As one of the first American sports leagues to return to play without player bubbles, USL Championship has faced plenty of roadblocks in competition this year–but league officials are confident they’ll finish the 2020 season.
Pro sports leagues have taken two approaches to launching plan post-COVID pandemic: bubble or no bubble. The NBA, WNBA, NHL, NWSL and the MLS is Back tournament all feature strictly controlled circumstances under what’s basically quarantine conditions, while MLB, USL Championship and USL League One returned with play in home facilities and much less control over players. The issues faced by MLB are well-documented, but similar issues with COVID-19 outbreaks have been experienced in USL Championship as well.
All in all, seven league matches have been postponed, while another was played with a team at less than full strength. Not every team has been cleared by local officials to allow fans in the stands. From the Arizona Republic:
Between a single-team outbreak that caused the postponement of two matches along with a separate game where one team didn’t field a full 18-man squad, the league has had to adjust on the fly often. Cases have popped up in more clubs as the season restart trudges along, raising the question of safe travel for sports amid a pandemic.
Phoenix Rising FC knows the damage COVID-19 can bring firsthand. At least eight players with the club tested positive, most before the season restarted. That outbreak gave coach Rick Schantz and his squad perspective on taking the virus seriously.
For them, it’s not just about protecting their health. It’s about protecting their careers.
One issue: teams are being forced to play even when losing a serious chunk of their rosters to positive COVID-19 tests. In the case of Austin Bold, five players have tested positive and subsequently isolated, causing two postponements and a short-handed squad competing against San Antonio.
But despite these issues, play has indeed proceeded, and USL Championship officials say their testing protocols are working, while stressing the need to flexible in an every-changing pandemic situation:
“We have full faith and confidence in our protocols and are working with our teams every day to make sure that they’re being implemented correctly,” the USL wrote in a statement. “We also built in to our return-to-play model a significant amount of flexibility to account for the impact of COVID-19 on USL communities, including the opportunity for clubs to have unbalanced schedules, windows for the rescheduling of matches and – if necessary – flexibility in our playoff calendar.”
Photo courtesy USL Championship.
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