Could soccer fans fill CenturyLink Field this season? MLS plan would start in Florida
Professional sports organizations in the U.S. continue to try to figure out how to start — or salvage — their seasons amid the coronavirus pandemic. Major League Soccer is considering a plan that would put all teams in Florida next month. KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked about it with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.
The plan under consideration would have all 26 MLS teams report to Orlando starting June 22 to play in a series of games at the ESPN Wild World of Sports Complex. Thiel said it would be similar to soccer’s World Cup tournament.
“The teams would play in groups and the group winners would play each other,” he said. “Eventually a tournament champion would be crowned. And by the end of the tournament, what they hope is that the season could pause and look around the nation and see if they could return to their home cities and resume a regular schedule.
“These would be without fans. The games would be on TV and they would count in the MLS standings.”
Thiel said the players haven’t yet received the plan, which reportedly includes a 20 percent pay cut across the board. Even more important, he said, is the fact that the training period would be only three weeks long. That’s about half of what most MLS coaches would like to have, including the Seattle Sounders’ head coach.
“Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said recently that he thinks that six weeks was the mandatory minimum. If they get only half of that, they are going to run the risk of injuring players," Thiel said. “Then there's a big ethical issue here. Should a sports organization be given access to testing kits in a quick turnaround ahead of the general population or ahead of health care workers in the country?
“As we know, the testing issue is a huge national problem. And to see some of these scarce resources devoted to entertainment is going to bother some sports fans and, really, a lot of other people in the country. There's been no resolution of that yet.”
THE SOUNDERS’ DISADVANTAGE
Thiel said the Sounders haven’t had as much of a chance to train as some other MLS teams.
“In this state, Gov. Jay Inslee has kept his stay-at-home orders in effect until at least May 31, while in other states governors have reopened the economy and they've allowed some gatherings of players to begin training at the facility.
“The Sounders don't have their facility open at Starfire. So they do have a little bit of a disadvantage here.
“But I do think that the players certainly want to get going, but they only want to do it if they can be reasonably assured of safety. And there are a whole lot of hurdles to overcome before they restart that season.”
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