Calling it an idea “still in its infancy,” Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath on Thursday endorsed Major League Soccer’s intention to resume its season by playing a World Cup-type tournament that will require all 26 teams quarantined for four to six weeks this summer at an Orlando resort and athletic complex.
Heath and his coaching colleagues discussed a proposal with Commissioner Don Garber on Wednesday that will need the agreement of the league’s players on important issues concerning their health and safety as well as compensation during this coronavirus pandemic.
MLS shuttered stadiums, training facilities and suspended games after the season’s first two games were played in March. Players had been mostly isolated “in market” alone at home until the league permitted players, depending upon their state’s orders and regulations, to train individually outdoors on grass at team facilities starting last week.
If details can be agreed upon, those 26 teams could be headed to Orlando early next month to play televised tournament games without spectators. Such a tournament would include an opening round of group play, quarterfinals, semifinals and a final, much like the World Cup.
“The general consensus is we need to get back to some normalcy,” Heath said Thursday in a videoconference call with reporters. “If that means going to Orlando and playing football for a month, that might be it. … It’s not ideal. We’re aware of that. There’s no perfect solution for this, but we’re trying to come up with a situation that’s good for everybody.”
League executives presented players with the concept on Wednesday as well. Loons midfielder and union representative Ethan Finlay said “players want to play,” dependent on two major issues in a concept that will require comprehensive viral testing of players, coaches and support staff, quarantine from family and others, and social distancing in a sport that gets physical.
“First and foremost, the health and safety of themselves and their families,” Finlay said on the same videoconference, referring to MLS players’ priorities, “and making sure the competition is worthwhile. We’re going to be putting our bodies on the line and it’s important it makes sense.
“Most guys — if the scenario is right and they feel its safe and its worthwhile and its competitive — are going to want to get back on the field.”
That part about competitive and worthwhile will include negotiations on pay in a league that last month announced it had discussed with its labor union paying players their full salaries only if a full season is played with spectators. It also said then it won’t play a game until June 8 at the earliest.
Loons players and coaches will be tested for the virus when individual training sessions advance to small groups in the next two weeks. The team itself must obtain those tests. “We’re just around the corner from that,” Heath said.
Aseason scheduled beyond an Orlando tournament, Heath said, wasn’t discussed among coaches and the commissioner on Wednesday.
“They’re purely focused on what the next two months look like,” Heath said. “Can we get playing somehow?”
Heath also said Garber stressed that the outcome of such a tournament would carry some weight going forth into an uncertain future.
“If this does go ahead, this will be meaningful football,” Heath said. “There will be points at stake. There will be position at stakes. There will be implications long term. They do have to be meaningful games. We’re not just going through the motions. That’s one or two areas we have to sit down and go through thoroughly.”
Germany’s Bundesliga is scheduled to resume its season in empty stadiums this weekend. The English Premier League and Spain’s top league are aiming for June returns while the top leagues in France and the Netherlands canceled the rest of their seasons.
“Obviously, we all miss it,” Heath said. “What goes on in Germany will be a real barometer for what goes on around the world. If they can make this work, it will be a huge shot in the arm for the game worldwide.”