Because of concerns over the novel coronavirus, the Sounders have canceled all operations at Starfire Sports in Tukwila, where they practice, including activities for their second-tier USL and academy programs, until further notice.
The announcement Thursday follows Major League Soccer suspending the 2020 season for 30 days to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
For the Sounders, the league shutdown meant the team canceled their Thursday chartered flight to Houston to play the Dynamo on Saturday. The Sounders, which won the MLS Cup in November, will miss four matches during the suspension.
The organization has said any purchased tickets would be honored when those matches are rescheduled. If the suspension lasts just the 30 days, the Sounders (1-0-1) could play their April 18 match against the Vancouver Whitecaps at CenturyLink Field as planned.
While the club didn’t offer comment Thursday, Garth Lagerwey, Sounders general manager and president of soccer, acknowledged at a press gathering Wednesday that “the situation is fluid” and the organization is in full support of decisions made by health and government officials and the league.
On Thursday, Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei tweeted his disappointment and understanding: “Darnit, was looking forward to playing, but you have to trust medical staff and people in charge. Take care of the details and look after one another. There is bigger things in life than sports, we’ll be back again when it’s safe for everybody.”
Players previously spoke in support of measures taken to keep everyone safe, even if it meant changes to where and if they play.
“We all understand safety comes first; health is important,” Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson said after the club’s match against the Columbus Crew at CenturyLink Field on March 7.
At the time, Gov. Jay Inslee had yet to ban gatherings of 250 people or more in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties through the end of March to slow the spread of the virus, which he did Wednesday. But there was enough public concern at the time to drop the Sounders’ announced attendance to 33,080 after drawing 40,126 for the season opener March 1.
“In the reality, what we’re doing is more of a hobby for everybody, and we’re very fortunate to have that as a job,” Svensson continued. “So, if it comes to (cancellations/empty stadiums), it’s something we have to deal with.”
The Sounders announced Wednesday they postponed their March 21 home match against FC Dallas after Inslee’s decision. The club also took other measures to keep its organization safe, such as not sharing water bottles and towels and installing more hand-washing stations around Starfire.
Lagerwey stated Wednesday that no one within the organization is ill.
“Everything that’s out there, we’re doing that and then some,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said Wednesday of precautions the team is making to remain healthy. “Like, when I go home, what is my interaction with the public? I make sure I live in my access and make sure I only go and do things that I absolutely have to do. All of that sort of stuff because we don’t want to bring it here to our environment.”
Globally, some soccer leagues have opted to play in empty stadiums without fans. Lagerwey said that wasn’t discussed as an option for the Sounders before the league suspension.
In Italy, Juventus defender Daniele Rugani tested positive for COVID-19. He and his team are under a 14-day quarantine, according to multiple reports. And there are discussions regarding moving the Euro Cup set for this summer to 2021. The Asian Football Confederation previously suspended its World Cup qualifiers.
The CONCACAF Champions League is suspended as well. The Sounders received a spot in that tournament for winning MLS Cup and lost to Honduran club CD Olimpia in the Round of 16.
U.S. Soccer canceled its men’s and women’s and youth national team matches through April.
Lagerwey confirmed Wednesday the necessary precautions would negatively impact MLS clubs financially because of the lack of games or broadcasts.
“Clearly stuff like this is going to have an impact not just on business, but lots of businesses,” Lagerwey said. “This is not about the Sounders, it’s about the community and what is in everyone’s best interests.”