The world has been brought to a standstill by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with no clear end in sight, Major League Soccer has amended its original projection on when the season might return. On Tuesday, MLS released a statement conceding that the league is unlikely to resume play in the middle of May, the previous target for play to restart.
“Major League Soccer continues to regularly evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how it will affect our plans for the 2020 season. Although we hoped to return to play in mid-May, that is extremely unlikely based on the guidance of federal and local public health authorities,” the league said in the statement. “Our goal remains to play as many games as possible, and while we currently have enough dates to play the entire season, we recognize at this time that it may become difficult to do so.”
Los Angeles Football Club began its 2020 season with an aggregate victory against Liga MX team Club León in the CONCACAF Champions League, a 1-0 win in its MLS season opener against Inter Miami and a thrilling 3-3 home draw in a league match against the Philadelphia Union. The club was preparing to host Cruz Azul in the first leg of the CONCACAF quarterfinals when COVID-19 halted the early season in its tracks on March 12.
Since then, head coach Bob Bradley has been using technology to stay connected to his staff and players. Bradley spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon via conference call after the league’s announcement to discuss how LAFC is handling the pandemic and his thoughts on when the league might return.
“Much of what happens for me is that effort to reach out every day and keep tabs on family friends, players staff. To find ways to all stay engaged,” Bradley said via Zoom meeting. “I think that, as we all practice the physical distancing, our ability to still make sure we are connected in other ways becomes so important.
Bradley says while he is not a member of the league’s coaching committee, he has been in discussions with coaches around MLS. In terms of when the league may return or what abbreviated form it takes when it does, Bradley is adopting a wait-and-see mantra. His primary concerns are overall safety and proper execution when the time comes.
“The league is doing a good job of staying connected to doctors and to the CDC. We’ll know the right time to start. We’ll know when we can start doing certain things in training. We’ve seen the way some limited training has begun in Germany,” Bradley said. “We’ll figure those things out and then eventually we’ll determine when we can start games. Obviously testing might play a big role in when we start. With however much time we have, I’m pretty flexible.”
Should the league return to empty stadiums, LAFC will be fortunate to have a coach with experience coaching such matches. Riots at Egypt’s Port Said Stadium in February of 2012 killed 74 supporters and wounded over 500 others. Afterward, the Egyptian government shut down the domestic leagues for two years. Bradley, then the head coach of the Egyptian men’s national team, managed the team’s first home World Cup qualifier in Alexandria against Mozambique in an empty stadium. He draws from that experience to help his players through this uncertain time.
“It was an eerie feeling. I remember when we trained in the stadium the night before the game, we gathered everyone before we started training and I said, ‘Try to look into the stands and imagine there are 90 million Egyptians here, because if they had the chance all of them would be here with us,’” said Bradley. “The connection we have with our supporters is key. Games without fans are sad in a way, but we are also in unprecedented times. I know that the kind of discussions that lean toward restarting without fans, that’s still a way to reconnect. It will be a challenge for sure, but in that same way, I think all of us, when we finally get started, we’ll look into those stands, in our case, we will see the 3252.”