How MLS teams deal with the coronavirus shutdown

FC Cincinnati Stadium rendering July 2019

With the coronavirus shutdown impacting professional soccer, MLS teams are responding in a variety of ways, while slowdowns in construction may affect stadiums opening in future seasons.

First off: it’s pretty clear the 2020 MLS season won’t be coming back any time soon. Major League Soccer has extended the team training moratorium through Friday, April 3, but don’t be surprised at all for another training moratorium announcement this week given that social distancing directives were extended to April 30. MLS training facilities remain closed to all players and staff with the exception of players requiring medical treatment or rehabilitation, under the direction of the team medical staff, that cannot be performed from the safety of their residence.

To keep you in a soccer mood, several teams are posting throwback gameday broadcasts. For instance, D.C. United has posted a match (available only for local viewing, alas) vs. Colorado Rapids from June 2, 1996. Similarly, Montreal Impact is showing the team’s first win at Stade Sapato (again, available only for local viewing, alas)

Teams have also launched their own assistance programs for game-day players. Philadelphia Union’s Game Day Employee Assistance Fund is designed to financially assist part-time game day staff impacted by the postponement of the Major League Soccer season. The Game Day Employee Assistance Fund will be designated for employees that (1) signed up to work the home opener on March 14 or (2) signed up to work an additional game that was postponed.

In Seattle, the organization is establishing the Seattle Sounders FC Relief Fund, aimed primarily at supporting individuals, nonprofits and small businesses in the neighborhoods surrounding CenturyLink Field that have been adversely impacted by the postponement of the 2020 MLS season due to the current public health crisis. These districts include SoDo, Pioneer Square and the Chinatown-International District. The Hanauer Family is providing an initial investment of $500,000 to the fund.

“The Sounders were born here in Seattle over 40 years ago, and we wouldn’t be the club we have become without the support we’ve always found in this amazing and vibrant community,” said Sounders FC Majority Owner Adrian Hanauer via press release. “Now, as our world faces the new and unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19, it’s our responsibility to step up and give back to the community in a meaningful way. Through the Sounders FC Relief Fund, we aim to provide direct support to those who need it most. My mother and I are proud to be able to begin the funding for this incredibly vital project.”

And let’s not forget the first MLS team to announce a response to the coronavirus pandemic: Toronto FC. Team President Bill Manning was one of a group of Toronto sports leaders—Brendan Shanahan of the Maple Leafs, Masai Ujiri of the Raptors and Mark Shapiro of the Blue Jays—who pledged to personally contribute and lead the charge for their teams to create a special assistance fund to further assist arena/stadium and support staff who lost game-day wages. 

Besides the day-to-day shutdown of the league, there’s another issue at hand: how shutdowns will affect construction of new stadiums. In Ohio, for instance, the building trades have been deemed an essential activity. In some cases, however, we’re seeing building construction delayed when a worker tests positive for coronavirus. Even if social distancing has been implemented at a construction site, work needs to be shut down and a sterilization process begins. How construction is treated depends on the state. In Ohio, New York and Illinois, construction was deemed an essential economic activity; in Pennsylvania and Boston, construction work was shut down. And there’s another issue to consider firms that remain working are facing issues with workers not showing up, in fear of contracting coronavirus.

This article originally appeared in the weekly Soccer Stadium Digest newsletter. Are you a subscriber? Click here for more information.

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