsequently tested negative. The jury is out. I can appreciate that the Canadian perspective, given their lower risk local environment, is much more ambivalent. 

  3. beautiful game replied, July 13, 2020 at 6:56 p.m.

     As for MLS planning their tournament Orlando venue in May based on available Covid-19 information speaks volumes of its wishful planning which was probably based on the governor of FL openly dismissing the pandemic as not worthy of serious concerns and precautions. This global pandemic demands an active national strategic plan which is missing in action. 

  4. Guy Walling, July 13, 2020 at 1:52 p.m.

    Don't blame anyone, any team, or any league!! The only person to blame is our sorry excuse for President, if you can call him a president. The coward named Trump has all of us blaming each other. MLS isn't to blame, the team isn't to blame, and the owners certainly are not to blame. It's our sorry ass president for his lack of leadership that should be the one to be blamed and held accountable. We didn't elect Don G. or anyone in MLS to keep our citizens safe, but some of us did elect the narcissist to keep America safe. Why isn't anyone holding him responsible is beyond me. Stop blaming MLS for making the same decisions that everyone wanted!

  5. Tom Swan replied, July 13, 2020 at 9:10 p.m.

    So true Guy. Trump only wants to get re-elected and will sacrifice anyone (except his family), and probably any thing (except his wealth), to achieve that - the heathly well-being of the country be damned. God help us, please.

  6. Kent James, July 13, 2020 at 2:59 p.m.

    Not to state the obvioius, but these are difficult times for professional sports.  Professional soccer teams in the US, which are generally not rolling in cash like the big European clubs or some of the other major sports leagues in the US, will have to be adept to survive.  Keep the players (and everyone else) safe, do what you can to survive.  I wish them the best of luck,  they're going to need it....

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