Editorial – The MLS is Back tournament has come to an end, with it, the return of the MLS regular season. With NWSL laying the groundwork for holding play inside a bubble, successfully crowning a champion, the MLS held a tournament of their own. While several stars did opt-out, overall, MLS is Back was a resounding success.
MLS is Back: The Return of the Regular Season Possible After Successful Tournament
The aforementioned NWSL was well into their own bubble tournament, the NWSL Challenge Cup, before MLS is Back began. While both leagues provided incredible soccer, exciting matches, and surprising results, more importantly, they both had zero COVID-19 outbreaks.
After initial positive tests, FC Dallas and Nashville pulled out of the tournament, which would be the last of the positive tests.
Several weeks, and thousands of tests later, there were zero new positives. While it was a major sacrifice by the players to isolate away from family for so long, it proved worth it as the controlled environment proved a safe way to continue play. All one has to do is look at the struggles Major League Baseball has faced since their return without a bubble.
Next to the safety and health of players, the biggest concern was quality of play. How serious would players take a makeshift tournament, thrown together so quickly? The answer, very seriously. Regular season points at stake made group stage meaningful, while those who advanced to knockout rounds showed desire to come away with the trophy.
Plenty of matches embodied the chaos that can be MLS. Whether it was the 6-2 thrashing LAFC gave rival Galaxy, or the completely chaotic 4-3 win San Jose had over Vancouver.
Over the course of three days, three different matches went to penalty kicks to decide a winner. It was glorious chaos at its peak. There was even a Cinderella run by Orlando City, who reached the Final after surviving one of the aforementioned PK matches.
Goals for everyone! Basic goals, fancy goals, own goals, headed goals, long shots from outside the box, deflections, rebounds. Imagine a way to score, and it likely happened in this tournament. Of the 51 matches played, the total goals scored was 146. An average of almost three goals per game
LAFC’s Diego Rossi earned the Golden Boot award for leading the tournament with seven goals. However it was Portland’s Andy Polo, who won the award for best goal, and Orlando City’s Nani, who provided the most talked about goals. Both goals coming from well outside the box, with space cleared after creative playmaking, sent in with beautiful curlers.
While many outside of Portland were pulling for the underdogs, Orlando City, it would be the Portland Timbers adding more trophies to the cabinet. Sebastian Blanco was one of the best players throughout the tournament, and while his Final wasn’t the best, the Timber’s pedigree helped them overcome an Orlando side clearly on the rise.
From MLS is Back to the Regular Season
Perhaps the biggest irony of this all is that a successful tournament inside a controlled bubble environment, has now given MLS confidence to finish out the season. Outside of a bubble. The 2020 season will be completed in phases, with phase having started the night after the MLS is Back Final. FC Dallas hosted Nashville SC in the kickoff of phase one, in front of limited fans.
MLS has decided to allow local government restrictions in each respective market to dictate whether fans would be allowed and how many. For Dallas, that meant fans could attend the match, for teams in Los Angeles, and other cities around the country, restrictions still state fans will not be allowed at live sporting events.
This is the real test. Returning to travel, playing in front of fans, playing outside of a bubble. While testing will still be constant, the risk has definitely increased. Nobody expects to remain inside forever, whether it’s too soon for a full-on return remains to be seen.