Don Garber: “We understand that getting back to play is going to have some challenges.” (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber realizes returning to normal will be difficult and it will be fraught with a number of challenges.
He just hopes the league has many contingencies planned for what will transpire over the next four months.
MLS returns to its home markets on Wednesday, Aug. 12, when FC Dallas welcomes Nashville SC, a day after the MLS Is Back Tournament concludes.
“We understand that getting back to play is going to have some challenges,” Garber said during a Saturday conference call with the media. “We understand that it’s not going to be easy. We know that we might have issues that are going to disrupt us, might even force us to postpone games. We’re aware of the need to be flexible and aware that we’re entering a new normal for our industry.”
MLS put the brakes on the regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, resuming with the Orlando, Fla. tournament over the past several weeks.
Now is the time for the league to build some more momentum by playing in its home markets, Garber said.
“As you would expect, a lot of thought went into this process and what we needed to do to get back and continue our season,” he said. “That started in a bubble, but in our minds, it had always been that we would get back into our markets at some point soon.”
The Red Bulls and New York City FC will get back into the swing of things with a Hudson River Derby at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. on Aug. 20. While the past confrontations brought out sold-out crowds at RBA, there will be no spectators that night.
All teams need to send a proposal to MLS demonstrating how the club would create a safe environment for fans. Then, the state government, the league and Center of Disease Control and Prevention must approve that plan.
It will be up to teams and their local governments to determine whether spectators can attend matches. Some states have allowed a limited number of fans to attend pro sporting events.
“All leagues are looking in some way to have fans, if it’s in accordance with state guidelines and the CDC,” Garber said. “At the end of the day, our industry is one that has fans as a big part of what makes our sport work. Our fans want to support our clubs, and if they’re permitted to attend sports events in other sports or in other activities, we are willing to work with our clubs if they’re abiding by those guidelines.”
To ensure players and staff stay away from COVID-19 as much as possible, teams probably will take charter flights or buses on the day of the match and return home after the match ends. In other words, there will be day trips to games.
Testing will take place regularly, including the day before every contests.
Garber admitted that it was possible the league could cancel matches due to positive tests.
“We believe that we have a good plan and that our players and our staff are focused on adhering to our protocols,” he said. “If we do that, we ought to be able to get our games in. And if we can’t do that in a way that’s safe and is ensuring the health of our players, then we’ll have to address it. If it doesn’t work, then we won’t move forward.”
If some teams don’t play as many games as others, points per game and not total points will be used to factor playoff teams and positioning.
“It’s pretty clear to all of us now that we’re going to have a season that’s going to have a lot of competitive balance issues,” Garber said. “We thought it was appropriate and fair to have even more teams qualify because the season is unique.”