Nashville SC has become the second team to be forced to withdraw from the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida, after nine players tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.
The move was widely expected after Nashville SC’s scheduled game against Chicago Fire on July 8 was postponed after five players produced positive coronavirus tests earlier in the week.
“We have withdrawn Nashville SC from the MLS is Back Tournament. Due to the number of positive tests, the club has been unable to train since arriving in Orlando and would not be able to play matches,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber in a statement. “For every decision we make in our return to play, the wellbeing of our players, staff, officials and all participants is our top priority.”
It means that 24 of the 26 MLS teams will now complete the event, as things stand. As a result, MLS has reconfigured the tournament into six groups, each consisting of four teams. Chicago Fire FC has also moved from Group A to Group B to help provide competitive balance.
Nashville SC’s chief executive Ian Ayre revealed the players were “devastated” about having to withdraw from the tournament.
“The players were 100 per cent committed right to the end and devastated to hear the bad news,” Ayre said on a Zoom call with reporters. “It’ll be a low point for a few days, I’m sure. Our job is to deal with it, dust ourselves off and move on. For Nashville Soccer Club, it’s not our first rodeo – in terms of difficult days – but it’s certainly one of our toughest ones.”
Ayre insisted that Nashville SC adhered to health and safety protocols prior to arriving in Orlando despite rumors to the contrary.
“None of this stuff is with foundation at all,” he said. “There’s no substance, and it’s a poor tactic, really. We were absolutely stringent in putting those (health) processes and protocols together as directed by the league and by all healthcare partners.”
Meanwhile, the MLS is Back tournament opener between Orlando City SC and Inter Miami on July 8 averaged 464,000 viewers on ESPN, with the telecast peaking from 9.45-10pm ET with 521,000 viewers.
It was the second most-viewed MLS regular-season telecast on ESPN networks since March 2018. The Spanish-language ESPN Deportes secured an additional 28,000 viewers.
Elsewhere, the Charlotte expansion team announced it will reveal its name and logo on July 22 after the process was delayed by the coronavirus crisis.
The team, which will play home games at Bank of America Stadium, remains on course to join MLS in the 2021 season.