Good Monday morning Caps fans. It came to my attention that the Friday column accidentally had a headlining proclaiming to be for Monday—perhaps it was me bracing for the most Monday Monday I’ve seen in awhile.
Regardless, I am happy to spend it here with you all, although this column starts, as so many do, with the fact that MLS has a problem.
Perhaps unusually for the league, it is not a problem of its own creation per se, but it is nonetheless one which needs addressing. As referenced here last Friday, the league’s plan to have the vaunted MLS Is Back Extravaganza is hitting a speed bump with the fact that Florida has been one of the many states to unfortunately see a significant rise in its COVID-19 case counts.
To put that in perspective, the state had roughly 3,500 new cases on Saturday, which Gov. Ron DeSantis has pinned on more widespread testing. That may play a role but public health experts are still concerned.
For MLS’ purposes, Orange County, which includes Orlando, has not been as hard hit as the southern part of the state. Still, its 350 new cases Sunday are nothing to sneeze at (for context Pennsylvania, where I live, has seen roughly that many new cases most days and we have many more people than one Florida county).
Now one could argue that the outbreak, while bad, is not really MLS’ problem. Much like the NBA and WNBA, which will both be using facilities in Florida, the league will be locking players down. In fact, the MLS protocols sounds as if they are going to be stricter than the other leagues, with no family members allowed in to visit. And there is going to be ample testing of players, coaches and staff both before and during the tournament.
Still, things could get dicey real quickly. All you need is one player to break protocol, go to a Publix, get COVID and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. That’s setting aside the optics of playing sports in an area with a ballooning public health issue.
MLS’ testing plan is not ironclad, especially after two weeks in Orlando have passed. And the league is trying to woo players like Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez to play, even though both have either recently become fathers or have pregnant wives and thus have potentially immuno-compromised individuals around their homes.
At the end of the day, it is possible that there are no good solutions here. Either kill off the tournament (which we all know MLS is not going to do barring nothing short of the end of days in Orlando) and take a financial bath or play next month and take the risk, which always existed in one form or another anyway.
But the radio silence from the league has to be unnerving if you’re set to be flying to Orlando in a few weeks (into an airport, we might add, that just saw a significant chunk of its staff test positive for COVID-19). If this is all going to work, transparency is key—those involved need to trust their best interests are being looked out for and I would think many members of the public and media would want to know this as well before they commit to tuning in.
Maybe the real answer all along was to do what the NWSL did—have your tournament in a relatively unpopulated state. The league could do an about face and choose Montana, who has seen a major dip in cases. Or maybe an island on the Aleutian Peninsula (with a bonus of having almost 24 hour sunlight). Or, hell, while we’re talking islands, just do what the UFC has done and rent out a private island.
In all seriousness, perhaps another pass at the league’s testing strategy, adding in a few tweaks and some communication with the players’ association is enough—I’m no public health expert. But at least an acknowledgement of what the league is up against here? That seems both reasonable and needed as we embark together on an unprecedented step.
Here are some links:
Best of the Rest
In some transfer news, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is nearing a deal to return to MLS—this time with Inter Miami
The EPL returned late last week and it ... looks a bit different
And one EPL trend was managers *not* using all five subs allotted to them under the new rules. MLS managers are split on the matter
ESPN reports on major disagreements between players and clubs as Brazil tussles over a restart to their league—while thousands are diagnosed with COVID-19