Writer's Note: Last November, I was in Seattle during the weekend of the 2019 MLS Championship game, won by the Sounders 3-1 over Toronto FC. That hotly-contested victory marked the third time in four seasons Seattle and Toronto battled for the league championship. This week, after a long delay mandated by the Coronavirus pandemic Major League Soccer finally, is back – at Disney World in Orlando.
Major League Soccer is back!
Fittingly, what's being billed as the “MLS is Back Tournament” starts at Walt Disney World in Orlando, this week.
Kickoff is Wednesday, July 8th. Fan interest throughout North America should be intense as this will be the first major team sport to resume play since early March, when the coronavirus scare caused all sporting events to be postponed or cancelled.
Normally, soccer teams would be about midway through their season at this point, with the All-Star break in late July. However, after only a few games in early 2020, the pandemic shut down sports leagues across the United States and Canada.
With the exception of FC Dallas, which was hit particularly hard by the virus (ten players tested positive, so far), the remaining 25 teams will compete in a World Cup-style competition, with a group stage, followed by knockout games. The championship final is scheduled to take place August 11th, which means the season will run about five weeks in duration.
As with other football leagues around the world which have resumed play, no spectators will be allowed inside the venues. That means television coverage will be king, and sports-starved fans will finally have a chance to watch something other than old baseball and basketball re-runs. A few gamblers might be tempted to put down a few bucks on the games, as well.
Given concerns about health and safety, heightened by Florida's spiking number of new Coronavirus cases, all players and staffs will be quarantined inside their hotels, with outside visits to practice fields and the playing venues.
“Being away from your family in a pandemic is always a big concern of the players. I think Major League Soccer has done a good job of making sure their protocols are tight,” Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow, who is the father of two young girls, told CNN Sport. “That being said, this virus is very unpredictable, so all of us will be asked to be strict following the protocols and doing our best to make sure that this tournament kicks off in a good fashion.”
Citing the current situation in Florida, Toronto FC delayed its arrival in Orlando.
“A big part of me wants sports to come back,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said in a recent podcast. “It is how I unwind. I would love to be able to sit back and enjoy a game with my family right now. “But at the same time, it’s hard to reconcile that with what is going on in the country and in the world....As much as I want sports to come back – and I do – it’s also essential that the health of players and staff comes first, especially when cases of the infection are spiking all over the country.”
Toronto remains one of MLS' top teams. This is due to talent, depth, and experience. According to the last power rankings available, when play was suspended back on March 10th, league runners-up from last season were the fifth best team. Atlanta ranked first, and Toronto FC's nemesis, Seattle, ranked second.
The other two Canadian teams, the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps ranked 14th and 19th, respectively.
Toronto resumes play on Friday against DC United. Predictably, Toronto FC is a prohibitive favourite. Vancouver was scheduled to resume play this weekend, but their game versus Dallas (now withdrawn) has complicated the group format. Montreal kicks off with their first match next week.
Betting odds can be viewed here at Spreads.ca.
Headline Photo Credit: www.thestar.com