When the USL Championship and League One returns (July 11 and 18, respectively), the clubs expect to play games in their home markets. The decision comes as a stark contrast to other domestic soccer leagues choosing to participate in centralized tournaments.
League owners, concerned by the logistics of gathering up to 47 teams in one area during a pandemic, opted to keep clubs closer to home, according to a report by The Athletic.
“From the onset of this crisis, the league has been working with numerous public health experts from other professional leagues as well as U.S. Soccer,” says USL President Jake Edwards. “Based on those conversations, the league has been, for some time, working hard to craft a full list of return to play protocols – information on which will be made public in the coming weeks.”
League training protocols were eased on June 9, as clubs expanded non-contact training on outdoor fields to include groups up to ten. Weight room facilities are open, player treatment beyond rehab purposes are expanded, and coaches can now provide technical instruction as well.
Owners also felt potential revenue would be minimal without fans, while additional travel and lodging costs could be huge for lower division clubs.
USL’s strategy splits from the National Women’s Soccer League and Major League Soccer. The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup beginning on June 27 will be played entirely in Utah, while the MLS is Back tournament kicks off on July 8 in Orlando, Florida.
Although uncertainty still surrounds the finer details of USL’s return – details of the modified competition are unconfirmed, it’s unclear whether fans will be allowed to attend games, and some college or high school owned venues may be unavailable – there’s a sense the details will be worked out in the weeks to come.
The USL Players Association will still need to agree with the USL to begin the season. Both sides are currently in negotiation over player salaries and contract end dates. On June 8, The USL finalized a $5.5M relief package to be divided among all Championship and League One Clubs, according to The Athletic.
Most USL Championship clubs completed just one game before the season was postponed. USL League One teams had not begun their 2020 campaign yet.