TORONTO, Canada—As other leagues around the world share their plans to return (or have already returned) to action, Major League Soccer (MLS) has been working hard
behind the scenes to ensure they’re not far behind.
On Thursday, the league took another small step towards resuming their season, announcing that clubs were permitted to host voluntary small group training sessions for up to six players.
With no return-to-play date official, however, what are these teams gearing up for? Let’s get caught up on the latest.
IS THE LEAGUE RETURNING TO PLAY?
Don’t worry Don Garber, we’re not reporting anything new here, just catching everyone up.
If you haven’t heard, the MLS commissioner reportedly hasn’t been pleased with how transparent their return-to-play proposal has been, allegedly sending a memo to all league and club personnel last Friday threatening employees with disciplinary action, including termination of employment and fines up to $1 million, for leaking information. The Athletic, which was specifically cited in the alleged memo, ironically obtained and published the details of the warning.
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Disney-owned ESPN reporter Jeff Carlyle from getting the latest scoop on the MLS’s latest plans. According to Carlyle, the league has proposed late-July to its player’s association (MLSPA) as the likely time frame for competitive matches to take place at Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando without fans.
The Athletic was the first to report earlier this month that teams were targeting early-June as the arrival date for a month-long quarantined training camp, however, according to Carlyle, that date has been pushed back until around June 21, giving players more time to spend with their families at home.
Negotiations between the league and the MLSPA still remain the biggest hurdle. There were several stars, including Carlos Vela, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, and Nani, who have apparently voiced their displeasure over the original Orlando idea. LAFC’s Vela—the league’s reigning MVP—and his wife are expecting their second child later this summer; under the original proposal, Vela would have to leave his family at home for up to 10 weeks. The league is hoping that a more condensed competition in their latest reported proposal will help ease some of that pushback.
For what it’s worth, many other players around the league, like Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow and Inter Miami CF midfielder Jay Chapman, have been supportive from the get-go of a Disney World x MLS venture.
“They are trying to get back to playing as soon as possible,” said Morrow. “They are also trying to limit the risk to the players. Going to somewhere like Orlando, a central location, that’s the best way to limit the risk right now. I would feel comfortable playing in a situation like that, I would just hope that there is time to really nail down the protocol.
“...But I do want to play games this year. I’m not getting any younger. I’d like to get in some games while my legs are still working.”
WHAT’S THE TOURNAMENT STRUCTURE?
World Cup style.
Teams would apparently be split into four groups (two randomly-drawn from the East and two randomly-drawn from the West+Nashville SC). From there, clubs would play five games each that would count towards their regular-season record. The top-two teams from each group would then automatically advance into an eight-team knockout style competition with a trophy/prize yet to be determined.
The matches themselves won’t look too different aside from the lack of spectators. One new notable rule, however, which has been implemented by FIFA across the world, will be the allotment of five substitutions per team. Look out for clubs with a lot of depth, like Toronto FC, to take advantage of this.
Some more info on the tentative gameday protocol:
“Tentatively, the league would schedule its matches at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. (all times eastern),” wrote Jeff Rueter on May 21. “These times would allow the league to avoid concerns over unsafe conditions playing midday in an Orlando summer. However, matches would still include mandatory “cooling breaks” (up to 90 seconds) as has been standard in recent seasons, while officials can call for discretionary “drink breaks” (maximum of 60 seconds) to supplement as needed.”
WILL THE 2020 MLS SEASON RESUME AFTER ORLANDO?
As alluded to earlier, it looks like MLS is indeed planning on resuming its 2020 regular season sometime after the tournament in home markets. Canadian markets, however, obviously face obstacles like the border they’d have to overcome in order to host matches.
Once again, under the proposed return-to-play format, group stage matches (not knockout) will apparently count towards a team’s regular-season record.
Another tidbit going around is that if and when the 2020 MLS campaign resumes, Eastern Conference teams and Western Conference teams will not play one another for the remainder the regular season. Does that mean the only East-West matchup we see for the rest of this season is in the Final? Perhaps.
To wrap all of this up, a subtle reminder that the league’s proposal is tentative. As we all know, during a pandemic, things can change on a daily basis. But with that said, whether or not the league and the MLSPA decide to move forward with this preported plan, we’ll hear more about this towards the middle of June. Stay tuned everyone.
In case you wanted to read more about the league’s reported proposal: