Teams were scheduled to kick off their MLS is Back tournament at 9:00 am (ET) at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the Orlando area. A few minutes before the scheduled start, Major League Soccer canceled the match _ citing two problematic COVID-19 tests.
A round of pre-game tests on Saturday returned a positive test for a DC United player and a inconclusive test for a Toronto player. The positive test was considered unconfirmed until confirmed by a second test.
While DC United entered the playing field, Toronto never left the league hotel.
“The two teams participated in another round of tests (Sunday) and all players from both clubs were found to be negative,” the league said in a statement on Sunday evening. “Based on these results, the game will be played (Monday) morning at 9:00 am ET.
“The player who has received a first positive test and the player whose test has not been concluded will undergo additional tests and will not play in the match on (Monday). ”
The league has not identified the players in question. Neither does Toronto FC, although general manager Ali Curtis said his player was asymptomatic.
The tournament, which marks the first action in the league since its closure on March 12 due to the global pandemic, has already lost FC Dallas and Nashville SC due to a series of positive COVID-19 tests.
Sunday was another day of drama and doubt in the world of pandemic sports.
“Nothing is really normal these days. Whether something normal is some kind of uncertainty, “Curtis said in a virtual conference call on Sunday evening.
“There is a different situation every day, for every week,” he added. “And you just have to adapt. ”
It was the second delay for Toronto and DC United. They were scheduled to meet on Friday evening, but the match was postponed to Sunday due to Toronto’s late arrival at the tournament due to the need for additional COVID-19 tests following a player reporting symptoms.
The players and staff were tested on Saturday before the match. Curtis said the team learned of the inconclusive test around midnight, prompting another test in the player’s room which turned out to be negative. The Toronto player was isolated pending another test result.
The rest of the Toronto team produced negative results in the last batch of tests.
Curtis, meanwhile, started his Sunday with a Zoom call at 6 a.m., the first of many.
With the match scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Monday, the two teams faced another wake-up call early in the morning. The Sunday pre-game meal was scheduled for 5:30 a.m.
Toronto’s second game against the Montreal Impact, originally scheduled for Wednesday, is now postponed to Thursday. And DC United’s game against the New England Revolution will now be played Friday instead of Thursday.
Wednesday’s game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the San Jose earthquakes will now start at 9 p.m. instead of 10:30 p.m.
After the threat of lightning delayed the Atlanta game against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night, there were more delays and dramas on Sunday.
“We think the tournament can still be held safely,” said MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott on Sunday morning. “And if at the time when we determine that this is not possible, then we would make a decision.
“In the case of Dallas and Nashville, the decision was made that based on the extent of the positive tests in these teams (and) their ability to train, the most prudent solution was to withdraw them.
“But we had established a set of protocols that work as they were designed, which consists of identifying the players who tested positive for COVID-19, removing them and separating them from the team and isolating them. And to continue the process of testing other players … We consider this (case) that the process works. ”
According to the protocols of the league, the players whose test is positive are isolated while those who test the negative “advance”.
Abbott said that because Toronto did not arrive until Monday, the decision was made to wait for Sunday morning test results before playing the game.
Curtis said his team was still on a mission during the tournament.
“It’s an important competition. Lots of people put a lot of work and effort into it … It is important that we represent the club and we represent our city as best we can. ”
All of this added to an already stressful morning for the teams given the unusually early kick-off time _ to avoid the Florida heat. Toronto captain Michael Bradley and forward Jozy Altidore both criticized the 9:00 am start, saying it was not good football.
DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid also suggested that this was a drawback for the fans.
“To all the supporters of DC United, our families and our friends, I am sorry that you woke up so early to see us play, so that the match could be postponed again,” he tweeted. “Especially after so many people originally planned to watch the game that was to be played on Friday!” Have a nice Sunday anyway. ”
Curtis said that although Toronto had always planned to show up late for the game, to avoid the heat for as long as possible, the team was in a group with a zoom, but what was happening with the COVID-19 test when he received the call from the league that the match was over.
While the remaining 24 teams stay in the same hotel, they are isolated from each other in the MLS tournament bubble. Players and other staff members are tested every two days.
Curtis said his level of confidence in MLS protocols remains “very high”.
“When you look at the data, if you remove the outliers from Dallas and Nashville, I think the numbers are pretty good,” he said. “And then when you are in the bubble, you see some of the actions that are being taken and that gives you confidence. ”
But outside, the number of positive cases continues to climb.
Florida reported 15,300 new cases on Sunday in the past 24 hours – a single-day record in the United States since the start of the pandemic.
There were a few surprises from the departure from Toronto scheduled for Sunday 11.
Although he lined up the same back as five in his last league game on March 7, there were four changes further. Bradley and Argentinian newcomer Pablo Piatti, who both missed the first two games of the season, were expected to return from injuries.
Tsubasa Endoh and Ayo Akinola were also in the starting lineup.
Altidore did not participate in day 23. He was late in joining the team after passing the lockout at his Florida home and had to train alone while completing his 40s.
Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio was a surprise omission from day 23.
Sunday evening’s Sporting Kansas City game against Minnesota United took place despite Kansas City’s Friday confirmation that one of its players had tested positive.