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What I Learned – MLS, Liga MX, NWSL and what North American soccer looks like in 2020

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It’s all looking quite like Twitter meme fodder these days.In the first frame, under “My Plans,” the image of MLS commissioner Don Garber and Liga MX president Enrique Bonilla both gripping the same soccer ball at a press conference to announce the 2020 All-Star Game featuring top talent from the two leagues. In the second, under “2020,” nothing but a deflated soccer ball.But such is reality in the aftermath of Tuesday’s announcement canceling the All-Star Game, in addition to the Campeones Cup and Leagues Cup. All of the excitement surrounding MLS’s 25th season, all of the hype surrounding the MLS and Liga MX collaboration (and rumblings that even bigger plans are in the works)–it’s all been greatly tempered by the coronavirus pandemic. What’s left behind for those two leagues and other men’s and women’s outfits across North America are groups left scrambling for ways to cobble together their remaining competitions. A little further south in the Concacaf region, Costa Rica has resumed its domestic play this week and Nicaragua never stopped, but things aren’t as rosy in MLS, Liga MX, NWSL, USL, the Canadian Premier League and beyond, where complex issues and the weighing of risk vs. reward have everything in disarray.USA Today Sports/Getty ImagesMLS is reportedly trying to gather the whole league together in a bubble in Orlando, according to recent reporting from The Washington Post. All of the league’s 26 clubs would live under quarantine for an undetermined amount of time, while the league would pick up where it left off after the second matchday in March following a training and acclimation period. It would, in theory, begin in early June, with matches commencing in early July. There’s no guarantee this goes forward, and the players association–which is embroiled in negotiations with the league regarding pay cuts and payroll relief, according to ESPN–would figure to have a significant say in it as well. “A lot of questions have to be answered from a league perspective before something like that can take place,” Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said on a call with local media.A tier below, USL and its players association are also in discussions regarding financial considerations and economic relief while a safety-first return plan is formulated.MLS’s complications are furthered by the fact that it has to take two countries into consideration. The USA-Canada border will remain closed for all non-essential travel until at least June 21 according to government announcements on Tuesday, which adds another wrinkle for Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps and any other participating parties that would need to cross the border. Even if MLS can cobble together a competition plan for Orlando, it’s unclear how all of the clubs would even be able to take part without any exemption or decree from government that their travel is “essential.” And if that happens, other leagues spanning two countries that face a similar problem like the NBA, NHL and MLB will all be watching with keen interest. That the NBA is also eyeing Orlando as a bubble site to resume its league, according to The Athletic, is another potential complicating factor. There’s only so much room at Disney World.The NWSL, looking to capitalize on the buzz generated by the 2019 Women’s World Cup, is reportedly contemplating a bubble for competition of its own in Utah. The Washington Post and Salt Lake Tribune also report of an elaborate plan that’s in the works–and has reportedly received owner approval–for a monthlong tournament involving all of the league’s nine teams that would serve as a prequel to something resembling a regular season schedule. In short, the league would reportedly congregate at the facilities shared by NWSL’s Utah Royals FC, MLS’s Real Salt Lake and USL Championship’s Real Monarchs for a nine-team tournament that would begin in late June and feature three groups of three before an eight-team knockout stage. That all sounds tidy, but surely there are more complications involving player cooperation and logistical hurdles for international players who may not be in the USA. Just getting back to the U.S. from Australia in late March was a hassle for OL Reign’s Lauren Barnes, for instance, and that was before things escalated on a global scale.While the NWSL’s overall future has understandably been called into question given the tenuous historical standing of professional women’s soccer leagues in the USA and the financial straits and domino effects brought on by the pandemic, this tournament plan would indicate otherwise. On top of that, U.S. Soccer assures that its continued support of the league–it pays for the salaries and benefits of 23 U.S. women’s national team players in addition to some other administrative costs–is unwavering and that any concern to the contrary is unwarranted. The Paycheck Protection Program loan that the federation accepted–and then last week returned–has nothing to do with its financial backing of the league, USSF says.In the USA’s 2026 World Cup co-host nations, things are just as murky. The Canadian Premier League, the eight-team outfit entering its second season, is eyeing a July return but remains in a holding pattern, while Mexico’s Liga MX is also in wait-and-see mode. The Mexican top flight was reportedly set to meet with national health officials on Wednesday to gather more information. Clubs are said to be split on whether to continue the Clausura campaign, which was suspended on March 15. Given the added scheduling component of the Apertura season, which usually begins in late July, it might make the most sense to scrub the Clausura altogether and put all of the eggs in the Apertura basket. That discussion will surely be had after more direction comes from government.Beyond the domestic leagues, there are cup competitions, and those have a bit more flexibility. The Concacaf Champions League and U.S. Open Cup, for instance, have yet to pull the plug, with both afforded the time to wait it out. The CCL is in the quarterfinal stage, with three of the four first legs already having been played. Time is on its side before needing to declare a winner to send to the December FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar. The Open Cup, meanwhile, is losing potential participants left and right with the cancellations and restructuring of lower-tier seasons, but U.S. Soccer still maintains hope of staging a version of the competition for the 107th consecutive year.The various machinations, scenarios, curveballs and detours might have executive bodies and decision makers mimicking another famous meme from earlier this year, one specific to American soccer.And there’s nothing that illustrates “2020” more than that.

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