MLS: How in the world do you solve FC Dallas nightmare?

FC Dallas (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
FC Dallas (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /

MLS has a problem. FC Dallas are reportedly up to ten positive COVID-19 cases, including nine players. With games a week away, how do you solve this growing nightmare?

Major League Soccer has a huge problem. As preparations for the MLS is Back Tournament ramp up, teams arriving in Florida over the past week with games set to start in less than a week, the worst possible development for the league is taking place: a coronavirus outbreak within one of their teams.

FC Dallas, who arrived in Florida earlier this week, now have 10 positive COVID-19 cases, according to The Athletic. The news comes after the team arrived at the ESPN Wide World of Sports on Saturday.

As Dallas-based blog 3rd Degree first reported, six positive cases were found between Saturday and Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday, four more were added, of which three were players. All in all, FC Dallas have 10 positive cases, nine of which are players, and are in the midst of a mini-outbreak.

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In an official statement on Wednesday afternoon, the league confirmed the ten positive cases, stating that they had all been placed in isolation. The rest of the FC Dallas squad have all been tested, every result coming back negative. FC Dallas have not come into contact with any other team in Florida.

The biggest problem MLS has is the readiness of Dallas for the tournament ahead. Their first game is against the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 9th. That is a week away. It is not yet known how long the positive cases will have to isolate for, but given the usual health advice is two weeks, it is likely that all nine players will miss the Vancouver match.

Even if those players have recovered from COVID-19 and test negatively before the match, they have not been able to train with the team and are at a significant disadvantage to their opponents. Per The Athletic, Dallas have 30 players in the squad. Three of those players are on loan are not with the team while Jesse Gonzalez will miss the tournament due to a suspension amid domestic abuse allegations. Dallas would have only 16 fit and available players for the Vancouver match.

So, how do you solve this situation? One way is to take the nuclear approach, as the Orlando Pride and NWSL did. Orlando experienced their own mini-outbreak days before the start of the NWSL Challenge Cup. They subsequently pulled out of the tournament and did not travel to Utah due to safety concerns.

The structure of the competition makes this difficult, however. Whereas the Challenge Cup featured one preliminary group of nine teams, eight of which qualify for the knockout stages, MLS has split into six groups. Taking Dallas out would leave a three-team group consisting of the Seattle Sounders, the San Jose Earthquakes, and Vancouver. It is much more awkward to restructure the competition as a result.

You could delay FC Dallas’ opening games to give them extra time to recover. This encounters problems later in the tournament. In the group stages, matches are played every day. How can you squeeze all of FC Dallas’ matches into the final week of group-stage action while still providing the players with enough rest and ensuring that the fixtures for the other teams in the group are still fair?

The final option is you say ‘tough luck’, treat COVID-19 like any injury, and simply play the games with Dallas having to make do with what they have available to them. This inherently seems unfair, like many of the other issues related to this tournament.

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In the end, then, MLS is in a rather large spot of bother. Any solution they conjure up is an imperfect one that only produces other problems elsewhere. Ultimately, the league will have to make a decision. But whichever one they make will be an imperfect one. FC Dallas, meanwhile, will simply be hoping the virus has not spread further.