August 17, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every corner of America — including every soccer field. Finding itself in uncharted territory, America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) was forced to postpone its season, establish a new tournament and adapt to new match environments.
The MLS season would normally take place until Sunday, October 4, with playoffs finishing on Saturday, November 7. Due to the pandemic, however, this year’s season has been suspended since Thursday, March 12. After safety precautions were worked out, the MLS regular season will return on Saturday, August 22. The MLS playoffs will also continue their new format from last year, which features single-elimination matches, and is set to begin on Saturday, December 12.
In light of the season’s interruption, a one-time tournament — the “MLS is Back Tournament” — was formed, beginning on Wednesday, July 8, and taking place in Orlando, Fla., at Disney World, where all teams would be put together. Oregon’s Portland Timbers were named champions last Tuesday, August 11. With 24 teams and over 2,000 people, including players, coaches and assorted staff, quarantining everyone in a “bubble” proved to be a serious undertaking.
Once members of the bubble arrived at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotel, all players were tested immediately. They were also tested every other day for the next two weeks. Almost 20 cases of COVID-19 were reported across the two weeks period, and those that tested positive were put in isolation and removed from their team’s hotel floor.
Like other top soccer leagues around the world, MLS matches had little to no spectators. Although MLS tried to relive a regular match experience by featuring various virtual ads and broadcast sponsorships on the field, everything was at odds for TV viewers; the sounds of passion and excitement from thousands of fans was missing. On Wednesday, August 12, MLS permitted Texas’s FC Dallas team to fill 25% of its stadium with fans, but the stadium only reached 14% capacity on match day. It seems unlikely for the near future that we’ll see a crowded stadium.
MLS has also used their platform to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Before the first returning MLS match on Wednseday, July 8, following the Thursday, March 12 suspension, nearly 200 players held a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds to protest the murder of George Floyd. Players kneeled with black colored gloves and masks, some choosing to raise their right fists. In subsequent matches, many players wore pre-game jerseys that said “Black Lives Matter” across the front.
MLS, like other professional sports in America, has had to work around the pandemic, but they’ve certainly taken a kick forward in the right direction. No one knows for certain how long it will take until thousands of fans can visit stadiums again, but until then, we can enjoy games from the comfort of our own homes.
More information on the season and its schedule can be found at the MLS website.