Ian Ayre Zoom photo from file.
After the news this afternoon that Nashville SC would be sent packing from the MLS is Back tournament before playing a game, it’s fair to say that nobody is happy about the situation. The players – who were informed of the decision this morning – were set on participating, even with their numbers diminished by nine squad members who would have been unavailable for selection following positive tests for the novel coronavirus.
For a team whose settled-business stadium deal was suddenly not-so-settled until days before the 2020 season kickoff, whose franchise-opening game in Major League Soccer was immediately followed by a devastating tornado in its hometown, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic that has engulfed the entire globe (albeit now under control in almost the entire developed world outside of the United States)… it’s easy to feel like this was just another body blow in a stretch that has felt like a prize fight.
“If you’re going to work in sports, you’ll have good days and bad days,” said Nashville SC Chief Executive Officer Ian Ayre. “And it feels like we’ve had a lot of difficult times, but we’ve also had some amazing times.”
Those amazing times include a number of off-field moments, to say nothing of the fantastic opening night in Nissan Stadium. Going toe-to-toe with Atlanta United in front of 59,069 fans seems like years – not barely more than four months – ago, though. A trip to Portland is the only other action fans have been able to take in.
While the rest of Major League Soccer’s teams finally resume play in Orlando this week, though, Nashville SC joins FC Dallas in having to depart due to outbreaks of infection among their players. Orlando City SC and Philadelphia Union have their first wins of 2020, while Inter Miami CF and New York City FC continue to take losses. Meanwhile, Nashville SC is working with its health professionals on the ground in Central Florida and back home in Nashville to arrange safe travel back to the Music City without even so much as a training session at the Wide World of Sports.
Fortunately, missing the tournament doesn’t spell the end of Nashville SC’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer. Behind the scenes, wheels are in motion to get action back on the pitch in home markets.
“It looks like the tournament is going ahead with [six] groups of four now,” Ayre said. “I imagine all of those results will count, and we won’t take any points from that. In terms of going forward, there has been some dialogue, but we do have some sense from talking as a league about what that might look like. The plans are for the league to announce that a little further down the line.
“We believe that’s going to happen,” he continued, “and we have a chance to show people what we’ve got. This season will be drowned in the difficulties we all know. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared to give them our all.”
A longer wait to see the team back on the pitch is frustrating to all involved. But Ayre is confident his team will show its mettle when, at long last, the opportunity returns.