Major League Soccer announced Thursday that it will suspend its season another four weeks, to May 10, a delay that figures to push the MLS Cup into December.
In a one-paragraph statement, MLS, which a week ago announced a 30-day halt to the season, said that break was being lengthened “in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance to postpone events involving more than 50 people over the next eight weeks.” The CDC directive is part of a nationwide effort to stall the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The MLS announcement, which was expected, comes a day after the second-tier USL Championship said it was extending its suspension to eight weeks to comply with Sunday’s CDC instructions. Major League Baseball has already pushed its opening day back to early May and NBA owners are reportedly bracing for a delay that could last until June. The NHL’s plan to resume play in early to mid-May may now be on hold after an unidentified Ottawa Senators player tested positive for the virus.
MLS has no plans to play matches behind closed doors. But that, like everything else, could change.
“Every day we continue to assess what’s going on and see the situation and then it’ll change,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “We just have to find ways to all work together during this tough time and see it through.”
All 26 MLS teams had played two games before the season was halted last week. With the suspension now extended by four weeks, 115 games have been postponed. The Galaxy will have to reschedule nine league games — more than a quarter of its season — while LAFC must move seven, although LAFC will also have to reschedule its two-leg CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal playoff with Mexico’s Cruz Azul.
The final MLS game completed before the stoppage in play was LAFC’s 3-3 draw with the Philadelphia Union. If the season restarts on May 10, it will do so with the Galaxy playing host to the New York Red Bulls.
In addition to the suspension in games, MLS teams are under a league-mandated training moratorium banning players from practicing in groups. It’s uncertain if that moratorium, extended once through Saturday, will be lifted on schedule.
Earlier this week, D.C. United gave each of its players sanitized workout equipment including a soccer ball, plastic cones, exercise bands and foam rollers. Bradley said LAFC has also distributed equipment to players who need it and performance coaches Gavin Benjafield and Daniel Guzman have been closely monitoring their workouts. If the moratorium isn’t lifted soon, LAFC may soon begin scheduling group workouts through video conferencing.
“The strength of a team, especially for us, has always been the feeling of showing up every day and the culture that we were lucky to have and how much guys love to come in every day and spend time and get on a field and train,” Bradley said. “So in the moment, when you don’t have the ability to be together, you’ve got to find other ways to support one another. That’s what we’re trying very hard to do.”
MLS said it intends to play its full 34-game schedule but exactly how it will do that is uncertain. The most likely option has the league picking up the schedule in May and moving postponed games back to the fall, with the league championship pushed back more than a month into late December.
Last season, MLS began its playoffs in mid-October and played the MLS Cup on Nov. 10 to avoid the fall FIFA international breaks. That won’t be possible this year with World Cup qualifying starting in late August.
As a result, many MLS teams will be forced to play late-season and postseason matches without their top players, who will be off with their national teams. Extending the season into the winter could also cause scheduling conflicts for teams that share stadiums with teams in other sports.
The uncertainty of stadium availability could force the league into placing the MLS Cup in a neutral warm-weather site rather than in the stadium of the finalist with the best regular-season record. LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium and the Galaxy’s Dignity Health Sports Park, site of six previous MLS Cups, would be among the venues likely considered.
But Bradley, who has been working out of his South Bay home the last week, said none of that really matters much now.
“We’re trying to make sure that everybody understands what’s going on in the world,” he said. “Athletes always need to have a perspective. And so in the moment [it’s] just a sense of the responsibilities that we all have to change the lifestyle, to stay home, to stay in touch with each other. Those are the biggest points.
“When you look around and you see what’s going on, then those are the things that stick with you. I don’t think anybody’s getting caught up with just thoughts about themselves.”