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It’s okay to be nervous but still think the MLS is Back Tournament can go on

I’ve gone back and forth from excitement to dread in the run up to the MLS is Back Tournament

MLS: FC Cincinnati Arrival in Orlando Handout Photo-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Since the coronavirus pandemic struck I’ve tried my best to keep a level head. As much as one who read far too many weekly magazine articles during the George W. Bush era about potential pending pandemics and studied history about the 1918 influenza outbreak that is.

I’ve been fortunate to have a day job where I can work from home and finally the ability to do just that. I have an auto-immune disease and parents in their late ‘60s/early ‘70s (one has diabetes the other is a cancer survivor) and young children so I’ve been overly cautious and continue to be cautious even as infections are dropping in my county.

When the concept of the tournament known as MLS is Back was first introduced I was unimpressed by the whole thing. While it made sense to find some way to bring soccer back in the U.S. something about sending all 26 teams to play in the hot Florida sun in a quasi-bubble didn’t sit well. It also made me somewhat jealous too that Florida would get to hog MLS for themselves and that there would be no real way for local fans of the Philadelphia Union to feel a connection aside from some online platform.

Regional play in home markets — like the USL Championship is doing — was my preference from the beginning.

When the teams and the format was announced, I was genuinely excited. That excitement was quickly replaced by a sense of dread over the still rising hospitalization and death toll and the questions I have had to ask myself and the outsized role soccer plays in my life. Does playing a game really matter that much?

The Philadelphia Union are set to charter a flight down to Orlando today join the (not really a bubble) and begin their tournament against NYCFC next Thursday. A game that counts between the Union and NYCFC that isn’t played on a baseball field or in Chester is going to be super strange. That and it’s at 9 a.m. on a Thursday.

It will be fun to cover a game and I’m cautiously okay with it happening because of how seriously the league has taken it and how Philadelphia Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, who has two kids about the same age as my own, has taken to it despite the “luxurious prison” nature of the setup.

That doesn’t mean I’m not nervous about what’s happening with FC Dallas and positive tests and how that could alter aspects of the tournament and possibly even the Union’s schedule in it. If Nashville has to go back to the West to fill FC Dallas’s spot should they have to drop out, it’s going to wreak havoc on schedules and could threaten the whole concept of games counting in regular season standings.

I understand where my friend Gary Fredericks is coming from calling for the tournament to be canceled, I do. You couldn’t pay me enough money to go to Florida right now to be quarantined in a hotel and I worry about the message the league is sending by moving forward with the competition despite what appears to be happening with increasing cases in Orange County. I worry about the long-term health impacts of this disease even for people who have tested positive but shown no symptoms. I worry about the social, economic and developmental impacts this is having on so many families and so many businesses and communities around the country and the world.

But I also fully admit there is so much I don’t understand about this disease (how does my friend who has all the symptoms test negative after being around four people who had no symptoms but positive tests?). I want to give the benefit of the doubt to the league, medical experts who have been consulted, the teams and the individual players and staff people who have weighed the risks with their families and loved ones and seen the protocols and decided it’s a risk worth taking.

If things get out of hand down there and support personnel or hotel staff are impacted or players get as sick as some of the people I’ve known who have contracted the disease have, the league is going to have a lot to answer to from more than just fans watching at home.

How many more players will test positive? How many will get sick? Will the games count in the end? Will the Union play well? Will it matter if they don’t make it to August 11 because they didn’t play well enough or because the tournament had to be put on pause?

These are all questions worth asking, but for now I’m going to try to maintain a level head while trying my best to drown out the comments from “everyone’s going to die” and the plandemic anti-vaxxer crowds. I’m going to keep asking questions, seeking out information from multiple sources and letting the people responsible, the medical experts and the players and staff participating answer them by their words and their actions.

MLS is back? More like MLS might be Back.