With MLS currently on suspension due to COVID-19, we’ll take a look at the options MLS has for handling the 2020 season when the play does finally resume.
Before we get into the MLS discussion, I’d like to start off by extending my best wishes to everyone during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are all in this thing together and we will get through it together. Stay safe, stay home if you can and DTID!
The way MLS will handle the 2020 season is largely dependent on a single factor: when the season is able to resume.
So, where is MLS right now?
The season was suspended after the second week of games, meaning no team has played more than two MLS games to this point, and a handful have only played a single game. This throws an additional wrench into things as some teams, such as FC Dallas, have played two games against teams outside of their conference, while other teams have already played one or two games within their conference. MLS announced on Thursday (3/19) that the initial 30-day suspension would be extended to May 10th, in accordance with the CDC’s guideline on an 8-week suspension of group activity greater than 50 people.
When Will The Season Resume?
This is the question that will really determine how everything goes. Initially, MLS was set to resume play on April 11th, 30 days following the suspension of the league on March 12th. However, along with the USL, MLS made the decision to suspend play through May 10th based on the CDC’s guidance of limiting social gatherings to under 50 people for 8 weeks. Based on that decision, and the information coming from experts on when things are likely to get back to normal, MLS is really looking at three potential possibilities for the resumption of the season:
1) The Season Resumes After May 10th
The first option, the most hopeful, has the season resuming in mid-May following the end of the current suspension. This would obviously cause a major disruption to the schedule but would likely only cause minor shifts in the way the playoffs would be handled. In this scenario, MLS would likely push MLS Cup back to the usual early December date to make more room for displaced fixtures. Using FC Dallas as an example, the team would need to have 8 games rescheduled across the remaining months of the season. With the season currently set to end in early October, the obvious option here is to extend the season through October and possibly even into early November to make room for the displaced games. This would also lead to more mid-week games throughout the calendar, but MLS could likely get through and play the full 34 game schedule if the season is able to resume in mid-May.
The other possibility with resuming games after May 10th would be to play a portion of the season behind closed doors with no fans in attendance. This option is unlikely due to the amount of game-day revenue most MLS clubs bring in, which is reportedly a large chunk of the overall money brought in. Without fans in attendance buying tickets, concessions and merchandise, MLS clubs and, in turn, MLS would be losing quite a bit of money. Playing behind closed doors seems unlikely but if the league feels they have no other option and would not want to cancel the season entirely, it is still a possibility.
2) The Suspension Is Extended and the Season Resumes During the Summer
This option seems to be the most likely. Based on the way the virus is spreading both domestically and globally, May 10th still feels like an incredibly optimistic date to resume play as normal. It seems more likely that MLS is ready to resume play, with fans in attendance, in June or July. If the season was able to kick off the first week of June, FC Dallas would need to have 11 games rescheduled. If the season was pushed to start in July, the club would be looking at having 16 games rescheduled, half of the total games remaining following the first two games. With that in mind, the season seems highly unlikely to be played in full if things are pushed into the summer. Playing that many games over essentially 5 months at most do not seem to be a safe option for players as almost every week would need to have mid-week games to fit all the games in.
What would certainly happen in this case is MLS Cup being pushed back to December. Based on a statement released by the league on Thursday, they are already exploring this option and even if play does resume in May, it seems likely that decision will be made. If the season is pushed back to start in June or July, the league will really have no other option to push the final back to December and may be forced to push it even further back into December than the first week, which was when MLS Cup was played prior to the 2019 season.
If the season is forced to be condensed, there is only truly one logical way to handle things. Cut down the season to 24 games with every team playing every other team in their conference twice. This allows for accurate playoff seeding with every team in the conferences playing a balanced schedule and is the cleanest way to condense the schedule. The biggest hurdle here is how the league chooses to handle the first two-game weeks.
The easiest solution is to essentially wipe them off the books as some teams played only inter-conference games, such as FC Dallas playing Philadelphia and Montreal, and other teams have already played a game against a conference opponent, such as the LA Galaxy and Houston in the first week. In this scenario, it would be hard to include any inter-conference games in the standings but it would also be a challenge to wipe out results of intra-conference games that already happened. MLS could count any intra-conference games from the first two-game weeks, with those teams that played those games playing a slightly shorter 23 or 22 game schedule after play resumes.
It is certainly not a perfect solution, but in this situation, it is hard to find a truly perfect solution in such a strange and unprecedented situation.
3) The Season is Canceled
The third option is obviously the most pessimistic outlook and is certainly to be avoided at all costs, but is also very simple.
Basically, the suspension of play simply goes on too long and MLS makes the tough decision to cancel the 2020 season and simply resume play again in 2021. This would involve the coronavirus measures continuing well into the fall months, I would expect that it would need to go into September at least for MLS to fully cancel the season. It is hard to say what the full ramifications would be here if the season is canceled in regards to things such as CONCACAF Champions League as a full season cancellation is basically unprecedented in modern soccer history.
This would obviously present a lot of difficult challenges for the league in regards to league media, clubs paying their game day staff and dealing with negotiating a new media deal. I think we can all hope that this scenario does not come to fruition.
Regardless of what ends up happening, MLS players, coaches, staff, and fans are going to remember the 2020 season for a long time to come.
When do you think the MLS season will resume? Is May 10th a realistic time frame? Will the season be played at all?
Featured Image: Grantland