MLS should change the plans for the MLS Cup Playoffs

MLS. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
MLS. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The plans for the MLS Cup playoffs should be changed as COVID-19 cases rise

COVID-19 cases are drastically rising again, and MLS is almost to the finish line with the 2020 regular season.  Already a shortened season due to the virus, the league planned an extended playoffs, and expects the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs to conclude December 12.  18 teams will participate, and the higher seeded teams will host the matches.

However, due to the intense rise of cases, should MLS revisit and make changes to their playoff plans?  The answer is undoubtedly yes.  The league already announced ‘qualification for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will be determined by points per game.’  Hence, MLS should be willing to make further changes.

Multiple teams of late have had an individual or more test positive, including Atlanta United FC and Los Angeles FC this past week.  The Colorado Rapids just began to play again after canceling or postponing multiple games due to an outbreak amongst the team.  Therefore, MLS should think about creating another bubble, similar, if not the same, to what they did in Orlando.  The rising cases and positivity rate around the country, and even around the world, should be encouraging enough to cause such a decision.

The MLS needs to consider using a bubble system

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Another option would be to return to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and live in the bubble similar to the MLS is Back tournament.  This time around, families should be allowed to attend.  This would allow players to remain with their families and have some form of a fan presence.

Now, MLS does not necessarily need to bring everyone down to Orlando again.  To start, they could choose two neutral, non- NFL stadiums, where every playoff team could play.  Or, they could choose the top seed in the Western and Eastern conferences that do not play at an NFL stadium to be the host.  It should be non- NFL to ensure multiple games can be played throughout the week, and allow a bubble to be created.

The only issue MLS would have to disentangle is the quarantine measures prior to entering the bubble, both for teams and families.  To ensure such safety, playoffs might need to be pushed off by a week or two.  Nonetheless, whether for an Orlando like situation or neutral site, some form of isolation and quarantine should take place.  Otherwise, the risk of having a Colorado situation would continue.

While a non- bubble is not the smartest route, due to time, MLS would probably choose to stick with teams playing at their own stadiums.  In that case, fans, excluding families, should be strictly prohibited.  Even if a team plays in an area where the COVID rates are still low, or the state or local governments still allow limited capacity regardless of rising cases, then to enact fairness, fans should not be allowed.  Not every team could play in front of fans, but more importantly, MLS should take a league-wide approach to keep fans and players safe.  It is not ideal, and truly it sucks, but for a virus that spreads easily, strict safety measures must be taken as cases rise.

Despite the rise, the MLS Cup Playoffs should still be played.  More is known about the virus from when it began, and teams know what measures are needed to remain safe.  While playing without fans would be a step in the right direction, the playoffs should be more isolated to limit exposure and the risk of contracting the virus.

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Furthermore, the league knows a bubble works, as seen with the MLS is Back Tournament.  No matter what, how the MLS Cup playoffs are conducted will ultimately be decided by Don Garber and Major League Soccer.  The question is this: will they go the right route?  Safety first, Mr. Garber, safety first.