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A neutral site tournament? Games without fans? Here are some of the ideas MLS is considering for 2020

MLS Commissioner Don Garber: “I think all bets are off.”

Atlanta United v Nashville SC
MLS Commissioner Don Garber
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

We’re beginning to get a sense of what the MLS season could look like once the coronavirus threat begins to lift. The league put out a statement today saying the current, mid-May target to return to games is “extremely unlikely.”

So when will games begin again? And, when they do, what will they look like? MLS commissioner Don Garber floated a lot of interesting ideas in interviews with ESPN’s Taylor Twellman, TSN’s Kristian Jack, and TUDN’s Ivan Kasanzew. Here’s what we learned:

The full, 34-game schedule is still the goal

But, it could look a lot different. Here’s what Garber told Twellman:

“Our hope is still to still continue to do that. But, that decision can’t be made sitting here today. As you know, the stay at home orders are rolling out across the country, in different time periods both here and in Canada. So, most of the scenarios we’re looking at have us going into a number of different locations, the concept of a tournament, and right after that to be able to play regular season games—likely without fans. We’re calling them MLS Studio games. We’re trying to be as creative as we can about what those games might look like. So, the plan is to play as many of the games of the 34 game season as possible.”

Nothing happens without access to more COVID-19 testing

“We need to get access to testing. Until we have more testing, to be able to test our players, our staff, all of the people that would be operating these games, we’re not going to have a plan that we could roll out,” Garber told TUDN.

MLS is considering restarting the season with a neutral site tournament

“Could we go to a handful of locations and perhaps play a tournament? Could that lead into a new way of selecting the MLS champion if we’re unable to get into local markets? And then if we’re able to get into local markets, what will those markets be, how will they roll out across the U.S. and Canada? Would it be a regular season continuation, or might it even be part of this tournament concept? But, all of it requires testing, and all of it requires getting our players back to training as soon as possible. The moratorium was through the end of the month. That, likely, will be extended pretty soon,” Garber told TSN.

What about a shorter season? Or games played in empty stadiums?

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that we can crown a champion in 2020. That could be a tournament that we play in select markets if we’re able to manage testing, and we’re able to manage the health and safety of players, game personnel and, obviously, team personnel. It could be a form of an abridged MLS season. Remember, we’re only through two games, so we have some time between now and the end of the year to be able to play games. And, studio games, games without fans, that would be produced in a way that might be really cool, fun and innovative—ways that, frankly, we might want to see going forward, breaking the formal traditions about how games have been produced,” Garber told TSN.

Garber sees this “MLS Studio” idea as an opportunity

“I think all bets are off. We need to produce the best possible games in the most unique environments, if we are gonna have studio games, how do we use technology that never would have been contemplated in a world where we were not going through this challenging time. I’m actually excited about it. This idea of playing a tournament. Should we kick off every season with a tournament? Maybe. And, we’ll play around with that to see if that could be a norm going forward,” Garber told TSN.

Like with everything else, the timetable is up in the air

“Ultimately, sports is about fans,” Garber told TSN. “And we want to get our fans back into cheering for their favorite players and their favorite clubs. That decision will be made by the authorities in Canada and the authorities in the United States, either at the provincial level or at the state level, and we still don’t know when that time will be.”

So, that tells us a lot about what the league is considering. But, obviously, nothing happens before more testing is available and restrictions are lifted. Here’s the full MLS statement released today: