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Coffee with the Caps, Friday April 17

Restart me up

Toronto FC v Vancouver Whitecaps FC Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Good Friday morning Caps fans, hope you are staying healthy, happy and socially distant out there.

This week seemed to be one where a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel began to emerge—people are still contracting COVID-19, obviously, and tragically folks are still dying. But it has become clear that mitigation efforts did in fact flatten the curve in many parts of North America, helping to avert a worst case scenario.

But the reality is we are unlikely to be able to “go back to normal” anytime soon and that includes sporting events. It seems quite unlikely we will have any games with fans in the stadium until there is a vaccine for this and that will likely be many months away.

I’m honestly doubtful of the ability to play matches behind closed doors given the number of support staff, trainers and TV crew members needed to pull it off. You also presumably would need to quarantine players and staff, lest they contract the virus from a friend or family member between games—a plan that seems both impractical and rather cruel.

Nonetheless, MLS has begun toying with what a potential return may look like, including formats that would look very different than what we’re used to.

Comissioner Don Garber outlined some of that in an interview with ESPN’s Taylor Twellman earlier this week.

“From tournament formats and neutral locations, ultimately playing an abridged regular season, but doing everything to get as many games,” Garber said.

So let’s break some of this down. Presumably a tournament format would look something like an expanded version of MLS Cup or maybe an adapted version of the UEFA Champions League. It would seem to have the benefit of requiring fewer matches to complete, as well as dispensing with any debate as to how to truncate the schedule in the most fair way possible.

And, frankly, this isn’t that much of a departure from how the league usually does business. The Supporters Shield has always been a bit of the ugly stepchild of trophies, with MLS Cup of course being the ultimate prize in the league. Having literally no regular season is a bit cruder but not really a radical concept.

The big problem is that, with any tournament format, teams will be eliminated. This means you could envision a scenario where teams and fans wait for months for league play to resume, only to be booted out within the span of a few matches. This doesn’t seem like a good way to entice local broadcasters, who would be spending a lot of money on a drastically reduced product, nor the fanbases of teams who are eliminated.

Now let’s look at neutral venues. Those stadiums better be in a warm weather locale, because Garber said the league was looking at playing into December and potentially beyond to complete its season. Given the risks of travel and the fact that matches almost certainly won’t have fans in the stands anyway, it seems a reasonable course of action.

I do still worry for the players, who will be sequestered away from family in a far-flung locale. It also will be undeniably disappointing to have the MLS season effectively become a behind-closed-doors preseason friendly at some training ground somewhere. It may be necessary to save the season but that doesn’t mean I have to like the loss of the sights and sounds which define soccer in my mind and in the minds of so many other fans.

There are losses to local economies to consider, pubs and eateries not getting their normal traffic and there will of course be all the money in season tickets which will have to be refunded (rightly). These are all, of course, examples of collateral damage in a time of coronavirus and proof that there is no easy answer to these questions.

The initial ideas posited by Garber are reasonable, if perhaps still a bit pie-in-the-sky. The league will also have plenty of time to make a decision—it is expected to announce imminently that it will not re-start play before early June, which still seems like a conservative estimate in all honesty.

What are your ideas for the most effective format for the league to use when play is eventually happening again? Inside-the-box, outside-the-box, toss em all out there and let’s hear what you’ve got.

Onto some links in the meantime:

Shameless Self Promotion

The final four is here in our best goal bracket—you have until Sunday to cast your ballots so don’t delay!

Best of the Rest

The US Soccer Federation announced it is shuttering the Developmental Academy, ostensibly because of financial losses, although it stands to reason more was going on there

To fill the void, MLS has said it will start a youth competition of its own, leaving questions about what the move will mean for teams and the quality of US youth development

The Sounders owner is projecting “astronomical” losses, potentially into the billions, for MLS and its ownership groups due to COVID-19

But hey, at least the league will have a FIFA tournament! (Erik Godoy will represent the Caps)