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Here’s the quickest way to fix MLS is Back without canceling the tournament

Chicago Fire fans probably won’t like this

Francisco Calvo
MLS

MLS will not be Back for FC Dallas, and it appears it wasn’t the club’s choice.

The wording on MLS’s statement said “FC Dallas have been withdrawn” from the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando—the passive voice making it appear like the rest of the clubs voted Dallas off the island. Rightfully so—MLS believes Dallas brought the coronavirus with them to the MLS bubble, rather than contracting it there.

That seems to be the case with the Fire’s first scheduled opponent, Nashville SC, too. The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal is reporting Nashville has five positive cases, with three more presumed to be positive. Nashville hasn’t trained in a week. Nothing’s been officially announced as I’m writing this on Tuesday morning, but it’s safe to say there’s no way the Chicago Fire will play Nashville as scheduled Wednesday night. They just can’t. If you’re a Fire player, are you really going to feel safe getting physical with a Nashville player during the match?

The Nashville and Dallas situations, coupled with anxious statements from players like the Fire’s CJ Sapong on Twitter, have many wondering if MLS should call the whole thing off. But, there might be a way to safely save the tournament:

Step One: Remove Nashville SC

This seems obvious, so let’s get it done right away.

Step Two: Move the Chicago Fire to Group B

The Fire would join Group B with Western Conference teams Vancouver, San Jose and Seattle. Removing Nashville and Chicago leaves Group A with four teams. With Chicago taking Dallas’ spot, Group B has four teams as well. It might be a tougher draw for Chicago, but as Nashville’s first scheduled opponent, moving Chicago would have the smallest impact on the tournament.

Step Three: Opening round matches should no longer count toward the regular season

We don’t even know for sure if there will be a 2020 regular season, but MLS wants one. Removing this rule helps the Fire, who would be playing in the Western Conference for the tournament, but would presumably be three games short if they were to shift back to the East for the proposed regular season. With Dallas and Nashville out, it also means the league doesn’t have to figure out how to give those two clubs three extra games each. Plus, coaches now might feel more freedom to play the bottoms of their rosters, like we’re seeing in the NWSL Challenge Cup.

These steps are probably the fastest way to get this tournament back on track. They might not be ideal, but during a pandemic, nothing’s really ideal.