MLS officially announced a return to play with a 2020 home-field schedule, which begins Aug. 12 with a match between Nashville SC and FC Dallas, with all 26 teams hosting play and mostly with no fans in the stands–at least initially.
The return to play in home markets will feature comprehensive health and safety protocols, including regular testing of players, coaches and essential staff for COVID-19.
Each club will play 18 additional regular season games in a phased approach, culminating with Decision Day on Sunday, Nov. 8. To make up the three matches missed from the tournament, FC Dallas and Nashville SC will play an additional three matches, against each other, with the first two games on Aug. 12 and 16 and a third game to be scheduled in the fall. In an expansion of the postseason for 2020, 18 clubs will compete in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs–up from 14 teams last year. MLS Cup will be played on Dec. 12.
“I would like to thank everyone involved with the MLS is Back Tournament–players, coaches, staff and partners–for their role in helping us recapture the momentum we had at the beginning of our 25th season and reconnect with our passionate fans,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “Since suspending play in March, we have been working on plans to play as much of our season as possible, beginning with the tournament in Florida and resuming in our local markets following the competition. We remain focused on the health and safety of our players, coaches and staff, and look forward to continuing our season in our home markets.”
Moving from a controlled bubble like the MLS is Back tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sport to a more open operating environment certainly has its risks, as we’ve seen multiple games shut down in both USL Championship and MLB after COVID-19 outbreaks. An abundance of testing helps, but after what’s happened to the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals, which dealt with two separate COVID-19 outbreaks among players and staffers, maintaining player and staffer safety across a 2020 home-field schedule will be a challenge.
Still, MLS is implementing a plan that seems to be thorough at first glance. All clubs are forming testing partnerships with a local certified lab, and all players, technical staff, and essential club staff will be tested every other day, including the day before each match day. Also, guidelines will be provided to players, coaches and essential staff to avoid the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 during their time away from club facilities.
In addition to adhering to health, safety and medical protocols, another focus of the new schedule is efficient travel. Teams will take chartered flights, or buses, and for the majority of road trips will arrive in the host market on matchday and depart after the match later that evening.
At this time, the majority of the matches in local markets will be played without fans in attendance. MLS and club leadership are working with local health authorities and government officials on a plan for limited capacity at certain games where allowed. Texas, which allows group gatherings, will host FC Dallas games with a limited numbers of fans in the stands.
Photo courtesy MLS.
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