Thursday, June 4, 2020

MLS, Union agree to return

After weeks of back and forth that increased with intensity (including a lockout threat) as time passed, Major League Soccer and the Players Association (Union) finally came to an agreement to return to play at some point in the near future.


The plan for return to play is one they have been leaking since the height of the pandemic - an Orlando tournament, of sorts, that has a World Cup feel (maybe?). Group stages with knockout stages. It makes sense since they will have to fit it in a small timeframe of 4-6 weeks with the hope being that after it is over things around the country (and Canada) will have returned to "normal" enough to play in home cities.

Here are a few bullet points: 

1. It will be at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. I've been twice for MLS preseason, it's a neat place. Lots of fields, soccer, baseball, and an indoor center for basketball as well as cheerleading events (which I witnessed, crazy).

2. Teams will / are training in their home cities and will travel down to Orlando shortly before games begin. 

3. Games are not scheduled yet, but multiple news outlets are reporting that games will begin in early July.

4. There will be no fans.

5. Games will somehow count towards the regular season.

Don Garber is hellbent on getting MLS back on the pitch before the other major men's pro team sports get going. So far, it looks like he will get that, but he has missed the target on returning to play before the other major soccer leagues in Europe and will be a step behind the NWSL, who restart June 27 in Salt Lake City.

Soccer League Return Dates:

NOW: Germany is playing
June 11: Spain
June 17: England (Premier League)
June 20: Italy, English Championship
June 27: NWSL

There is some uncertainty around League 1 and 2 in England restarting at all.


Don Garber made it clear that negotiations were intense, which should come as no surprise when you consider the backdrop of national protests and pandemic. It got so heated that Garber threatened to lock out the players.

Ultimately it took a 5% player pay cut as well as some delay in the implementation of the latest CBA (pushed back to next season). MLS will also mortgage the future a bit by lowering media payouts to players over the next few years.


MLS really, really, REALLY wants to fill up an ESPN schedule with live sports content before the big boys get back going. The massive success of the Jordan documentary that pulled down NBA, MLB playoff figures, has sports executives salivating at a perceived pent up demand. That said, there does appear to be a few cracks in that argument as ratings on sports already going (motorsports, Bundesliga) have started to level off.

Nobody really knows how ratings will be, however. I think MLS is really trying to cram this event in and there's nothing in the league's history that tells me they can pull this off smoothly. 

Even with ESPN's hand-holding, I think this event will end up costing the league. Not just financially, but in respect as well. It will be nice to see teams playing again, but it will look like an amateur production. No crowds and really low camera angles. The players will also be out of practice and shape and let's not forget - it will be ORLANDO IN JULY. Games will grind to a sweltering halt in the second half. 

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