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The Union’s home opener Saturday night against the San Jose Earthquakes will go on as scheduled, with fans in attendance, the team announced Wednesday.
“As always, the Philadelphia Union’s main priority is the safety and well-being of our players, coaches, staff, and fans,” the team said in a statement. “Our medical staff is monitoring the situation closely and working in partnership with Major League Soccer, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and regional health authorities. … If any necessary changes are needed, we will let our fans know as soon as possible and provide all the required information.”
The Union also said they are “in close communication with other sports organizations” in the region. Philadelphia officials have recommended that people avoid gatherings of more than 5,000 people, but that doesn’t apply directly to the Union in Chester. Subaru Park’s capacity is 18,500. The team hasn’t said the number of tickets sold for the game.
“I’d encourage every fan to get out here if they want to see a very fun, dynamic team out on the field in their home opener,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It’s a great time to come out and watch soccer.”
Curtin later backed off that stance a bit, acknowledging the seriousness of the situation.
“We’ll do whatever we’re told to help prevent any further spread,” he said. “We’ll take every precaution that’s issued to us, and we’ll see where things go. There are some things that are in our control, some things that aren’t in our control.”
There will be increased staffing Saturday to disinfect the stadium before, during, and after the game (7:30 p.m., PHL17), at concession stands, restrooms, and railings.
The Union are advising “at-risk members of the community, those individuals who have traveled outside of the country within the last two weeks, and any individual who is currently sick” to not attend the game. Affected fans should email firstname.lastname@example.org. The team did not say whether there will be refunds for those fans.
MLS issued a lengthy statement Wednesday evening detailing new safety plans and restrictions for games. Fans can bring bottles of hand sanitizer. Players will not participate in the traditional pregame procession with children, sign autographs, or make appearances after games.
The league has also mandated that teams must fly charter to road games “for the foreseeable future.”
A spokesperson for the MLS Players Association told The Athletic that the league and labor union “are all collectively working toward the same goals, and we are confident that the league is doing everything they can to make the best decisions as quickly as possible.”
None of the region’s pro teams have decided to play games behind closed doors.
Two MLS games on March 21 have been postponed after the home teams’ local governments banned large gatherings: San Jose vs. Kansas City and Seattle vs. Dallas.
On Saturday, the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati will have fans at their home game even though Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine asked the state’s sports teams and events to bar spectators.
No MLS teams have volunteered to play games behind closed doors.