The coronavirus pandemic that has swept through the world has taken a massive toll on the 2020 Major League Soccer season. The league had just kicked off its 25th season and things were looking super positive at being a banner year.
Now play is paused until at least May and who knows how long that will stay true. A lot of the potential possibilities for returning to the field really rely on the when the league is able to actually do it.
I won’t get into specifics like playing in front of no fans at the start or anything like that but I do think there are four options on the table right now for the league. Two that include playoffs and two that do not. Again, a lot really depends on if May holds true or if we’re looking at more like a July or August return date.
Play the full 34-game schedule and playoffs
Ask anyone around or within MLS right now and they will all likely tell you the same (possibly canned) line about how important it is to play the full slate and that includes the playoffs with MLS Cup.
Look, I get it. Just like hearing FC Dallas manager Luchi Gonzalez talk about it the last couple of weeks on his press calls, you want to play as many games as possible here this year.
For the owners it is about the money. This would at least help them salvage this season if they were able to get the tickets, merchandise, food, parking, etc. from all the games they were expecting to have in 2020.
A lot will depend on the return date for MLS. If they are indeed allowed and able to go back in May, then great. The season won’t really get hurt all that much on the schedule if that is the case. If anything, we’ll see some games stretch into November and part of December with the playoffs and MLS Cup.
Play the full-34 game schedule with no playoffs
This would probably be less popular with those around the league as it means no playoffs and MLS Cup. Honestly, this feels like the least likely option for any of this as I can’t imagine a way that MLS would return to play a full slate or even a partial slate without also playing MLS Cup. But I figured it was worth mentioning as it would mean that a champion was also crowned via the Supporters’ Shield.
Split Schedule moving forward
This could certainly be an intriguing option to move into a similar scheduling structure that most of CONCACAF is on, and primarily Liga MX, the league that MLS is trying to overtake in the region as the top destination.
The split season would mean a summer and winter schedule. While this may be super complicated to get to for MLS in this year, it would be kind of fun to see an insane tournament like structure come out of this where teams are gunning for a playoff spot like Liga MX teams do.
I think this could be do-able if MLS doesn’t really get to return to the field until say July or August. They could condense the schedule for the ‘summer’ season and still have some sort of playoffs for the year in December.
The league could then break for the holidays and resume for a 2021 ‘winter’ season beginning in either late January or early February and run through May with playoffs. The winter part may be tricky for some markets but we could see some front-loaded home slates in warm-weather locales (two LA teams, San Jose, Houston, Dallas, Orlando, Miami, add Austin and Charlotte too) as well as Atlanta’s dome and Montreal’s occasional home game at Olympic Stadium.
At the end of the day, this one feels really doable to me though I think the trickier part could be figuring out when the expansion teams (Austin and Charlotte) enter in 2021.
Make the full switch to the Euro calendar
I know there are a lot of folks out there that wish MLS was on the European calendar. For one thing, this would make those weeks with international breaks for FIFA far more manageable for MLS teams to deal with. Secondly, it would help line up those transfer windows a little bit nicer.
In a way it is similar to the option above but without the playoff craziness that a split season brings. Instead, this is a full on marathon of a season with no playoffs stretching from late August until next May.
This one seems like a long shot to me but again it comes down on that return date for MLS. The later this goes into the summer, the more these type of options should present themselves for the long run moving forward.