After Tuesday’s news that four of the eight pending coronavirus tests were positive (in addition to the one positive upon arrival) among Nashville SC’s roster, this felt inevitable. Major League Soccer indefinitely postponed the tournament opener for the Boys in Gold then, and now the next step down that path is taken: MLS commissioner Don Garber announced this morning that NSC will not participate in the tournament at all.
NEW YORK (July 9, 2020) – Major League Soccer announced today an updated format and schedule for the MLS is Back Tournament and that Nashville SC have been withdrawn from the competition.
Since arriving in Orlando, nine players on Nashville have had confirmed positive test results for COVID-19. The decision was made in the best interest of the health of all players and staff participating in the tournament, and in line with protocols created in conjunction with local and national health authorities and infectious disease experts.
“We have withdrawn Nashville SC from the MLS is Back Tournament. Due to the number of positive tests, the club has been unable to train since arriving in Orlando and would not be able to play matches,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “For every decision we make in our return to play, the wellbeing of our players, staff, officials and all participants is our top priority.”
As a result of the withdrawal of Dallas and Nashville, MLS has reconfigured the groups into six groups, each consisting of four teams, as well as an update to the qualification for the Knockout Stage presented by Audi.
…and the club’s release:
NASHVILLE SC WITHDRAWN FROM THE MLS IS BACK TOURNAMENT
Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (July 9, 2020) – Nashville Soccer Club in conjunction with Major League Soccer announced today that the club will withdraw its participation in the MLS Is Back Tournament due to positive COVID-19 cases among its players.
Nashville SC arrived in Orlando, Fla. on July 1, having taken all the necessary steps and following all the mandated protocols established by the league as well as local and national health authorities to minimize the risk and exposure to the virus. Despite the precautions, one player tested positive upon arrival at the host hotel, and another eight Nashville SC players tested positive upon a few days of arrival.
Following daily testing of players and staff during the past nine days, it was determined that the club would not be medically cleared to get sufficient training before their next match. As a result, it was decided that it would be in the best interest of the health and safety of the players, the staff and the rest of the league that Nashville SC does not participate in the tournament.
“In what has been a challenging year, and in an uncharted environment created by the Tornado that devastated our city, and COVID-19, this is another big disappointing outcome for Nashville SC and its supporters,” said Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre. “Our focus now lays on the recovery of our players who have been infected with COVID-19 and on getting our complete traveling party back home safely. Once everyone is safe and healthy in Nashville, we can then turn the page and focus on our preparation and participation in the return to play for the latter half of the season post Orlando.”
Nashville SC is working with MLS and local health officials on a plan to bring home those players and staff who have consistently tested negative throughout their time in Orlando, Fla. as soon as it ensures everyone’s safety in the process. The timetable for the return of players who have tested positive will be determined by MLS’ health, safety and medical protocols.
This is obviously unfortunate for all involved, starting with the fans who have seen their team play exactly two (2) MLS games in franchise history. There’s a lot of blame to go around:
Government at basically every level (federal, local and state – in approximately that order – in this particular case) failing profoundly – with ramifications that obviously extend well beyond sports teams. From downplaying a virus that has since killed more Americans than every war since World War II combined, to ridiculing masks (the one easy thing shown to prevent the spread of the virus), to establishing very specific landmarks for an incremental re-opening of businesses in Davidson County… then ignoring those landmarks and opening anyway (on that note, not that we’re breaking any news here for soccer fans, but the depth of mayor John Cooper’s incompetence seems to know no bounds).
From there, the NSC organization’s ability to impress upon players the importance of going above and beyond what is legally required of them from a social-distancing, sanitization, mask-wearing perspective was ineffective. Nashville SC had a responsibility to help its players realize that doing the minimum under legal regulation or recommendation was not enough: they needed to not only contract or spread the virus for societal reasons (ultimately the most important ones), but also to facilitate a return to work for the individuals.
Of course, it’s up to the players to do the right things anyway. Anyone who’s been to Davidson County or possesses an Instagram account can think of a few examples of players not bothering with masking or social-distancing precautions about town. My intention here is not to shame individuals. Certainly the testing results combined with the anecdotal evidence demonstrates that they simply didn’t take it seriously enough.
The League and the Players Association have some blame specifically as it relates to the tournament. Rushing it back was a questionable decision in the first place, and MLS’s choice to use a global pandemic as a bargaining chip to modify a recently-ratified CBA put the sides at major odds (which likely further contributed to players’ not taking it seriously: treat it like a bargaining chip rather than a serious issue, and it will be seen as such). MLSPA negotiated for a seven-day “in-bubble” requirement in Orlando, minimizing players’ time away from their home markets. That’s not long enough, and that’s ultimately a key piece that doomed Nashville SC’s participation.
God only knows what’s behind the discrepancy in results between what Nashville SC’s home-market tests and MLS’s Orlando tests might be. Brayan Beckeles was very insistent that he did everything right, but he’s still since tested positive. Were the tests bad? Did he contract the virus late enough that it was undetectable until Friday? There’s some procedural or technological failure here, either way. At best, it demonstrates the foolishness of a seven-day “bubble” requirement.
The big picture, though? A broad range of folks didn’t take a pandemic seriously enough, and now we don’t get soccer. Getting a taste with a game last night and a game this morning only served to underscore how disappointing it’s going to be to not see Nashville in action.
Pulling the Boys in Gold out of the tournament is the right move for the event, for the teams, and for the bigger (non-sports) picture around the country. Unfortunately, it took about this long for any sort of right move to be the pick.