MLS is Back: Should the tournament be cancelled?

MLS, Ron DeSantis (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)
MLS, Ron DeSantis (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images) /

As Major League Soccer inches closer to returning, it begs the question, is resuming play with the Florida-based MLS Is Back Tournament the right decision?

It feels like every day Florida is setting a new record for the number of positive Covid-19 cases day-over-day. With those numbers only growing, the risk to players, staff, and peoples lives at the MLS is Back Tournament increases. As a fan, a player, a broadcaster, an owner, and as the league, you want MLS to return. However, is that the responsible decision to make?

Let’s not sugar coat this. Now is the best time for MLS to return. The NWSL has returned and is showing games, but they’re not all on TV. MLS has the opportunity to be the only major male professional sports league to be broadcasting games in prime time in North America for over two weeks. For a league that’s continuing to expand and gain notoriety around the world, the opportunity to have no media competition is monumental.

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Although, those eyes are only part of the driving factor to MLS resuming play. And that factor is money. Money drives everything in sports. As much as we may hate it or deny it, it’s the truth. Sports teams and leagues are businesses whose primary goal is to make money. In addition, athletes are employees and they don’t get paid if they aren’t doing their jobs.

This tournament allows them to get paid and prevents MLS from the potentially catastrophic results of not playing. This tournament — and the potential regular-season afterwards — will mean that spending on teams and the league won’t be as limited in the future. If the MLS is Back Tournament does not happen, it could have massive implications on the finances of each team and the league as a whole, which could seriously affect players’ lives now and in the future. It’s something that has to be taken into consideration when considering whether or not going ahead with this tournament is the right decision or not.

However, MLS is going to play in Florida. It is not unfair to say that Florida has handled the Covid-19 pandemic pretty poorly. The players have a right to be nervous about going there, especially when the bubble isn’t going to be airtight. Everyone involved in this tournament is going to be putting themselves at risk of getting infected. For a young soccer player, this could have catastrophic effects on their careers or lives. We’re also completely ignoring the potential for someone to die because they attended this tournament. So far, it appears as though MLS is taking proper steps, but that could very well not be good enough.

All of these factors put the leaders in MLS in an incredibly difficult position. The number of eyes on these games is going to be something that the league has never seen before. Just look at the NWSL and the record for viewers with their first game over the weekend. Put MLS in a prime time slot and it is almost guaranteed to do well. Add in the added income for players and the league, and it seems like a no brainer. But, and this is a big but, you’re playing with peoples lives. If you’re the league, can you justifiably guarantee that the staff and players will be safe and isolated?

So, what are the options for MLS? Well, there are three obvious ones right away. The first option is continuing as scheduled and resuming games on July 8th at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Florida. The second option is you cancel the tournament, which is incredibly unlikely for the reasons stated above. The final option is you move the tournament to a different location. Doing so would be incredibly difficult, but it might be the safest. Moving would likely require everything to be pushed back a few days, but it also might be the most realistic and safest option for the league. It would surrender the early jump on the other male professional sports leagues, but it may be worth it if it means that the competition is entirely safe.

Until then, consider this. Would you be willing to send a family member to an isolated tournament that could change the face of soccer and MLS in North America but has the potential for them to contract COVID-19? It is a tough question that doesn’t have an answer. MLS thinks that either it is worth it or that there is a way for those involved to not contract COVID-19. We won’t know if the league is right until the games are resumed. But, for now, the question should be asked.