As the Major League Soccer gears up to restart on Wednesday, July 8 at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, the league announced that 18 players and six team staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Their names remain unreleased.
Despite the news, the league—which has continuously tested players and staff since early June—has not hinted at halting the restart. Six teams have already arrived in Central Florida, where the coronavirus has unfortunately flourished in the last few weeks. The Orlando area has been acutely affected.
Restarting the league amid this pandemic always posed a unique challenge given the United States’ geography. Unlike in Europe where most squads travel to matches by bus, U.S. squads must fly between cities for most, if not all, matches.
“It’s difficult to generalize, our situation [in Los Angeles] is distinct than that of New York,” LA Galaxy general manager told ESPN in March. “It’s hard to generalize protocols… it won’t be easy to return to competition.”
Finishing the tournament at one centralized location was meant to mitigate that and Disney’s 90-acre complex theoretically offered ample space. The NBA will also finish their 2019-2020 season there beginning July 30. Both leagues will bring thousands of people to the complex to live and work for more than a month.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, the resort will have eight security checkpoints as well as CCTV in place, to control who comes in and out of the complex. Players have been asked to be conscious of their spit and mucus while on the pitch, and bench staff will be required to wear masks.
LAFC forward Carlos Vela reportedly felt apprehensive about returning to finish the season as his wife is currently pregnant. Chicharito Hernández has said he will play in Florida despite his wife’s pregnancy.
When play restarts, all 26 teams are expected to be at the complex to face each other in a round-robin style tournament, a-la Davis Cup, with the final to be played on August 11th. The Washington Post reported that each team will play three first-round games to set up a knockout stage, and the first-round games will count toward the regular-season standings. The winner will receive a direct berth to the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.
Like the English Premier League and the Bundesliga, the MLS has decided to allot an extra two substitutions per team per match to the usual three to help with lost fitness and avoid injury. Time off the field and locked-in at home has visibly affected players in re-started European leagues. Liverpool’s swiss army knife midfielder James Milner pulled a hamstring after just nine minutes of play.
On a positive note, Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez may return this season. The 2018 MVP tore his ACL in this season’s inaugural match and was expected to be out for the remainder.
Moving forward, the league has said it will provide an update on their progress confronting the virus.