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How the MLS Plans to Return After their Covid-19 Hiatus

On March 12th, the MLS suspended their season for a minimum of 30 days along with the NBA and NHL. A week later, they suspended the season until at least May 10th. We are now in late May with a plan to play in just over a month.

The MLS’s plan to return was not supposed to be known to the public and it was leaked in mid-May. MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, threatened to terminate the contract of anyone who released details and fine them as much as $1m. He said that this sensitive information could “severely imperil the future of our League.”

The MLS’s plan would include relocating members of all 26 clubs in a hub city, likely Orlando, to play games within the city. The proposed plan would include a World Cup-style, round-robin tournament. The result of these matches would carry over to a potential 2020 regular season.

Games would be played in groups taken from conferences. The proposed plan would include 2 groups from both the Western and Eastern Conference. Nashville SC would temporarily switch from West to East for this tournament. Under this format, teams would play five games and the top two teams in each group would advance to an eight-team, knockout competition.

When it comes to dates, teams are targeting an early June arrival date in Orlando. Individual training sessions at team facilities have already started and they aim to have full-team training in June. There have been a few conflicting reports about the start date of matches though the most likely seems to be July 3rd.

There are many uncertainties and much could change prior to these dates as a result of the disconnect between the MLS players association (MLSPA) and the league itself. The MLSPA reportedly sent the league a list of about 100 questions about the league's proposed plan. They have not voted on the Orlando plan though I think the MLS will have to make some changes to the proposition for the MLSPA to vote favorably.

Big name players like Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez have voiced their displeasure about the Orlando idea. Players have expressed concerns about pay but more importantly, about health. Everyone wants to get back to playing but health is the top priority and many players dislike the plan because of the health risk.

The salary is also clearly important to players and the leagues proposed 20% pay cut was not received favorably by the players. The MLS has not yet responded to the MLSPA’s counteroffer to the cut. The salary cut would end up savings owners $100m through 2024. The players proposition is reported to be a 5% pay cut and 5% wage deferral. One source said that the players would not consider approving the Orlando tournament until they receive a response to their pay cut proposal.

Soccer is also resuming around the world, with the Bundesliga resuming on May 16th and La Liga targeting a start date of June 7th. If the plan does pan out, the MLS would likely be ahead of other major U.S. Sports leagues in returning to play after the Covid-19 hiatus. The league has made good progress towards returning to match play though there is much more work to be done.

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