Minnesota United will resume its pandemic-paused regular season on Aug. 21 at Allianz Field against Sporting Kansas City, without fans.
Major League Soccer’s 25th season will continue when teams play in their home markets for the first time since March. Those games will proceed without supporters in the “majority” of markets during a first-phase restart that ends Sept. 20, the league announced Saturday.
Minnesota United will not propose it play home games with supporters in a plan it will submit to MLS this week. Club CEO Chris Wright said that’s for the “health and safety” of players, coaches, staff and fans for at least the first three home games. The Loons also play Real Salt Lake on Sept. 6 and FC Dallas on Sept. 9 at Allianz Field.
The rest of the schedule will be announced in early September.
“We feel it’s the most logical thing to do in terms of where we are at and where the state is at,” Wright said in a telephone interview.
He said Minnesota’s major league teams together submitted to Gov. Tim Walz’s office documents that detail how they’d follow state health and Centers for Disease Control guidelines if some spectators could attend games.
Each team now is scheduled to play 18 more games, concluding with a Nov. 8 “Decision Day” that ends the regular season. Playoffs expanded from 14 to 18 teams will be single-elimination games played in the home markets of higher-seeded teams beginning Nov. 20. The MLS Cup is set for Dec. 12.
The MLS is Back Tournament played in a protective “bubble” this past month has given league representatives faith in medical protocols used and personal responsibility exercised going forth, Commissioner Don Garber said Saturday.
Lessons learned in Orlando include the importance of face masks, social distancing, hygiene and viral testing of players, coaches and staff every other day. New measures will be implemented, too: In most cases, chartered flights will deliver teams to and from their destinations the same game day to avoid infection while traveling.
“We understand getting back to play will have some challenges,” Garber said in a video call with reporters. “We’re aware of those challenges. We’re preparing for them. We understand it will not be easy. We know we might have issues that will disrupt us, might even force us to postpone games. We’re aware we need to be flexible.”
Dallas and Nashville were sent home before the tournament began because multiple players tested positive. The bubble held firm after that.
There were 38 U.S. deaths and 1,323 infections attributed to COVID-19 when MLS suspended its season March 12. Five months later, there have been more than 162,000 deaths, and there are 60,000 new cases a day.
“That’s the reason you do not have fans in the stands,” Wright said. “Our league has worked incredibly hard for a system, for testing protocols.”
Garber called playing on “a step towards what the new normal in sports” will be.
“We have to start, we have to give it a try,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, we don’t go forward. I don’t think life can stop. I’m confident we have a good plan. I’m confident in the players adhering to that plan.”
Wright said Minnesota United is determining what virtual presence — live or recorded — its supporters could have inside Allianz Field.
Wright called his team’s return to its home “really exciting,” even without supporters.
“I’m just excited where our club is at right now,” Wright said. “Every time you work your way through really, really challenging circumstances like these, you really do become a stronger club. We’re growing on all levels, working together to make sure we come through this in a better place than we were going into it, and we were in a great place going in.”