By Harry Allison
The Union’s time in the bubble may have ended last night with a quarterfinal loss to Portland.
But there may be good news for Union fans.
MLS commissioner Don Garber said that the league hopes to announce its schedule for the resumption of the regular season “soon” and that games will be played in front of fans “where we can.”
Garber was speaking to Fox Sports at halftime of last night’s Union game. Although FC Dallas and Nashville SC were forced to withdraw from the tournament because of a cluster of positive tests for the coronavirus, there haven’t been any more positive tests in the past three weeks, which has allowed the tournament to go forward. For that reason, Garber struck a triumphant tone.
With the tournament set to conclude next Tuesday, thoughts are turning to when the regular season will resume.
Multiple reports have the season restarting the weekend of Aug. 22, though Nashville and Dallas could begin before then in a bid to make up the three league games they lost by not playing in the tournament.
“What drives MLS is this soccer culture, getting into our markets and getting our players back, getting them home, getting them to play in their stadiums and being able to train in their training grounds,” Garber said. “We will get back to our markets. We’ll be announcing their schedule soon. We’re going to be able to play with fans where we can and not play with fans in most of our markets.”
Having players exit the bubble and return home will create a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, but Garber is optimistic that the players’ experience of being in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, will carry through the rest of 2020.
“We learned a lot in the bubble,” he said. “We learned about testing. We learned about the incredible commitment of our players wearing masks and social distancing and taking real responsibility for keeping themselves safe. And that really will give us the sense of what we need to do to finish the season, have playoffs and have an MLS Cup before the end of the year.”
The success of the MLS is Back Tournament has led to suggestions that the league should hold a similar event next year. Garber didn’t rule out that possibility, but he said the league’s priorities are more short term in nature.
“Perhaps this is something we could recreate in the early part of the year, but there has been no planning for that whatsoever,” he said. “The focus is in our markets, in front of our fans when we can, getting our players home and getting back to some sense of a new normal once we’re able to achieve a regular cadence of games.”