The Sounders FC had a different type of sendoff ahead of their Friday-afternoon travel to Florida for Major League Soccer’s return to play.
About 100 people, according to one attendee, wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus pandemic gathered outside Starfire Sports, where the team trains in Tukwila, with a pledge of support and a last-ditch plea to not participate in the “MLS Is Back Tournament.”
Emerald City Supporters, who lead chants and raise tifos at CenturyLink Field, organized the event.
Photos posted to Twitter showed banners that read “We Stand With You,” “Plz Don’t Die,” and “Sports Aren’t Worth Lives.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was shown via a live streaming feed addressing the crowd in a Black Lives Matter shirt, stating through a megaphone that he saw the signs. “I understand it,” he said. “It wouldn’t be my choice to leave, either. But we’re going to go play a game and do what Sounders do, which is win a soccer game.”
Concern stems from reports of positive coronavirus tests among MLS players and coaches already sequestered in the league’s “bubble” at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort southwest of Orlando. And the surge of new cases in Florida overall: The state’s department of health reported 9,488 new positive COVID-19 cases Friday.
Earlier this week, ECS released a statement on its site that read in part: “Major League Soccer has stated that they prioritized their commitment to media partners and sponsors in the creation of this tournament, and that is evident with the unacceptable risks they are putting on the players and staff. We continue our call for the suspension of the MLS season until matches can be played in a manner that is safe for players, team personnel and fans.”
MLS, which suspended its season in March, reported 12 of its 26 teams were at the Florida site as of Friday afternoon. The league’s medical team said it tested 855 players, coaches, referees, club staff, league staff and other individuals for COVID-19 from Wednesday through Thursday, and of that group, six returned positive, including four players.
The New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC all delayed their travel due to either inconclusive or positive test results among their delegation in their respective cities. League protocol is to test negative twice prior to departure. Players are tested and quarantined upon arrival and don’t get clearance to train until the test comes back negative.
Schmetzer said the Sounders haven’t had a positive case since May.
The MLS tournament is slated to kick off July 8 at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. The Sounders are in Group B with the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Vancouver. Dallas had multiple players test positive, and league health and safety protocols are expected to limit the roster to 16 players for its opening match.
Seattle is set to kick off July 10 against San Jose.