Major League Soccer, RSL will suspend season, following NBA in ceasing operations

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Corey Baird (10) brings the ball down field, in MLS acton between Real Salt Lake and the New York Red Bulls at Rio Tinto Stadium, Saturday, March 7, 2020.

In the wake of the NBA suspending its season Wednesday night due to COVID-19, Major League Soccer has followed suit.

MLS is suspending its season for 30 days, the league announced Thursday morning. In a statement, the league and its teams said they will “communicate plans for the continuation of the 2020 season and update the status of league events.”

“Our clubs were united today in the decision to temporarily suspend our season — based on the advice and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and other public health authorities, and in the best interest of our fans, players, officials and employees,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in the statement. “We’d like to thank our fans for their continued support during this challenging time.”

From an RSL perspective, the 30-day suspension appears to affect at least five upcoming games. Those are: Saturday at Columbus, March 21 vs. New England, March 28 at Sporing Kansas City, April 4 at Vancouver and April 11 vs. Colorado.

Andy Carroll, RSL’s chief business officer, said in a statement to fans that, at present, no games for any of the three clubs the organization runs have been canceled. He expressed confidence that there could be little disruption once the season resumes.

“If the duration of the suspension is fairly short, we are optimistic that we can reschedule any games,” Carroll said. “We are diligently working and coordinating with all of our leagues to get information out to our staff, fans and partners as soon as possible.”

After MLS made its announcement, other soccer entities began canceling events. The U.S. Women’s National Team canceled friendlies it had scheduled through the month of April, which includes the April 10 match at Rio Tinto Stadium against Australia. Fans will be refunded for those tickets, per U.S. Soccer.

Not long after, the United Soccer League Championship, where there Real Monarchs play, suspended its season for “at least” 30 days. It appears at least six of those games will be affected. They are: Saturday vs. Phoenix Rising, March 21 at Rio Grande Valley, March 25 vs. Austin Bold, March 28 vs. FC Tulsa, April 4 at San Diego and April 12 at Portland Timbers 2.

As of Monday, the threat of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 hadn’t hit North American soccer in a significant way. That changed quickly in the following 48 hours.

It started early Wednesday when the Seattle Sounders canceled their March 21 match against FC Dallas after the governor of Washington banned large gatherings. The San Jose Earthquakes soon followed suit, canceling their match against Sporting Kansas City on March 21.

Then the league mandated all MLS teams to fly charter rather than commercial to all road games for the foreseeable future. That directive caused Real Salt Lake to change its commercial flight, scheduled to leave for Columbus on Thursday, to a charter.

Both RSL and the Utah Royals FC canceled Thursday training sessions while awaiting further instructions from their respective leagues. All MLS teams will be allowed to return to full training Monday.

The Portland Thorns canceled a preseason tournament scheduled to run March 29-April 4, marking the first National Women’s Soccer League club to augment take action. Later Thursday, the NWSL announced the cancelation of the preseason schedule for all teams.

“We are reviewing all contingency plans related to our regular season schedule and are monitoring developing events and their potential impact,” NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement.

The MLS Players Association came out in support of the league’s decision to suspend operations.

“Our shared goal remains the same and our focus will shift to providing the necessary resources and support that our players need in the weeks and months to come,” the union said in a statement.