Like many professional sports leagues around the world, the MLS table went into hiatus in March amid regulations and public-safety concerns brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, as European leagues such as the Bundesliga are gradually returning to action, the fans expect the North American soccer league to do the same on the MLS standings.
The MLS has since been updating the public on the status of games, and in its last official statement from April on the subject, the league said it is extending the training moratorium further until June 8th.
Major League Soccer executives have been mulling options for the league’s comeback, and some even expressed hopes of the MLS schedule coming back for a full 2020 season.
Remember MLS standings took off on the last weekend of February, and that was the last we saw from the soccer league before the COVID-19 pandemic forced teams to shut down operations.
Besides gradually coming back to training within social-distance guidelines, the MLS is looking closely at other professional leagues around the world are doing. And one of the options that are being raised often is for teams to play in empty stadiums with no fans in the stands.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber told the press that for Major League Soccer “all options are on the table” for returning to play the beautiful game. Garber realizes that during these uncertain times, the MLS must adapt quickly and find new ways to keep in touch with its growing fan base.
“Maybe we’ll be interacting with our players and our fans differently, maybe we’ll be thinking about technology and how we communicate,” said Garber about the possibilities of playing without a crowd, in what he termed as: “Soccer Studio Games”.
How soccer will be in the post-COVID-19?
With soccer and other major sports around the world gradually kicking off again, many are now following closely the return of the German Bundesliga not only for the thrilling games but also to see how the new setup plays out.
And similar to the Bundesliga, the MLS is already putting together plans for its return, whilst adapting to the new reality that COVID-19 has brought.
The MLS is looking at holding a summer tournament in Florida that will include all 26 of its teams. Players, coaches, and staff will all meet at Orlando’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on June 1st to begin training and prepare for the tournament that will kick off about a month later in early July.
On Wednesday last week, Don Garber briefed players and coaches on the latest plans.
It is planned for over 1,000 people including players, coaches, and staff to stay for between 4 to 6 weeks at the 17-field sports complex that is located near Walt Disney World (Disney owns ESPN, who happens to be one of MLS’ media partners).
It is known that the games will be held with no fans in attendance, but the competition format is still being debated at this time.
Will the MLS table regular season happen normally?
The MLS is considering dividing the teams into groups, where each team will play five games in the group stage. The group games will be followed by a knockout round, with a few additional consolation matches to insure that losing teams also get game time.
Though, there are still open questions on whether these games will be counted as part of the MLS Regular Season, and will the results have impact CONCACAF Champion League standings.
Many in the MLS are also worried about fair play, given that some teams have already started to train in some capacity, while others are still under lockdown.
For example, Western Conference sides LA Galaxy, LAFC, and San Jose Earthquakes are among those that have only recently received official clearance to start individual player training.
Another challenge that is looming over the start of the MLS season is the league’s ongoing talks with the MLSPA (MLS Players Association) regarding player pay cuts.
Earlier this month, the MLS proposed players take a 20% salary cut across the board with more cuts in overall compensation. According to ESPN, the MLSPA sent over the weekend a counter-proposal of a $100 million payroll relief that will include salary cuts, salary deferrals, and a big cut to bonuses.
So yes, players want to play, coaches want to coach and everybody would benefit from the games being televised – fans and teams and the league alike.
Still, there are many moving parts that need to come together in a very short period of time. It is still unsure whether the MLS playoffs will happen in October as scheduled.
Of course, there’s a bigger mission which is keeping everybody safe.