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Garber: MLS will “play games with fans where we can”

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.”


  1. I agree with IV.
    Don G says “We learned a lot in the bubble”
    NO you didn’t…what you should have learned was THE BUBBLE WORKED
    Now they will join baseball and football wondering if they will have a season.

  2. Risky stuff. Soon as a single fan goes down with COVID (which may not have even come from attendance of the game), this will be a terrible black eye. I want games with fans back as much as anyone, but this has a lot of potential for disaster. It’s bizarre that MLS wants to be in front of Europe on the “fans in stadiums” issue given the comparative COVID statistics.

    • USL has been allowing fans in a limited number in cities were it is allowed. I believe masks were required at most of those venues. Here in Iowa they held the boys state baseball tournament last week with fans. You had to buy tickets in advance and the ticketing system was set so that different buyers were socially distanced. If I bought two tickets it then blocked off several seats in all directions that couldn’t be sold.

      • I am pro mask but with crowds you would be testing how well masks work. It’s a lot more than 0% and thus worthwhile. I doubt it’s 100%, particularly once you crowd people. It’s like a seatbelt and a seatbelt isn’t a justification to drive 100 mph and test how well it works.

    • One way of reading their approach is they are being the risktaker. They were playing when others were negotiating. When you look at theories that CL games helped spread covid in Northern Italy it’s a dumb risk.

      • If they follow USL it will be very limited fans. The biggest crowd I’ve seen is Omaha in USL1 but Nebraska says it’s having capacity for college football so I guess the state is oblivious. They did have a mask mandate for the Omaha match. Most places it’s been under 1,000 people in 5,000sh seat stadiums. I saw Rio Grande is not allowing fans but FCD was planning for fans Aug 12. No fans at the Miami FC Tampa Bay Rowdies match I’m currently watching.

  3. Athletic reporting FCD vs Nashville next Wed. and Sun. with fans. Fans? I mean no one goes to Dallas games anyway I guess.

  4. They would also need to solve the Canada Problem ie the Blue Jays aren’t being allowed to play in Canada, instead right now “road” home games and supposedly the next step is Buffalo as a 2020 base.

    • An interesting question is if the Canadian or other teams can’t play home games, do they stay in Orlando? Do we move them to the nearest MLS team’s stadium? Do we test drive current or future expansion cities? Do we move them to the nearest market to their hometown?
      For example, Blue Jays supposedly may play in Buffalo, where some fans root for Toronto teams in next door Ontario. Or you could try a chosen expansion city, or test drive someplace like San Antonio, San Diego, or the like. Some city that’s been asking but got turned down because we’re not sure whether it would work. Here is a rare chance to see, if they would play ball. Mind you, without crowds. But you could see whether enthusiasm gathered, owners got interested, locals watched TV games, bought merch, or seem indifferent.

      • What I’ve heard is they’ll play a series of matches against each other and then move to the US for the final month.

      • For starters, maybe if you don’t force Canada games you can keep the old schedule. You force Canada games you have to redo it all. No wonder it’s delayed.

        I don’t see the value in it because Canada isn’t doing live sports so you are going back to Canada for games that are basically closed doors made for TV events. At that point so long as it’s carried in Canada TV who cares where they are? Moving around only complicates the immigration and health issues. If you feel like you have to respect the Canadian fan by “coming to them” then try the nearest MLS city idea I suggested. Vancouver heads up to Seattle for example. Otherwise I feel like it’s increased risk for little payoff other than playing to Canadian nationalism. For games no one can attend.

  5. Not sure why you emphatically market the tournament as MLS Is Back and then have a halting transition to league play. Personally I don’t think we should be playing, but they were committed to the tournament and the name implied being Back in general. Not sure why they’re wavering now, right before the final. I think it’s about to get ugly, kids back in schools, who get adults sick, sick adults circulate, etc. But with the final this weekend and momentum going I’m not sure why it’s so vague and then “sources say maybe August 22.” You just held “we’re Back” and you can’t say when the next games are?

    • They are trying to make sure they have appropriate amounts of testing in each market is what I’ve heard the hold up is. Hotspots have slowed testing in some cities. I think it’s a case of all the clubs know so their not announcing until all the final details are settled.
      And no we shouldn’t be having games or a lot of other things but that’s where we are.

      • When they were preparing for and starting the tournament Houston was a hotspot with overflowing hospitals and ICUs. I still understand testing varies here. When they started the season 1 case was enough to shut down. Now it’s send teams home and keep rolling. I don’t see where the consistent principles are.

  6. Not sure why you switch from the fairly functional NBA bubble model (once you weed out the sick players/teams at the start) to the malfunctioning MLB home field model.

    • Because players don’t want to live away from their families until December. Part of the problem in MLB was guys sitting around with nothing to do in hotel rooms so they went out at least shopping and eating (worse if you believe rumors). You’ve had MLB with 28 out 30 teams with no problems (not counting Philly staffers who caught it from Marlins but didn’t spread to team). In USL you’ve had one team LAG II that has had an outbreak out of 32. MLS is trying to limit travel and hotels to avoid spread from the outside. There will likely be a team or two that have to postpone matches because of the virus but continued living in a bubble isn’t a viable option either. I’ve heard some clubs have been contacting season ticket holders have you heard anything from the Dynamo?

      • I am usually not a STH but this year had a partial plan as a friend’s gift. I was offered to punt to 2021 and already did so. I took that as a sign about closed door games in 2020. I have little faith in our public health policies and expect a spike from schoolkids. I have written off my area or most being able to have live crowd games. I don’t see practical improvement until there is a vaccine or a political change. I think current politics favor limping forward with little restriction which will counter intuitively drag out the process of zeroing cases where crowds are appropriate.
        I get what you are saying but think the safest, certaintest route is play a short season in the bubble, declare a champion, go home. The longer the season goes and the more it depends on many rather than one area(s) allowing games, the more risk there is problems arise. For people directly involved, for their families they go home to.
        But they may have assessed that they can suspend sick teams and not get banned and make it to the end. I don’t see fans involved so there will be no fan risk. The athletes with the exception of diabetics (Morris) or former cancer patients are likely to only get sick — though people underplay how bad “sick” is. I worry about coaches and staff making it to through unscathed. There was already the SJ coach who had a stroke in the spring — unrelated. But that underlines the coaches and staff are older and as with school reopenings may bear different risks than the players usually focal in such discussions.

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