After pushing the big match to November last season, the current coronavirus outbreak will force the league to get creative with scheduling.
MLS declared on Thursday that the league has expanded the suspension of games after previously announcing a 30-day hiatus in the wake of the coronavirus.
The league is currently targeting a May 10 return date following a decision from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to cancel all mass parties of 50 or more individuals during the next eight weeks.
As of Wednesday, there have been a total of 7,000 confirmed cases across the U.S., including Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, as well as 97 deaths, while Canada has had 690 confirmed cases.
Together with the decision to postpone, the MLS season could extend all of the ways through December following the league pushed the MLS Cup ahead to November for the first time throughout the 2019 season.
The league always played December to prevent the playoffs being played during autumn’s international breaks, but last year’s change to single-leg ties earlier in the year saw the league ending with MLS Cup on November 10. Because of this, the postseason was wrapped up before players left for the November global window while the league is also in a position to prevent cold-weather MLS Cups following recent games in Toronto and Kansas City were played in below-freezing temperatures.
This year’s finale is scheduled for November 7, which are the oldest MLS Cup in just two decades.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice to postpone events involving over 50 people during the next eight months, Major League Soccer has expanded the postponement of its games in this time period,” the league said in a statement.
“MLS stays focused on playing the full 2020 year and is evaluating all options, such as pushing back the end of the year and enjoying MLS Cup in December, since the league did before the 2019 season. The league is also identifying other dates.
“During this process, MLS will continue to prioritize the protection of our fans, players, partners and employees and also to coordinate with national and local public health authorities in addition to other athletic organizations.”
Unlike most leagues, MLS does have lots of flexibility in regards to the schedule so long as the league is back playing until the summertime hit. In recent decades, MLS’s schedule was altered to streamline the postseason while also becoming more respectful of international breaks.
Playing during what’s going to be a quiet summer globally does give the league flexibility to program without worrying about the Euros or Copa America with groups that share stadiums with NFL franchises not really impacted until August/September. Teams such as New York City FC, who shares a scene with the New York Yankees, could face scheduling difficulties, however, particularly if MLB is also forced into streamlining their season.
In accordance with Yahoo Sports, the league greatly prefers to maintain the scheduled 34-match season together if possible rather than a shortened campaign. Unlike many American leagues, MLS’ earnings are driven tremendously by ticket sales, not TV deals, and shortening the season could have a gigantic financial effect on each club.
Government decisions could play a role in how many games can be played and if they must be played behind closed doors, but the league’s preference is clear.