No one remembers enduring a year like this and everyone hopes there will never be a year like this again.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the entire world upside down and then some.
It affected life more ways that we could count. More than a million people died on the planet, including 330,000-plus in the United States. And that doesn’t include people who have been sickened and survived the disease.
Soccer wasn’t immune from the pandemic as every league in the USA and on the planet was shut down.
Slowly, but surely, leagues came back with various protocols.
The National Women’s Soccer League took the first steps of any professional sports league in this country with its 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup in a bubble in Herriman and Sandy, Utah.
Major League Soccer followed suit with the MLS is Back Tournament in an Orlando, Fla. bubble and then resuming its regular season with no or limited crowds at home stadiums. Canadian teams were forced to call USA venues home for the remainder of the season.
The Red Bulls and New York City FC played in empty stadiums but finished the season.
MLS took a giant financial hit. Commissioner Don Garber said the league had lost almost $1 billion. He added that the league could not go through a similar season in 2021 after which teams played without paid crowds for the most part this past season.
“We are concerned about what this will look like leading into 2021 and are working, as I’m sure everybody could imagine, on figuring out how we could manage through that,” Garber said. “I am very, very hopeful that 2021 will be a way better year that ‘20, because I don’t think any business could sustain the kind of impact that we sustained in 2020 for two years in a row.”
The National Independent Soccer Association called off its spring season but came back in three parts to salvage part of 2020 with the preseason NISA Independent Cup, a four-game shortened regular season and the NISA Fall Tournament in a bubble in Detroit. It wasn’t perfect, but it was doable.
“NISA did a nice job pulling together the fall season given all of the difficulties,” Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover said. “It’s a young league, there are new teams and a global pandemic making every day a challenge. Keeping all of that in mind, it’s pretty remarkable that the fall tournament was a success and that we had a great partnership with beIN Sports.”
It still was too early for the Cosmos and NISA to announce any solid plans for the spring at this time because the pandemic continues to make life quite fluid for sports and the general population.
“COVID-19 continues to play havoc with pro sports,” Stover said. “It’s been very hard for the league, the staff and the individual clubs. At the moment, we don’t know what the spring season will look like or if we’ll be able to start selling tickets again. Unfortunately, that leads to more uncertainty heading into 2021, but we are committed to finding solutions.
On the amateur level, high school and college sports, including soccer, were wiped out in the fall, with hopes of having some sort of season in the spring.
The Long Island Junior Soccer League, East Hudson Youth Soccer League, Metrokids Youth Soccer League and Big Apple Youth Soccer League had teams return to action, with varying levels. The BAYSL, for example, could not play in Flushing, N.Y. because it was in the yellow zone with a spike of COVID-19 cases. The CJSL had problems getting fields approved by the City of New York because of the pandemic.
The Long Island Soccer Football League held its fall season without much incident.
“All the games were played,” he added. “We made sure we had our PPE’s, all of the protocols, from the state, local, and federal government were being followed. We had representatives from the league show up at the fields to make sure people were complying with the recommendations. And if they weren’t, they would all be fined.
“Thank God we did not have to fine anybody, so, it all worked out. We were lucky in a way but also I think we did the right thing, like some of the professional sports did. We actually were at a lower level, easier to control than some of these professional leagues, [like] football and baseball throughout the season.”
The Cosmopolitan Soccer League, which could not play due to New York City restrictions, had several teams compete in the LISFL
Rochester Lancers owner Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo tried to put the year into perspective.
“I told my grandson the other day when I was taking him to school. I said, ’20 years from now, I’m not sure if I’m going to be here or not. But this time period is part of history, we don’t realize right now when we see people in masks in the grocery store. It’s the norm, kids going to school in masks. Twenty years from now, little kids are going think no way that really happened.’ ”
Officials of soccer leagues, youth, amateur and professional, are optimistic that life will get better on and off the field.
It couldn’t have gotten much worse in many cases.
Here’s to a happy and healthier 2021.