MLS in Back completed its first week on Tuesday.
How did it do? Probably the best way to put it -- it survived.
Low point. Following the removal of FC Dallas and Nashville SC for a rash of Covid-19 cases and confirmed positive cases for one player each from the Columbus Crew and Sporting KC, the low point came on Sunday when the D.C. United-Toronto FC was postponed for a second time, this time because of a Covid scare.
It turned out the two players in question -- one from D.C. United who was tested positive and one from Toronto FC whose test result was inconclusive -- tested negative the second time around, allowing the game to be finally played on Monday. After another round of negative tests, both players returned to their respective teams.
BLM stage. As much as many players would surely want to be elsewhere -- Florida's 7-day average of new Covid-19 cases has tripled since the first MLS team arrived three weeks ago and it's up 10-fold since the league first announced plans for the tournament three weeks before that -- MLS is Back has given players and coaches a stage to demonstrate their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
From the pre-game ceremonies before the tournament opener with all the league's Black players to the kneel Montreal coach Thierry Henry took -- 8 minutes, 46 seconds -- before the Impact's first game and shows of solidarity teams conceived themselves, powerful voices have emerged.
Slow start. On the field, the tournament got off to a slow start -- just five goals in the first five games. Since then, the tournament has averaged 3.7 goals a game over nine matches. MLS roster-builds are usually slanted in favor of offense, but the reality is that many of the goals have been the result of sloppy defending, even more so than usual.
The first games have often had the feel of late preseason games where teams are trying to stretch the minutes starters get in before the regular season starts. The hot and humid weather was expected to be a factor, but it was hard to imagine it would be so bad you'd watch hydration breaks after midnight, midway through the second half of the 10:30 p.m. games.
ESPN viewers up. MLS has held the spotlight on ESPN for a week now, and the tournament is currently averaging 337,000 viewers and 189,000 viewers in the prized 18-49 age group across ESPN and ESPN Deportes, up 24 percent and 34 percent, respectively, compared to the 2019 season through July 12.
Coverage of Saturday's weather-impacted Atlanta United-New York Red Bulls game on Fox and TUDN drew a combined 639,000 viewers. The 587,000 on Fox was still a fraction of the weekend's most-watched sports event, Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race from Kentucky that averaged 2.58 million viewers on FS1. The 52,000 viewers on TUDN were also a fraction of the weekend's most-watched game on Spanish-language television: the Club America-Cruz Azul game at the Copa por Mexico that averaged 726,000 viewers on Univision.
Best news of week. The best news MLS got came on Tuesday, though. A total of 1,227 individuals – players, coaches and staff on the 24 remaining clubs, referees, league staff and other members of the MLS delegation at the Swan and Dolphin Resort – were tested for Covid-19 on Sunday and Monday, and no individuals were newly confirmed positive during this period.
The only positive result was for a member of the delegations from the two clubs -- FC Dallas and Nashville SC -- removed from the tournament.