The experiment is over. MLS is Back. 51 games later, few can deny that Don Garber and his soccer bubble in Orlando worked. It effectively pinpointed the weakest COVID-19 infection links, Nashville SC and FC Dallas, and eliminated them from the competition.
And while this battle for the MLS Is Back tournament cup tonight is important to the two teams involved, Portland Timbers and Orlando City SC, the rest of the league have already begun their run-ups to the remainder of the regular season, set to begin tomorrow in local and regional markets with Dallas hosting Nashville in front of fans. It feels like a surreal dream. We are trapped in a catch-22 knowing that the risk of viral transmission outside the bubble is very real, but also knowing that a world without soccer isn’t one we want to live in.
As reported by The Athletic, as strict as MLS Covid-19 testing policies were, with testing immediately upon arrival and then again the next day, it was not fail-safe. By the time the second set of results came in for FC Dallas, players had practiced mask-free with one more player who was positive for the novel coronavirus. And though two teammates had already been placed in quarantine the day before, it was simply too late. Simply put, most infectious periods for Covid-19 are within the first 2-5 days of infection, however, many cases have now been reported outside that window, some even after 3 weeks. There is simply no way to guarantee a Covid-19-free MLS season outside of a bubble.
Tomorrow, MLS embarks on the second stage of their experiment. Dallas and Nashville will compete at Toyota Stadium in front of a crowd of 5,100 expected fans, that represents 25% of the stadium capacity, half the 50% limit of Governor Greg Abbott’s event venue decree. A risk, absolutely. A roll of the dice. But, likely it will succeed in pushing other markets, other venues to re-evaluate their conservative approaches to eliminating fans from the attending games. That’s a dangerous path but one the entire country is on, outside of the world of sports. We were unwilling to face down this virus as most countries have done. Now we must face the reality that we chose the harder path, a long grueling game of Ring Around the Rosie.
featured image: courtesy MLSsoccer.com