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Philadelphia Union player first in MLS to test positive for coronavirus

A team spokesperson said the player would like to keep his identity private.

Oct 21, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; General view of the Philadelphia Union flag prior to the match against the New York Red Bulls at Talen Energy Stadium. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

The Union announced Wednesday evening that one of their players has tested positive for the coronavirus. It’s the first known case of a Major League Soccer player contracting the virus.

A statement from the team said the player “experienced mild symptoms and is feeling well and in good spirits,” and is “observing appropriate isolation protocols.” The Union have been working with officials in the Crozer-Keystone Health System to treat him.

A team spokesperson said the player would like to keep his identity private.

The statement said no other players or members of the team’s soccer operations staff have tested positive. The Union’s stadium and training facility in Chester have been empty since March 12, when MLS suspended its season.

MLS subsequently ordered all teams to close their training facilities through this Friday, except for needed medical treatment. Players were asked to stay in their teams’ markets but can request to relocate by car. A Union spokesperson said two players from the team had requests granted; they were not named.

It seems a safe bet the shutdown will be extended, not least because of stay-at-home orders enforced in Pennsylvania and other states.

Because it’s been more than 14 days since the stoppage began, the team doesn’t think anyone else needs to be tested immediately. The case should not have affected Los Angeles FC, which the Union visited March 8; or the vast majority of Union fans, since the team hasn’t played a home game yet. The Union’s team in the United Soccer League played a home game March 7 that drew a tiny crowd — announced at 467 — to Subaru Park.

The Union are the second local team to be directly hit by the coronavirus. The Sixers announced three cases on March 19 as the virus made its way around the NBA. Across MLS, New York City FC has announced two coronavirus cases and the Seattle Sounders have had one.

Yahoo Sports reported that MLS commissioner Don Garber and deputy commissioners Mark Abbott and Gary Stevenson are taking 25% pay cuts because of the league’s lack of incoming cash flow without games. Other league staff will take smaller cuts. The league is trying to avoid hitting the lower-end staff at its Manhattan headquarters too hard because of the high cost of living in New York and does not plan to furlough or lay off employees.

There are currently no plans to ask players to take pay cuts, as has happened with some big European teams, in part because player salaries here are lower than they are there.

MLS wants to resume games on May 10, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ban on mass gatherings is scheduled to expire, and would extend the calendar as necessary to play a full 34-game season. The USL, which runs three levels of minor leagues, also hopes to resume games at that time.

But the odds of that happening are decreasing, too, and the National Women’s Soccer League may be a harbinger. Commissioner Lisa Baird told Equalizer Soccer that the league is now targeting the end of June to kick off, having originally been scheduled to start April 18. Baird also said the league’s training moratorium, currently running through Sunday, will be extended.

ESPN reported that one of the scenarios MLS has planned would fit 34 games into a July resumption, playing twice a week all the way to a title game Dec. 12 or 19. That would be a big burden on players, but at least it’s possible.

(c)2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer
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