Its season shut down the past two months, Major League Soccer and Minnesota United seek what both Loons coach Adrian Heath and veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay call “normalcy” in the league’s plan to resume with a World Cup-like tournament involving all 26 teams quarantined in Orlando.
Saturday’s scheduled game at Inter Miami CF was the 12th consecutive one postponed after the Loons started 2-0 with victories at Portland and San Jose.
The latest: MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Wednesday briefed coaches and players on the proposed tournament that Heath called “in its infancy.”
Qualifying group play would be followed by quarterfinals, semifinals and a final. Players, coaches and staff — more than 1,000 people — would be housed four to six weeks at a resort near Walt Disney World. They would train and play games at Disney’s 17-field athletic complex. Disney owns ESPN, one of MLS’ media partners.
Heath said the league will determine how to make it “meaningful football” that rewards achieving teams going forth. “There will be implications long term,” he said.
What’s been said: Heath and Finlay both endorsed the concept, provided logistical and safety issues are solved. Any type of season beyond the monthlong tournament hasn’t been determined.
Each also lamented games will be played without spectators.
“The supporters are the lifeblood of our game,” Heath said. “It’s what differentiates our sport. But sometimes we’re in a situation where we have to do something, and if we have to play without people, that’s the way it’s going to have to be.”
Where is everyone? Players mostly have been hunkered at home, staying fit with training plans. Many players and staff had workouts together, while social distancing, last week when both MLS and state officials gave the OK.
“I play this game to compete and to win,” Finlay said. “If that means winning at practice, winning games or at a tournament down in Florida in this coronavirus pandemic, then so be it. As soccer players, we have very short careers. As time goes by, you lose years and the opportunity to compete.”
Biggest obstacles: So many details, including comprehensive testing, must be agreed upon. Orlando’s summer heat and humidity offer their challenges. Players will need time — two weeks minimum, maybe more — to get fit for games. “There’s nothing quite like soccer game shape,” Finlay said.
Reasons for optimism: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis welcomes an MLS tournament and the league seems well down the road toward arriving in Florida by early June.
The bottom line: Players want to play, coaches want to coach and MLS wants games televised. But so much must come together so quickly, and there’s a small margin for error keeping everybody safe.