With the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament coming down to its final days, the search for what will happen next continues for MLS commissioner Don Garber.
Garber has been working with club representatives to come up with the next stage for the MLS season, one that only had two weeks of regular season matches before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a lengthy halt. After coming up with the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, the thoughts immediately came to whether or not the clubs and players could avoid the spread of COVID-19.
With only two matches remaining in the summer event, Garber admits the success the tournament has been for the players and fans around the country while remaining in the bubble for over a month.
“Fifty-one games in 35 days and delivery for our fans, getting our players on the field, having our media partners and our sponsors being able to reengage, getting back that momentum that we had in the launch of the 25th season — that’s the thing that has us all feeling pretty good tonight,” Garber said during halftime of Wednesday’s Philadelphia Union-Portland Timbers match on Fox Sports 1.
“We learned a lot in the bubble. We learned about testing. We learned about the incredible commitment of our players wearing masks and social distancing and taking real responsibility for keeping themselves safe. And that really will give us the sense of what we need to do to finish the season, have playoffs and have an MLS Cup before the end of the year.”
Now Garber and the rest of the league representatives will continue working on a plan for what’s next for its 26 clubs. Nashville SC and FC Dallas did not take part in the tournament after multiple positive cases of COVID-19 impacted the club’s rosters, but should be ready for a return to action later this month.
Multiple reports have suggested that a return to league matches could begin around the weekend of Aug. 22nd, with Dallas and Nashville playing extra games to make up the missed opportunities in Orlando. Nothing is official yet, but Garber confirmed teams will be able to play in their home stadiums and possibly with fans if it’s allowed.
“What drives MLS is this soccer culture, getting into our markets and getting our players back, getting them home, getting them to play in their stadiums and being able to train in their training grounds,” Garber said. “We will get back to our markets. We’ll be announcing their schedule soon. We’re going to be able to play with fans where we can and not play with fans in most of our markets.”
With the MLS regular season usually beginning in late February-early March, there is also the possibility of the MLS is Back Tournament becoming a regular event to kick off the year’s festivities. Normally teams take part in preseason games in warm-climate environments, but due to the success of this summer’s inaugural competition, it could see it repeated for seasons to come.
“Perhaps this is something we could recreate in the early part of the year, but there has been no planning for that whatsoever,” Garber said. “The focus is in our markets, in front of our fans when we can, getting our players home and getting back to some sense of a new normal once we’re able to achieve a regular cadence of games.”