As if it wasn’t hard enough to navigate a team or sport through a pandemic, and some would rightly suggest it’s impossible and stupid to do so, soccer has to add onto that an international break. So not only do you have strict protocols and testing and basically have to cross your fingers and clench your teeth every week that everyone comes through it clean for your next match, then you have to ship your best players off to various corners of the Earth with different situations and protocols of their own that you don’t have any control over.
So it’s a good thing MLS had to do that right before their playoffs begin this weekend, huh?
It most certainly wasn’t, as it appears LAFC will begin their quest to MLS Cup without the league’s leading scorer in Diego Rossi. Rossi joined up with the Uruguayan national team for the past week for their World Cup qualifiers, and has tested positive for COVID-19 while doing so. He will not be allowed to leave that country until he turns in a negative test, which locks him into missing LAFC’s first-round match with Seattle on Tuesday. Again, he’s the league’s leading scorer that LAFC won’t have. They’ll have to hope Carlos Vela feels like scoring a hat trick, because every time he does . . . he does.
And that’s not all. They could also be without midfielder Brian Rodriguez, who is also Uruguayan and with the national team.
This comes on the same day that it came out that MLS teams are using charter flights — something they only did full-time this season for normal travel between games — to shuttle players back from international duty and avoid quarantine protocols. Normally, anyone flying back into the country commercially would have to quarantine, but this is a work-around. Minnesota United FC, for example, could have been without four players for their first-round game Sunday had they not found this up-up-down-down.
MLS is going to be the first league to attempt playoffs without a bubble, and it’s already going swimmingly. MLB moved to a “bubble” to try to avoid this, and as Justin Turner proved, it didn’t really work. It just worked barely enough if you’re willing to accept a total outbreak after the fact. It’s likely this won’t be the last hiccup for a league that had to make up the schedule as it went, import teams from Canada to play “home” games elsewhere, switch to a points-per-game standings system with just two weeks to go in the season because it couldn’t finish all the games it wanted.
Its answer for any future hiccup appears to be the same as it was for its “MLS Is Back Tournament,” which is, “Throw the bums out!” Any team with an outbreak will be tossed from the playoffs if they can’t find a makeup date. And a makeup date is going to be really hard, as there are a max six slots for four rounds, with weekend and midweek dates, five if the league doesn’t want to have midweek games before its final on December 12. And there are only four if the league continues to skip Thanksgiving weekend, as it’s slated to do now. Completely legit season, I think.
It’s a good thing the league is a Ponzi scheme depending on expansion fees the next four years. That won’t dry up due to the pandemic.