Good Friday morning Caps fans, hope your week has gone well and you’re gearing up for a well deserved break.
Well, after perhaps thousands of words worth of ink spilled here, spewing out a variety of opinions, the MLS is Back Tournament finally (finally!) kicked off in Orlando and we enter its third day of competition Friday.
I will admit, even though I was skeptical of whether or not it was a good idea from the beginning (concerns I again raised Monday), I will say that I very much enjoyed sitting down to watch Inter Miami take on Orlando City SC Wednesday night.
This isn’t to say I didn’t have a sense of anxiety about the whole thing—in fact I still do. The risk to the players is still there and I still feel for them, playing hundreds of thousands of miles away from their families during a pandemic for ... TV revenue.
At the end of the day, though, boycotting watching the tournament wouldn’t have done much and I wound up being glad I didn’t. I am a writer and fan and neither of those things gives me the ability to override the public health decisions of a professional sports league. I also suspect I was in the minority of fans who had significant concerns about the tournament.
And players are feeling a similar divide of opinion. We’ve all seen the anonymous MLS is Back Insider Twitter account crop up to leak potentially accurate information and Bradley Wright-Phillips said the tournament is “a bit stupid” (he isn’t wrong).
Other players, however, see things differently. Some have praised the bubble protocols, saying it helped ease their initial worries. Others, like DC United’s Felipe, Julian Gressel and Frederic Brilliant, all think some of the worries are overblown and that most players have come around to the setup.
I’m sure a similar divide exists among all players if you extrapolate it out. Guys who are (legitimately) nervous versus guys who just want to get back to doing what they love and are paid to do. I don’t think either point of view is wrong and I think that tension shows that its also OK for fans to feel a wide range of things as well.
I also appreciated that the Caps did a few things. One, they transparently announced who was not making the trip to Orlando. Two, they appeared to be very lenient in allowing guys who don’t have a pre-existing condition making them more susceptible to serious COVID-19 complications to stay home. And three, they seemed to stop Tosaint Ricketts, who does apparently have one of those conditions to stay home, even though he didn’t initially ask to.
Did we actually do something right for once?
The league’s actions in recent days were a bit more of a mixed bag. They did the right thing in removing FC Dallas and Nashville SC from the tournament but probably should have moved a little quicker to do so.
Others have been skeptical of the production value of the broadcasts itself, including the league’s insistence to cram as many ads as possible onto the screen. I hate consumerism as much as anyone but the league does have to make up four months worth of lost revenue and frankly if this is going to be worth the risk making the league’s creditors happy is probably an unfortunate prerequisite, maybe even more than anything which happens on the pitch.
And the broadcasts themselves, occurring in makeshift soccer stadiums during a pandemic? I have a hard time getting worked up about a bad camera angle here and there.
Perhaps most concerning was a rather deliberate medical response to the seemingly serious head injury to Inter Miami CB Andres Reyes, as well as the concern that, if he was having trouble breathing, he would have to go to a hospital grappling with COVID-19. The good news is he appears to be fine and has returned since to the bubble for follow up evaluations. But it underscores the risk everyone is feeling.
The good news? MLS listened to the Black Players for Change which formed in recent weeks and allowed for a full scale demonstration prior to the Miami/Orlando match that lasted for just under nine minutes—the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, killing him. It was more impressive than I expected and truly was moving.
Even better, Toronto FC’s Justin Morrow, who is a leader of the group, said that MLS Commissioner Don Garber has been very open already in discussions with BPC and that he is hopeful real change can come within the sport because of it. Perhaps this can be a chance to address the racist and classist academy/youth development structure we have here, as well as a whole other litany of ingrained inequities in the sport. Don Garber can’t solve police brutality but he can do a lot to make the sport more inclusive in the U.S. and there seems to be a real chance to do that.
The demonstration surprised my non-MLS watching friends in its tenor and really made a splash in mainstream media, which was cool to see. I still have concerns about the tournament, to be sure, but watching players standing together, fists raised a la Tommie Smith and John Carlos, made me focus a bit on the bigger picture.
Time for some links, no?
Shameless Self Promotion
The Caps’ group looks a little different now (also we have like no strikers now). Sam Rowan looks at what it all means
Best of the Rest
More on the five player set to miss out for the Caps
It sounds as though the Caps players almost pulled out of the tournament, Axel Schuster told The Province
The Caps play at least one 9 a.m. ET game against Chicago. Might it be a path forward? The Athletic explores
Former Caps man Jordan Harvey on life inside the bubble