Multiple reports across Major League Soccer state teams are delaying travel plans and are suspecting a schedule change for the “MLS Is Back Tournament” because of positive cases of COVID-19 among the clubs already sequestered in Florida.
The league’s 54-game return is slated to kick off Wednesday at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. There are 10 teams sequestered at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort located southwest of Orlando, Florida.
As of Thursday evening, the Sounders FC remained on schedule to take a chartered flight to Orlando on Friday. It’s the last possible date to allow for the league-mandated seven-day quarantine and testing before a team’s opening match, which is July 10 for the Sounders.
The Sounders’ travel delegation underwent two tests for coronavirus this week and no positive cases were detected, according to coach Brian Schmetzer. The club hasn’t had a positive test since one occurred in May.
The mounting concern is when teams arrive to the “bubble” created to sequester the 26 MLS teams amid the pandemic. FC Dallas disclosed Wednesday six players tested positive since arriving June 27. Other reports have the total at nine, including a coach.
ESPN reported Thursday a player for the Columbus Crew SC tested positive. That club entered the bubble Sunday. Multiple reports state Nashville SC pushed back its scheduled arrival after a person in their traveling party tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. The Vancouver Whitecaps had multiple “inconclusive” test results and delayed travel indefinitely, according to The Province newspaper.
Positive cases of coronavirus are surging across the United States. Florida is shattering local numbers, including 10,109 positive cases reported Thursday as a single-day record, according to the state’s department of health.
“It’s depressing watching the news these days,” Schmetzer said. “This thing is not going away very easily. The pragmatic side of me tells the players, ‘Do what you do to be safe because it’s good for you, it’s good for the group.’ If something happens, because it is happening all around us, we must be prepared to follow all of the safety protocols that the league and our doctors and our medical staff have in place.”
Schmetzer said the club, via email and team meetings, has stressed that visiting former teammates and friends such as Roman Torres, who is with Inter Miami CF, or traveling to cities outside the bubble aren’t permissible for the duration of the tournament.
The Sounders open against the San Jose Earthquakes, who entered the bubble June 24. Dallas and Vancouver are also in Group B with the Sounders.
Schmetzer said forward Jordan Morris is still part of the traveling delegation despite being in an at-risk category for COVID-19 as a Type 1 diabetic.
“I don’t like singling out players,” Schmetzer said. “But everybody loves Jordan. I could certainly use that to say we have a person here who is taking a little more risk and you guys have to be mindful of that. We all love Jordan. We all think he’s a great kid so let’s, again, be on our best behavior and make sure we’re following all of the rules.”
A club’s delegation undergoes a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test immediately upon arrival. An additional PCR is given after a quarantine in their respective hotel rooms and no one can participate in training until receiving a negative test.
During the first two weeks, everyone is tested every other day then only players, coaches and staff are tested regularly, including the day before each match, according to information provided by MLS.
The Sounders plan to hold a 90-minute intrasquad scrimmage Friday at Starfire Sports in Tukwila as their final training before traveling to Florida in the afternoon. It will be the players’ first full match since finishing in a draw against Columbus on March 7 at CenturyLink Field.
Due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s restrictions and the guidance of local health officials, the Sounders didn’t begin voluntary, individual trainings until May 18 and group trainings until June 12. The latter was eight days after MLS lifted the team moratorium for the league.
“I know there are a couple of baseball players who’ve said they’re going to take the year off,” Schmetzer said of MLB’s plan to play in their respective cities. “I don’t have that luxury. I have a voice and I can certainly say, ‘I don’t want to go.’ But I don’t feel that I’m in that grave of danger that I need to make that decision.”