DC United was supposed to play its first game of the MLS playoffs Sunday morning. Twenty minutes before the start time, the match was put on hold due to a positive COVID-19 test and one inconclusive; one on each team. Five minutes later, the match was called off.
This isn’t an outlier experience. Since entering the bubble, nine MLS games were scheduled to occur. Of those nine, only three have happened on time.
MLS postpones Toronto FC vs. DC United match.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 12, 2020
The DC United game postponement is just the most recent of a myriad of issues facing the MLS. The soccer league’s official statement explained that Saturday’s test produced a positive COVID-19 case for one player and an inconclusive test for another. The league wanted to retest both teams this morning but did not have enough time before the 9 AM start time.
According to Washington Post reporter Steven Goff, DC United forward Erik Sorga was not on the gameday roster, despite not having a soccer-related injury.
D.C. United match vs. Toronto FC is on hold and is expected to be postponed. Teams are on site at stadium. Positive tests. Erik Sorga was not on the game-day roster, despite not being injured. Details to come …
— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) July 12, 2020
The MLS rescheduled the game for Monday morning, but two negative tests are needed for the game to go ahead. The DC United player’s tests were positive and then negative. They are awaiting the results of a third test while the player is in isolation. If the player tests positive again, the game could go ahead as long as the rest of the team continues to test negative.
The DCU player's tests were positive, then negative. Awaiting results of a third test. Need two negatives in a row to be cleared. He is in isolation, per MLS protocol. Even if he is positive, DCU could still go ahead and play if the rest of the team remains negative.
— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) July 12, 2020
The MLS is the first major sports league in America that is using a bubble for its Return to Play plan. The soccer league is acting as a metaphorical guinea pig for other North American sports, hosting its games on Disney grounds – the same as the NBA.
But the MLS’s plan immediately got off to a rough start when FC Dallas and Nashville SC were forced to withdraw due to COVID-19 outbreaks. FC Dallas had 11 positive tests and Nashville SC had nine.
The league also had other isolated incidents. When a player tests positive, they are removed from the team floor and placed in a separate wing of the hotel.
According to Henry Bushnell of Yahoo Sports, in the nine games scheduled:
With the scorching hot summer temperatures in Florida, matches begin at 9 AM, 8 PM, and 10:30 PM. Players are tested upon arrival, isolated in their rooms for 12 hours, and tested every other day for the first two weeks. After that, players will be tested regularly.
The NBA season is set to resume on July 30, but players began arriving at the Disney bubble this past week. If a player tests positive, the NBA will isolate that person and monitor the rest of the team. There is no set plan if a team has an outbreak.
Sunday, Florida set a new United States record for daily positive coronavirus cases with 15,299. The state is becoming one of the biggest hot spots in the world for COVID-19.
This morning, MLS president and deputy commissioner, Mark Abbott, said the “process is working.”
Based on the MLS’s troubled reboot, the NHL can see how their Phase 3 and Phase 4 plans could go sideways. The MLS is broadly taking many of the same precautions the NHL wrote into their return-to-play protocol. The MLS is housing and testing 2,000 people in a single location. They are shuttling (now) 24 teams to a single secured sports complex and conducting their matches on three fields outside. In a single hotel, the MLS still saw two teams drop out due to a virus outbreak. While the NHL is restarting the season in Canada, they are hosting the teams in two cities and four hotels. In each respective city, the players will play the games in one arena but will travel to practice facilities when they are not playing.
Both leagues are giving each individual team a floor or wing in the hotel. While the MLS is assigning each team a club lounge for social time (ping pong, playing cards, and video games) and meeting rooms, additional social space on the NHL floors is unknown. Each NHL floor will have designated areas for medical treatment.
Each NHL player will be tested three times, 48 hours apart, in the seven days prior to their flight to the hub city. Once inside the bubble, players will undergo daily COVID-19 tests, symptom checks, and temperature screenings. MLS players are tested every other day or the day prior to a matchday.
All 24 NHL teams will hold training camps in their respective cities through July 26 before traveling north to Canada. 18 of those teams are based in the United States, which is seeing its coronavirus cases skyrocket to over 60k positive cases per day.
“We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back,” Washington Nationals’ reliever Sean Doolittle recently said in an interview. “Sports are like a reward of a functioning society. And we’re just trying to bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.”
The MLB is scheduled to return on July 23. The Nationals will play the New York Yankees to open the MLB’s 2020, coronavirus-shortened season. The Nats recently canceled a practice because they did not receive the results of their COVID-19 tests back in an appropriate amount of time.
It remains to be seen if each sports league can pull off their own return-to-play plans safely, but if the MLS is any guide, there will be problems and those protocols will be tested.
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk/RMNB
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