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MLS commissioner Don Garber: ‘Our plan is to play as many games as we possibly can’

The commissioner said the league is eyeing different options, including closed door matches and a rescheduled MLS Cup in mid-December.

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said the league is determined to play as many games as possible once coronavirus is under control. (Richard Drew/AP)

MLS Commissioner Don Garber is focused on ensuring MLS teams play a full season’s worth of games after the suspension of the MLS season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Garber appeared on the ESPN show “Get Up” on Tuesday morning, expressing his intention to dive back into a season as soon as official health guidelines allow sports to resume.

“Once we are comfortable that we can get our players with three to four weeks of training, and that we have the guidance that we can get crowds back into our stadiums, then we will then begin the relaunch of our season,” Garber said. “Our intent is to play as many games as we possibly can.”

Garber said reshaping the MLS season to accommodate these rescheduled games will require the league to push the season back, with the postseason stretching into December.

This will be similar to the league’s previous calendar — the MLS Cup used to be held in mid-December, but the championship was moved up into November last season when MLS switched to a single-elimination format for the playoffs.

Garber said the league will stick to that single-elimination structure, and he plans to still host the MLS Cup in the market of the finalist team that earns it through the playoffs. 

One hurdle Garber noted is the fact that reaction to coronavirus has been largely localized as the pandemic affects different communities in unique ways. The commissioner said he is in constant communication with each club to stay up to date on the requirements of health and government officials at the local, state and county level while also following broader recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.

Part of the league’s reaction will require creativity. Garber said leaders throughout the league — including owners of each club — are currently in a planning period as they plan possible solutions. He mentioned ideas including allowing clubs to play live broadcast games behind closed doors and supporting regional play.

Garber also hinted the league might plan something “fun and exciting” that might be “very, very different” in the offseason, but did not go into further detail.

The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics added another logistical challenge for Garber and the league on Tuesday morning. However, the commissioner said he wasn’t blindsided by the Japanese government announcement the Games would be postponed until summer 2021 at the latest.

“It’s not surprising at all,” Garber said. “Many of the national governing bodies have been putting pressure on the IOC to postpone the games in Japan so [I’m] not surprised in the slightest.”

As MLS looks to recalibrate its 2021 calendar as well as its currently suspended season, the league will now need to accommodate a new set of international windows created by the rescheduling of the Olympics.

Garber said he feels for soccer fans who are missing the action of the MLS season. However, he emphasized the importance of sports teams and leagues being leaders during the continued uncertainty of the pandemic.

“It also is an important statement of power of sport — whether that’s soccer or any other sport — all coming together to have a very very strong and powerful voice to ensure that people are staying home, that they’re staying safe, that they’re staying clean, and that they’re prioritizing the things that really matter which is social distancing and also connecting to their families and connecting to their loved ones,” Garber said.

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