Switch The Pitch

An Unexpected Switch: MLS Officials and Clubs Persist Despite Pandemic

Official Sporting KC & LAFC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

It feels like it has been a century since the 2020 Major League Soccer season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MLS now targets a return date no sooner than Monday, June 8, having acknowledged in the latest press release that it “is extremely unlikely” play will return mid-May as originally hoped. The moratorium on organized team training activities has also been extended through Friday, May 15. 

“Our goal remains to play as many games as possible, while we currently have enough dates to play the entire season, we recognize at this time that it may become difficult to do so,” the statement read.

LA Times writer Kevin Baxter reported on April 2 that the league is eyeing a “early July restart” while discussing Commissioner Don Garber’s stance on the economical situation the pandemic has created:

“[..] Employees at MLS’ New York headquarters will have their salaries cut by as much as 25% because of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Garber is among those whose pay will be reduced by a quarter while other workers will see 10 to 20% reductions.”

The league has started taking small steps toward its target restart, announcing last Friday that players may resume voluntary individual training using their respective club’s outdoor training fields on May 6.

Teams must submit a club-specific plan detailing how they will apply health and safety protocols for the league’s approval, including the following measures outlined in a May 1, 2020, MLS announcement:

  • Restricting training facility access to essential staff only, with specific staff listed in the plan.
  • Completion of a Standard Screening Assessment survey by each player prior to every arrival at the training site, and temperature checks upon arrival at the facility.
  • Sanitization and disinfection plans for all training equipment.
  • Staggered player and staff arrivals and departures, with designated parking spaces to maintain maximum distance between vehicles.
  • Player use of personal protective equipment from the parking lot to the field, and again on return to the parking lot.
  • Staff use of the appropriate personal protective equipment. throughout training, while also maintaining a minimum distance of 10 feet from players at all times.
  • Hand washing and disinfectant stations for required use before and after individual workouts.
  • Clubs will have the use of the outdoor fields at their training facility, divided into a maximum of four quadrants per field. A maximum of one player per quadrant may participate per training session with no equipment sharing or playing (passing, shooting) between players. 
  • An Emergency Action Plan for all COVID-19 related issues.

Only four teams returned to the pitch when allowed this past Wednesday morning: Sporting Kansas City, Inter Miami CF, Orlando City, and Atlanta United – for the first time since the league’s initial suspension on March 12. FC Cincinnati, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LAFC, Nashville SC, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, and Toronto FC have also since returned to practice, while Minnesota United is expected to return tomorrow.

The slow return of teams is reassuring news given that MLS training facilities have remained closed to all players and staff. With the exception of players requiring on-site medical treatment or rehabilitation and the staff treating them – facilities have been closed since the beginning of the pandemic. 

While players are expected to remain in each club’s respective market, the league has reviewed individual requests to relocate to another market by car, taking into account the totality of a player’s situation.

Off the pitch, several MLS clubs have responded to the COVID-19 crisis with the creation of foundations to assist stadium staff and the surrounding community – while keeping the community informed on all their social media platforms.

Some clubs have also partnered with local groups to distribute food to those in need:

Even various supporters’ groups are getting involved:

The latest (and) biggest donation came from the league’s official spiced rum and exclusive spirits sponsor, Captain Morgan – who, per a joint press release, “is working with each of their nine local club partners to facilitate an initial donation of at least $55,000 to a charitable organization of the clubs’ choosing. Each of these charities is focused on providing meals and relief to local COVID-19 frontline workers and community members in need during this difficult time.”

Another delay is still in the realm of possibility pending states’ reopening plans, and there are several lingering questions that still need to be answered. Will the season be played behind closed doors? Is the All-Star game going to be canceled? How will player safety be enforced?

It’s just too soon to tell.

Featured Image: MLS, Orlando City SC, LAFC, Inter Miami CF, Atlanta United

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

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