By Ben Wright, editor.
NASHVILLE, TN - It's been 36 days since Major League Soccer suspended the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, although to most it's felt like much, much longer. Although no soccer was played and its return still seems distant, plenty of talking points came out this week.
MLS EXTENDS MORATORIUM ON MATCHES TO JUNE 8
Not surprisingly, MLS announced Friday that matches will not be played until at least June 8, the third time the league has lengthened the suspension.
The last two sentences are really interesting, and fit in well with the next big piece of news....
MLS REPORTEDLY PROPOSES SALARY REDUCTIONS
ESPN's Jeff Carlisle reported Friday morning that MLS has proposed salary reductions to the MLS Players Association, with cuts rising to as much as 50%.
It doesn't seem like a coincidence that the league issued their statement less than 20 minutes after Carlisle tweeted his story, and the final two sentences are even more relevant considering this news.
"Like all leagues, we are in discussion with our players about changes to player compensation due to the financial impact on the league and our clubs from the COVID-19 crisis. We are seeking to work collaboratively with the MLSPA to find a solution that provides a safety net for all players, opportunity to earn full salary in the scenario where all matches are played with fans, and in particular provides protection for the players at the lower end of the salary scale."
All matches being played in front of fans seems increasingly unlikely, as MLS released another statement on Tuesday, saying, "our goal remains to play as many games as possible, and while we currently have enough dates to play the entire season, we recognize that it may become impossible to do so."
At this point, it's hard to see a full 34 match season happening, and definitely not in front of fans. Given MLS's statement, player wage reductions appear inevitable, and players reportedly aren't happy with the 50% number being thrown around. We'll be keeping an eye on this story as it develops.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI SAYS SPORTS COULD RETURN THIS SUMMER
In an interview with Snapchat's Peter Hamby, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said professional sports could return this summer, but under very strict guidelines.
"There's a way of doing that," he said around the minute mark in the above video. "Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [players] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled... have them tested like every week. Make sure they don't wind up infecting each other or their families and just let them play the season out."
MLS has already begun exploring this option. Speaking with ESPN's Taylor Twellman, commissioner Don Garber said the league has looked at everything "from tournament formants and neutral locations, ultimately playing an abridged season, but doing everything to get as many games."
Again, whenever the season returns, it will look drastically different.
IAN AYRE PROVIDES NASHVILLE SC UPDATES
On a Wednesday conference call with local media, Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre talked about how the club has handled the pause, as well as how things may look when play resumes.
Ayre said that while much else has been impacted by the coronavirus, progress on the stadium continues, with a 2022 opening still on track. Calling the stadium "a bit of a guiding light" for the club, Ayre said they're still in the demolition phase, with no delays currently in sight.
"All if the things on the timeline for the stadium remain in place," he said. "As much as we're all thinking about the short-term solution to get back to soccer, it's so important that we continue the kind of long-term infrastructure projects like the stadium, the academy, and other things. They'll be important parts when we do get back to some level of normalcy."
He also talked about MLS's plans for the rest of the season, saying the league is in constant contact with the clubs to discuss every possibility. "We're working through literally every scenario. Is it a full season as was planned? Is it a reduced number of games? With fans in stadiums? Is it a solution without fans in stadium? It is in home stadiums? Is it at another location? They've alluded to all of that. I think the really important part is to make sure we have planned for every eventuality, but it's impossible to know which one it will be."
"It's not what anyone wants," he admitted. ""I think if you asked anyone, though, if that was the only choice, would you rather have that than what we're doing right now, which is no live sports? I think it's a lesser of two evils... Any solution that is decided upon will be done so with the health and safety of the players, and everyone who has to be in and around that process, involved."
Ayre also talked about how the break will affect the club's transfer plans. "We always made a key point that we hadn't finished our overall recruitment. That's still going on," he said, noting that General Manager Mike Jacobs has been working with Head Coach Gary Smith to look at potential transfer targets.
"There is an opportunity for us in recruitment terms," said Ayre. "By the time we start playing soccer again, maybe there's other players on our roster as well. Maybe we've had an opportunity to do things that we wouldn't have been able to do immediately... There's definitely some positives that we can draw from having a little bit longer before we start back again."
Ayre said the league hadn't officially announced any changes to the transfer window, but that it is a possibility, noting that leagues around the world will see their transfer windows affected.
OTHER STUFF OF NOTE
Ian Ayre quotes edited and abridged for clarity. Cover photo by Casey Gower.