Major League Soccer says the chances of returning to action in mid-May now look extremely unlikely and that achieving its goal of getting in a full 34-game regular season is also becoming increasingly difficult.
The league had previously said it hoped to return around the second full week of May following what would have been an eight-week absence from game action. The league currently has a training moratorium for players through April 24 with the expectation that it will be extended.
“Although we hoped to return to play in mid-May, that is extremely unlikely based on the guidance of federal and local public health officials,” MLS said in a statement Tuesday. “Our goal remains to play as many games as possible, and while we currently have enough dates to play the entire season, we recognize at this time that it may become difficult to do so.”
In an interview with ESPN, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said there will likely be games without fans when league play does resume and that multiple formats are being examined for getting as many games in as possible.
Los Angeles FC coach Bob Bradley told reporters Tuesday that he is on board with whatever route the league chooses to get in as much of the season as possible.
“Let’s figure out how to get everybody going again. Let’s make sure we reconnect with all our fans,” Bradley said in a conference call. “And whether it’s in one site, whether it’s a short season that gets into the playoffs, I think what we will see when we finally get started again is that everybody will be completely on board and completely committed to the fact that after all of us worked together to move through the challenge of this period, the game is going. And then we will be excited to partake in anything that gets put together.”
Bradley said one of the challenges of not having a firm return date is keeping players motivated and focused during a layoff that will last at least two months and likely longer.
Bradley has the unique perspective of having played a match without fans when he was the coach of the Egyptian national team and he led his players into a 2012 World Cup qualifier against Mozambique that was held in an empty stadium.
Bradley said it was an “eerie feeling” and that his message to the players the day before was to imagine every Egyptian fan in the world inside the stadium.
He said if MLS games begin without fans in the stands, there will need to be a way to try to connect with supporters.
“In reality, the game without fans has no soul,” Bradley said. “But as I said, this is different, and we are all looking to find ways. When it’s the right time, when it’s safe to get going again and that ability to reconnect and show everybody that the game continues will be very important."