COVID-19 continues to be a nuisance as it wreaks havoc on our everyday lives. Typically sports allow us to escape the harsh reality and pressure of the real world but that option isn’t available as the world of professional sports remains on pause.
Various leagues around the world have instituted plans to eventually return to action when it is safe to do so. One example being the German Bundesliga which is targeting a return to play in mid-May. Like the Bundesliga, Major League Soccer remains anxious to return to action as teams have barely begun their schedules.
Commissioner Don Garber recently spoke with soccer pundit Taylor Twellman, stating that the league is “focused on getting as many games in as possible.” Garber floated the idea of playing in tournament formats, neutral site games, or an abbreviated season. Let’s take a look at what those ideas might look like.
It’s hard to imagine how this variation of an MLS season will work out. Given that a traditional MLS season is a tournament in itself, it’s difficult to say what the league will do to determine its ultimate champion.
All 26 squads are two games deep into their schedule and no team is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. This format could lead to a lot of controversies and not give fans or the league a definitive champion.
Neutral site games
With much of the United States and Canada adhering to “stay at home” orders from their local government officials, it will be intriguing to see which location(s) the league selects if neutral site games were to be played.
Could MLS look at playing games behind closed doors and examine the television ratings to determine their next target cities for expansion?
Depending on the teams playing and the star power they possess, this doesn’t seem like a healthy solution for the league. No one will question Black & Gold fans loyalty, but it will be difficult for the casual fan to get excited about a match against a mid-to-low table Houston Dynamo side at 10 p.m. on the west coast.
MLS Studio games
This was an intriguing phrase the MLS commissioner used during his interview with Twellman. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a reality tv show in which MLS’ biggest stars compete for prizes, rather it is a way Garber describes MLS games that will be played behind closed doors.
Closed-door games seem the likely option especially if they are played in local markets. Fans will be able to stay connected with their teams as they defend their home stadium against a visiting MLS squad.
What will likely happen
MLS released a statement on Tuesday saying that it was unlikely that the league would return to action in mid-May. Given that news and the significant time missed it seems likely the league would shift focus into producing “MLS Studio” games without fans in attendance.
World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), yes the professional wrestling brand, has been producing shows the last several weeks behind closed doors. While it is particularly odd to have no crowd reacting to what’s occurring, it does provide a bit of normalcy to an otherwise chaotic world.
This could work in the world of professional soccer. Who wouldn’t love to hear all that Crew boss Caleb Porter has to say during a match?