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"MLS is Back Tournament" rolls on despite coronavirus concerns

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Posted: Jul 7, 2020 9:51 AM
Updated: Jul 7, 2020 9:51 AM

It's been dubbed the "MLS is Back Tournament," but amid a global pandemic the resumption of club soccer in the US will take place without one team and one of Major League Soccer's star players.

With 10 players and one staff member testing positive for Covid-19, MLS has pulled FC Dallas out of the competition, which is scheduled to kick off on July 8.

Carlos Vela, the Mexican superstar who signed with Los Angeles FC in 2018, has decided against playing in the tournament as his wife is pregnant. Vela is the biggest name thus far to opt out.

"I would like nothing more than to be with my teammates in Orlando," said Vela in a statement released by his club. "I always want to give everything I have to my Club, our fans and supporters and the city of L.A.

"However, it is in the best interest of the health of my family to stay home and be with my wife during what is a risky pregnancy. I will miss being with my teammates and coaches, but I will be cheering and supporting LAFC from a distance."

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MLS paused

In a normal world, FC Dallas would have been almost halfway through their season at this point, with players looking forward to the All-Star break in late July. But of course, we've come a long way since February when MLS kicked off its 25th season.

Before we can get into the now; we should remember how the season got underway.

Arsenal legend Thierry Henry took the reins of the Montreal Impact and got a win in his first game as manager. Mexican national team star Javier "Chicharito" Hernández made his debut for the Los Angeles Galaxy but settled for a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo.

Meanwhile debutants Nashville SC kicked off to much fanfare but could only look on as local rival Atlanta United spoiled the party with a 2-1 win. And out in Los Angeles on the first day of March, David Beckham watched his team Inter Miami make its MLS debut with a somewhat underwhelming 1-0 loss to Los Angeles FC.

One week later, LAFC and the Philadelphia Union squared off in an instant classic with both teams earning a point in a 3-3 draw. And then ... silence. The pandemic shut down sports leagues across the US and MLS' 25th season was halted as quickly as it had begun.

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How it works

MLS is only the second major sports league in the US and Canada to resume play, after the NWSL and its ongoing Challenge Cup in Utah.

With the exception of FC Dallas, the other 25 teams will meet in a cup style competition, with a group stage and then knockout games.

Group stage results will count in the standings for the regular season which MLS hopes to resume after the tournament has concluded.

The final will take place on August 11 pitting the top Eastern and Western teams against each other.

The winner of the tournament will have an automatic berth into the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League, the regional club tournament across the Americas and Caribbean.

Added wrinkles to the tournament include full video review available for the referees and five substitutions as opposed to the normal three.

In keeping with nearly all the football leagues around the world which have resumed, due to health concerns, no fans will be allowed inside the venues for the matches.

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Inside the "bubble"

All 25 teams will be staying at Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort and playing their matches at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. MLS created a series of safety protocols to try and avoid a coronavirus outbreak among the teams. Those measures include regular testing, social distancing and the use of face masks.

"I think the guys understand why the protocols are there and it's really important that we abide by them," said Inter Miami CF goalkeeper Luis Robles. "This isn't just about one person; it's about the entire community, so we have to be safe."

Players will be quarantined in their hotel the entire time, and for some players that means being away from their families for much longer than they're used to.

"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."

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Health and safety concerns

The MLS players' union has acknowledged the complex nature of hosting a tournament during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The removal of FC Dallas from competition in Orlando is a reminder of how difficult the circumstances involving returning to work remain across all sports amidst this pandemic," said the players' union in a statement posted to Twitter.

And Dallas isn't the only team dealing with positive tests. Statistics provided by the league state that of the 557 players currently in Orlando, 13 players have tested positive for coronavirus -- including the 10 players from FC Dallas.

According to a report by The Athletic, there may be even more that are under reported, including Nashville SC, who had five players test positive since arriving in Orlando on Friday.

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Teams like Toronto FC and the Colorado Rapids have delayed their arrivals to Orlando, citing the recent test results. The Rapids had two players test positive before their planned arrival.

For players and teams that are already in Orlando, most are trying to stay upbeat and hope that everything can be contained, and the tournament can go on as planned.

"We understand it isn't the most ideal situation, but everyone is excited to get out there and play again," said Houston Dynamo player Zarek Valentin.

Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese added: "It's definitely felt a little strange at first ... it's a situation in which MLS has tried everything they can to organize in the best possible way, and I have to be very proud of our guys because I think we feel very safe around ourselves."

However, Matt Lampson, a goalkeeper for the Columbus Crew and a cancer survivor, feels more uncertain about MLS' return, tweeting "this is serious."

With cases of coronavirus spreading around the US and Florida especially, some are wondering if sports' quick return is the most prudent thing to be focused on right now.

"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 ... and with what I'm doing on a daily basis -- going into the hospital, telling people on television and on this podcast to stay home, to physically distance, to wear a mask, to do everything they can to limit the spread of the virus."

Dr. Gupta added: "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."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 291222

Reported Deaths: 6577
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19470226
Hinds18555383
Harrison16385273
Rankin12498260
Jackson12401216
Lee9635160
Madison9353193
Jones7836144
Forrest7055135
Lauderdale6735225
Lowndes5989137
Lamar579379
Lafayette5688113
Washington5124128
Bolivar4567120
Oktibbeha438091
Panola424092
Warren4091113
Pearl River4070127
Pontotoc406066
Marshall397992
Monroe3971125
Union391372
Neshoba3746166
Lincoln343799
Hancock337773
Leflore3346118
Sunflower315785
Tate299172
Pike297792
Scott291367
Alcorn289760
Itawamba288471
Yazoo282662
Tippah275265
Copiah273357
Coahoma272265
Simpson269278
Prentiss267158
Leake250870
Wayne250140
Marion249478
Covington246277
Grenada244576
Adams232374
George229545
Newton222551
Winston220174
Tishomingo210965
Jasper210343
Attala205669
Chickasaw200250
Holmes181470
Clay177348
Stone170729
Tallahatchie169039
Clarke167671
Calhoun155327
Smith151131
Yalobusha141936
Greene126333
Walthall123040
Noxubee122429
Montgomery120537
Perry120133
Lawrence118420
Carroll117123
Amite110632
Webster108629
Jefferson Davis99831
Tunica97923
Claiborne97329
Benton92524
Humphreys91226
Kemper89222
Quitman76614
Franklin75319
Choctaw69316
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson60827
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 488973

Reported Deaths: 9660
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson703321342
Mobile35725716
Madison32088437
Tuscaloosa23913404
Montgomery22369481
Shelby21714209
Baldwin19554263
Lee14827147
Morgan13529243
Etowah13091309
Calhoun13063281
Marshall11197202
Houston10019255
Limestone9303130
Elmore9283179
Cullman8856176
St. Clair8747214
Lauderdale8541209
DeKalb8419173
Talladega7424161
Walker6466240
Jackson6450101
Autauga614384
Blount6058125
Colbert5973118
Coffee522299
Dale4606106
Russell400530
Franklin396575
Covington3918105
Chilton380096
Escambia375970
Tallapoosa3533138
Clarke342348
Dallas3385139
Chambers3382102
Pike292471
Lawrence280685
Marion277492
Winston244563
Marengo243454
Bibb243259
Geneva238168
Pickens223453
Barbour208450
Hale208064
Fayette198755
Butler194865
Henry181741
Cherokee175737
Monroe165538
Randolph161240
Washington155832
Crenshaw143052
Clay142554
Macon140344
Cleburne136139
Lamar130632
Lowndes130148
Wilcox120525
Bullock116033
Conecuh106423
Perry104927
Sumter98231
Greene86732
Coosa86323
Choctaw54723
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