The MLS is Back Tournament was never intended to be a controversial event, yet with less than a week to go before play begins, some fans are beginning to question the value of the tournament.
Major League Soccer teams don’t just have to worry about winning games now, but also the health and safety of their players. Dozens of athletes have tested positive in recent weeks, and six FC Dallas players received positive tests after arriving to their hotel in Disney.
Florida is seeing upwards of 7,500 new cases a day in recent days. In Orange County, where the tournament will be held, has seen over 1,000 new cases in one day in the past week. However, according to the County’s mayor, Jerry Demings, there is not yet cause for alarm.
“We don’t have a problem yet, and we don’t want to have a problem,” he said, according to ClickOrlando.com.
Despite this, the Director of the Department of Health in Orange County, Dr. Raul Pino, offered a much bleaker look into the situation in Orlando.
“We are on our way up, there is no other way to describe it,” he said.
MLS, despite the many criticisms it faces, does have a plan in place for any players who receive a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“If it’s a player, that players would be removed from the tournament and go into quarantine in a separate area of the hotel,” Commissioner Don Garber said on ESPN.
With this in mind, two MLS supporter groups have expressed concerns over whether the tournament is worth the risk.
The Emerald City Supporters, a group of fans of the Seattle Sounders, released a statement saying that they did not support the upcoming tournament. “We believe that sending our players, coaches, and staff to “quarantine” within the confines of the Walt Disney World resort is putting their careers, if not lives, in harm’s way.”
The District Ultras, a supporters group of D.C. United tweeted, “Bros, maybe this tourney is a bad idea. Keep @dcunited players alive and drop out.” Alongside this message was an ESPN story that detailed an additional 26 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the league.
Back in Philadelphia, even the Sons of Ben leadership has their concerns, though they trust in the decisions made by the league and have faith that the league and the MLSPA has the best interests of those participating in mind.
“Are we excited to see our Boys in Blue back in action in Orlando? Absolutely. We are all excited to see the team build on the great play that was displayed on that Sunday match versus LAFC,” said Sons of Ben President Matt Gendaszek. “[However,] are we concerned about the safety of the players and staff? Of course, these just aren’t players to us. They are family and we only want them to be healthy and safe. We trust that the MLS and the MLSPA have set-up the safest possible situation to protect the players during the tournament and after.”
Despite these concerns, the league is pushing ahead into the tournament with players and staff living together in a quasi-bubble for the next month. Time will tell if that turns out to be a good idea or not and whether the tournament will be able to be completed according to schedule.