Major League Soccer has drawn praise for in recent weeks for successfully relaunching its season with its MLS is Back Tournament in a bubble setting at Orlando.

But could the league risk that safety and the goodwill it’s engendered by leaving the Orlando bubble and returning to play regular-season games at home markets? During halftime of Wednesday’s Portland Timbers-Philadelphia Union semifinal, MLS commissioner Don Garber appeared on FS1 and stated the league’s intent to return to home stadiums after the tournament.

“We will get back to our markets,” Garber said. “We’ll be announcing our schedule soon. We are going to be able to play with fans where we can and not play with fans in most of our markets.”

The notable words in Garber’s statement were “where we can,” followed by an acknowledgment that most games will not be played with fans in attendance. Whether or not any fans will be allowed in stadiums will depend on local health guidelines. You can wager on all these games and much more here!

Nashville SC and FC Dallas are set to be the first teams to play following the MLS is Back Tournament. Considering the COVID-19 numbers in the Dallas area — which are still high but dropping — it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see fans at those games in Toyota Stadium, scheduled for Aug. 12-15.

The full MLS schedule would begin the following week, Aug. 21-23. (The league’s three Canadian teams — Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal — would initially only play each other because of Canada’s restrictions.)

Both Nashville and Dallas would resume play ahead of the other clubs playing in Orlando because they were sent home following several positive tests. (Dallas had six players test positive, while Nashville had nine.)

Yet as of July 22, 1,103 tests were taken among players, coaches, and staff, and zero were positive. Tests have been conducted seven times since then with no positive results. (The latest was Aug. 5, with 190 tests and zero positives.)

Yet that could possibly change once teams begin to travel. While the NBA and NHL have had no COVID-19 positives in their respective bubbles, MLB has experienced two significant outbreaks among the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals.

Teams adhering to strict protocols have managed to avoid larger numbers of positive tests, but the risk is inherent in travel with airplanes, hotels, and settings such as restaurants, casinos, and nightclubs. Garber seems to think that MLS can enact protocols and his players can be disciplined enough not to put themselves in situations where they could be infected.

We could quickly find out whether or not that decision is wise.

[Washington Post]

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and Asheville's Mountain XPress. He's written for Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.