MLS Takes Sports' Center Stage Amid Questions About Bubble
There exists an "unprecedented opportunity" beginning tonight for MLS to "showcase itself to mainstream sports fans who otherwise might not tune into soccer except for a World Cup year," according to James Edward of the DESERET NEWS. While COVID-19 will "dominate the news cycle all month, the underlying storylines of the MLS is Back Tournament are just as compelling, if not more so," as the league is set to become the "first major American team sports league to resume its season after it was suspended back on March 12." It is an "opportunity not lost on the players either." Real Salt Lake MF Kyle Beckerman said, "This is a window of opportunity to be one of the only sports professional leagues in front of the nation." Edward notes 30 of the 36 group matches will be "played in prime time, with the nightly doubleheaders creating a platform MLS has never had before." This type of soccer tournament is "traditionally only used for international soccer and has never been done in MLS." Beckerman said, "Some guys have talked about if this turns out to be a huge success that who knows maybe it won’t be the last time" (DESERET NEWS, 7/8).
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: ESPN's Elle Duncan said people are "salivating for sports right now, and it stands to reason that soccer fully wanted to take advantage before any of the four major sports kicked back in." But she added, "I think they’re going to start figuring out it’s just untenable." FC Dallas was forced to withdraw due to its positive tests, and ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez said, “If you're talking about entire teams leaving then you’re asking yourself again, ‘Why are we doing this? If it's not safe for an entire team and they bail, then should we have the entire league doing this?'" ("Around the Horn," ESPN, 7/7). CBS' Norah O’Donnell noted other pro leagues will be "watching nervously” tonight as MLS returns (“Evening News,” CBS, 7/7).
TROUBLE BUBBLE: In L.A., Kevin Baxter notes Orlando City and Inter Miami will kick off the tournament at 8:00pm ET tonight at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex "without fans in attendance." But MLS is "limping into its restart amid questions over whether it should be trying to play." FC Dallas withdrew, and Nashville SC, which was scheduled to play in the second game of tonight's opening-night doubleheader, "postponed that appearance when five players tested positive." Meanwhile, the Whitecaps "left three starters home for COVID-related reasons." LAFC is without F Carlos Vela, the league’s "best player and biggest draw," and "at least five teams had their travel delayed by testing concerns, forcing the postponement of another opening-round match." Still, there "seems to be a general willingness to go back to action." Union coach Jim Curtin said, "In the back of everyone’s head, as human beings, there is a little bit of concern. [But] the league has followed every safety protocol possible and made us as safe as possible" (L.A. TIMES, 7/8).
READY TO BURST? SOCCER AMERICA's Paul Kennedy wrote how secure the "so-called bubble at the host Swan and Dolphin resort would be was -- and is -- a concern," as getting all teams safely into the bubble has "proven a lot harder than previously imagined." MLS' "bottom line is that less than 24 hours before the opening game, a lot was still up in the air about the tournament" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 7/8). SI.com's Brian Straus wrote the thing about bubbles is that "they’re fragile," so it "doesn’t take much ... to burst one." But this bubble "needs to be strong," as there are "significant questions and concerns in central Florida." Now, after months of planning, the entire event inside the bubble "seems to be on the bubble." MLS "hasn’t announced what it’s going to do" about FC Dallas' departure, and further adjustments "could be required as teams that recently have entered the bubble get their test results" (SI.com, 7/7).