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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Soccer Doesn't Have a Coronavirus Problem, the MLS Does

Members of the Columbus Crew huddle up prior to the match against the FC Cincinnati in the MLS Is Back Tournament.
Members of the Columbus Crew huddle up prior to the match against the FC Cincinnati in the MLS Is Back Tournament.
Photo: (Getty Images)

Professional sports have been back for months.

Sports leagues around the world have approached the virus in similar ways. Teams test, trace, and isolate coronavirus infections to slow the spread and eliminate the possibility of an outbreak.

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But teams and leagues are bound by location, and some settings are worse than others.

European professional soccer kicked off in mid May, when the Bundesliga made their return to play. After Germany restarted its league, Spain’s La Liga, the U.K.’s Premier League, and even Italy’s Serie A, announced plans to do the same. Without fans or a bubble, European soccer leagues have managed to stick to their schedules, complete games, and stave off team outbreaks.

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We are now five days into the “MLS is Back” tournament. Two clubs pulled out of the competition due team outbreaks and, today, a match between Toronto FC and DC United was postponed after positive and inconclusive tests on both teams.

One D.C. player tested positive for the virus while one Toronto player drew an inconclusive test.

Last week, the Premier League tested 1,973 players and recorded zero positive cases. The problem here is not necessarily sports, it’s where the sport is played.

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Our European soccer coverage has been about… soccer. And we prefer writing about the sport rather than constructing another piece around the latest “bubble” plan, or Florida’s skyrocketing caseloads (it set a new single-day record for cases Sunday), or the overall foolishness of playing sports in a country that leads the world in COVID cases and deaths.

The resumption of professional sports is possible in a pandemic. Germany, England, Spain and even Italy, which had a terrible outbreak in March, showed us that it can be done. It’s too soon to add Canada to this list, but we expect the NHL to host a safer tournament because they’ll play north of the border in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.

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A nation’s return to sports is a reflection of that country’s return to “normalcy.” European nations have taken a measured, data-driven approach to reopening society, their economies, and yes their sports leagues.

Here in the U.S., the resumption of pro sports follows in the bleak footsteps of the return American of “normalcy.” We have rushed the process, we are wholly unprepared for the consequences, and we lack leadership at the highest levels.

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American sports leagues will also fail to learn from their own mistakes. The MLS is just a few days into their Disney tournament and we still think the NBA bubble (in the same place) will work? And what about baseball teams flying from hotspot to hotspot across the country? These issues will remain as long and the virus continues to infect thousands of Americans a day.

The MLS has rescheduled their D.C. vs. Toronto match to tomorrow morning. The move proves that more team outbreaks will have to occur in order for the league to cancel this tournament.

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The global pandemic lies across the Atlantic, too. Soccer can stay on schedule there, and you don’t need to be an epidemiologist to figure out why.

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