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MLS unveils details of return to play plan in home markets

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Major League Soccer is following in the footsteps of Major League Baseball and the United Soccer League by returning to play in home markets in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the MLS Is Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida, the MLS season will resume on August 12 and culminate with the MLS Cup final on December 12. Each club will play 18 additional regular season games in a phased approach.

To make up for matches missed from the MLS Is Back Tournament, FC Dallas and Nashville SC will play an additional three matches, against each other, with the first two games on August 12 and 16 and a third game to be scheduled in the fall.

Nashville SC and FC Dallas were both forced out of the quarantined event at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex due to coronavirus outbreaks in their traveling parties.

In an expansion of the postseason, 18 clubs will compete in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, up from 14 teams last year.

It remains unclear when and how the league’s three Canadian teams – Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps – will resume their seasons. It is expected they will play a series of games against each other in Canada and then temporarily relocate to the United States to play further games south of the border.

Limited fans are expected at games where allowed by local authorities despite the health risks involved.

MLS commissioner Don Garber told reporters: “Playing matches with fans in local markets is a step toward some sense of what the new normal in sports is going to be. We have to start; we have got to give it a try.”

To aid health and safety measures, teams will take chartered flights, or private buses, to games, and for the majority of road trips they will arrive in the host market on match days and depart after the match later that evening.

Due to Yankee Stadium being unavailable, New York City FC will initially play games at Red Bull Arena, the home of bitter rivals New York Red Bulls.

Both Major League Baseball and the United Soccer League Championship have been forced to postpone multiple games, having resumed their seasons in home markets, highlighting the risks of the initiative. Meanwhile, USL team New Mexico United is currently not allowed to play games in its home state due to local restrictions.

“We understand that getting back to play is going to have some challenges. We’re aware of those challenges, we’re prepared for it, we are understanding that it’s not going to be easy,” Garber added. “We know that we might have issues that are going to disrupt us and might even force us to postpone games. We’re aware of the need to be flexible, we’re aware that we are entering a new normal for our industry.”