Major League Soccer’s regular season will resume in home markets, and will be played in front of fans in some cases, according to MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
Speaking to Fox Sports at halftime of last night’s MLS is Back Tournament semifinal between Philadelphia Union and Portland Timbers, Garber confirmed that MLS is close to announcing a return to play.
“We will get back to our markets,” he said. “We’ll be announcing our schedule soon. We’re going to be able to play with fans where we can and not play with fans in most of our markets.”
The USL Championship and USL League One have been playing matches in-market, and in front of fans where local health guidelines allow. It hasn’t gone without complications, as several matches have been postponed, due to positive tests, false positive tests, or local ordinances.
Nashville SC is expected to play in the first match back. After Nashville and FC Dallas were withdrawn from the MLS is Back tournament due to Covid-19 clusters, the two sides will play each other three times to make up the missed group stage matches, which also count towards the regular season standings. Initial plans were discussed for Nashville and Dallas to play on Friday, August 7, but it sources now tell Broadway Sports Media that the two sides will play late next week (Steven Goff of The Washington Post confirmed these reports).
According to The Athletic‘s Jeff Rueter and Sam Stejskal, MLS will restart the season in phases, with Phase One including six games between August 22 and September 13. Phase Two would run from September 16 to November 8, with teams playing a total of 23 regular season games (two pre-pandemic, three in the tournament, and 18 in the post-tournament schedule). The playoffs and MLS Cup would take place from late November to mid December.
The MLS is Back bubble model has proved to be effective. Despite having to withdraw FC Dallas and Nashville before the tournament started due to imported cases, MLS has announced no new positive tests since July 10.
“We learned a lot in the bubble,” said Garber. “We learned a lot about testing, we learned about the incredible commitment of our players, wearing masks and socially distancing, and taking real responsibility for keeping themselves safe. And that really will give us the sense of what we need to do to finish the season, have playoffs, and have MLS Cup before the end of the year.”
MLS is expected to announce further details on the regular season in the next few days, with a schedule announcement coming later. We’ll update with more information as it becomes available.