COVID-19 has infiltrated the MLS is Back Tournament bubble again, with five members of Nashville SC testing positive and another four producing inconclusive tests.
As a result, Major League Soccer has postponed Nashville’s match against Chicago Fire FC, originally planned as one of the Florida tournament’s two openers Wednesday.
MLS said it will “continue to evaluate Nashville SC’s participation” in the tournament pending results of additional testing.
The news comes one day after FC Dallas was forced to withdraw from the World Cup-style tournament in the wake of 10 players and a coach testing positive for the virus.
Orlando City opens play Wednesday against expansion Inter Miami CF at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in the Orlando area. The Montreal Impact play the New England Revolution on Thursday.
Toronto FC’s opening game against D.C. United has been moved to Sunday morning from Friday evening in the wake of TFC’s late arrival at the tournament. Toronto was supposed to land last Friday, but was delayed when additional testing was required in the wake of one member of the travelling party experiencing some symptoms.
All the tests came back negative and the team flew Monday.
The Vancouver Whitecaps open July 15 against San Jose after their opener against Dallas was scrapped.
On Tuesday, Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez said his players were doing well.
“The guys who tested positive are feeling strong. There’s been some symptoms. There’s been some things that we need to take care of for their health and safety and well-being.
“But they’re feeling strong. And some of these guys are already at the later end of their recovery. So it’s all really positive. They’re building strength. They’re getting through this adversity.”
“We’re going to be stronger after all of this,” he added. “Soccer is the last thing on our minds. It’s about [the] will to get healthy and then soccer’s going to naturally come back to us.”
Gonzalez said what happened was inevitable and there was no perfect time to hold the tournament.
“Maybe the perfect or the safest moment is in two years,” he told a virtual conference call. “But is the league going to even be in existence in two years? Probably not if we had to wait that long.
“So when is the right moment? I don’t know. I just know that it could have been yesterday and it could be tomorrow. But it had to happen. At some point there needed to be a calculated risk and we all needed to go for it.”
He said he had no regrets, calling it a “good learning lesson” for the league and other teams and a “great moment for strength and unity for the [Dallas] players and the team and their families.”
Gonzalez said the virus is so new there really is no expert on it.
“This has existed for six, seven months. Tell me who the expert is,” he said. “The expert is after analyszng this for five to 10 years. That’s the expert.”
“What we have to trust is that we’re trying our best,” he added.
The league said two of the Nashville players got their confirmed positive results on the weekend with three more getting the news Monday night. The four others were to undergo further tests in the wake of their inconclusive test results.
One member of Columbus Crew SC has also tested positive.
All 26 teams have now arrived in Orlando with all the players having undergone testing at the league’s host hotel.
Testing results from the five clubs that arrived Monday, including Toronto and Vancouver, were to be available later Tuesday.
The tournament is slated to run through Aug. 11. It marks the league’s first action since play was halted March 12, two weeks into the season, because of the global pandemic.
Toronto’s first game will now be a 9 a.m. ET start rather than 8 p.m. as originally scheduled, meaning two of its first three games will be morning kickoffs.
Friday’s game between the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders will now be played at 9 p.m. ET rather than 10:30 p.m.