RSL coach Freddy Juarez prefers intraconference play if MLS can’t play full remaining schedule of games

Real Salt Lake players and coaches keep chugging along while they wait for Major League Soccer to resume its season. They’re collectively staying fit via virtual Zoom workouts, communicating regularly and holding tactical analysis sessions.

But with Major League Soccer announcing Friday that games won’t be played until at least June 8, and the league’s earlier announcement that playing the entire remaining schedule is becoming increasingly unlikely, alternatives are starting to come up in conversation.

RSL coach Freddy Juarez said Friday that if the league can’t play the 32 games remaining in the regular season, his ideal scenario would be for teams in each conference to play among themselves — one home game, one away game — and not travel to the other conference.

“I think that would be a good way of doing it before doing anything else,” Juarez said during this weekly Zoom call with media. “To me, it makes total sense.”

RSL hasn’t played a Western Conference team yet this season. Its first two games were against Orlando City and the New York Red Bulls, respectively. With 13 teams in each conference, that would mean each team could play a maximum of 26 more games in 2020.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber told ESPN this week that he was mulling various ways to restart the season if the league can’t play 32 games. Those included playing games without fans at neutral sites and creating some kind of tournament format.

RSL chief business officer Andy Carroll said in a Tuesday Zoom call with season ticket holders that the league has even discussed holding the MLS Cup championship game in a warm weather city as late as January 2021, per an audio recording of the call obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Juarez said Rob Zarkos, RSL’s vice president of soccer operations, has been in contact with clubs in Germany that have started holding training sessions in small groups and getting advice from them. He also referenced a recent proposal given to MLS by Sporting Kansas City coach and sporting director Peter Vermes that said it might be safer for players to train at club facilities rather than out in the open where the environment is not controlled.

“I think we’re ready,” Juarez said. “Our facility is a great facility. We’re lucky to have that. First class. We can manage getting good training sessions with players pretty quickly.”

The National Women’s Soccer League has also recently put out a timeline on a potential restart. Commissioner Lisa Baird told soccer website The Equalizer that she’s looking at late June as a potential return to play. That timeline is fluid.

Carroll also mentioned the late June timeline and added that the league has discussed having a 20-game schedule. The number of games is a detail not previously released formally by the league.

Included in MLS’s announcement Friday was it is considering the possibility of reducing player salaries.

“Like all leagues, we are in discussion with our players about changes to player compensation due to the financial impact to the league and our clubs from the COVID-19 crisis,” MLS said in a statement. “We are seeking to work collaboratively with the MLSPA to find a solution that provides a safety net for all players, opportunity to earn full salary in the scenario where all matches are played with fans, and in particular provides protection for the players at the lower end of the salary scale.”

ESPN reported that the league is asking the majority of its players to take a pay cut of up to 50%. Players making less than $100,000 would not be affected, while those who make more wouldn’t be cut below their the $100,000 limit.

Carroll confirmed an earlier report during Tuesday’s Zoom meeting that all of RSL’s players were willing to give up a month’s salary to prevent staff cuts, furloughs and reductions in salary. He said either the league or the players union intervened to prevent that from happening. The team furloughed some front office staff and reduced pay for club executives earlier this month.

Juarez said Friday that if it came down to it, he personally would be more than willing to give up part of his salary to help the club.

“I love the club,” Juarez said. “They’ve given me all these chances. They’ve developed me in every aspect. So for me, if I need to give some, then I would gladly do it.”