MLS shutting down for 30 days due to coronavirus

Sports

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Major League Soccer is shutting down for 30 days because of the coronavirus, delaying the home opener for the expansion team co-owned by former England captain David Beckham.

“Our clubs were united today in the decision to temporarily suspend our season — based on the advice and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Agency of Canada and other public health authorities,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement Thursday.

Inter Miami, co-owned by Beckham and Jorge Mas, had been scheduled to play its home opener Saturday. MLS started its season on Feb. 29 and each of the 26 teams has played two league matches.

In addition, the U.S. Soccer Federation canceled exhibitions in March and April for its men’s and women’s national teams as a precaution.

The men had been scheduled to play the Netherlands in Eindhoven on March 26 and Wales four days later in Cardiff, preparation for the scheduled start of World Cup qualifying in September. The women had been slated to face Australia at Sandy, Utah, on April 10 and Brazil four days later at San Jose, California.

The Confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean Football suspended its Champions League competition because of the pandemic. CONCACAF had not yet announced a decision regarding its other events, which include men’s Olympic qualifying in Guadalajara, Mexico.

As a result, the match between Cruz Azul and Los Angeles FC set for Thursday night was postponed. The competition is currently in the first leg of the quarterfinals.

The Mexican national team also canceled matches in Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 26 against the Czech Republic and in Arlington, Texas, on March 29 against Greece, citing travel restrictions. Greece’s March 26 match against Costa Rica at Harrison, New Jersey, also was called off.

The National Women’s Soccer League canceled preseason matches ahead of its April 18 openers.

“We are reviewing all contingency plans related to our regular season schedule and are monitoring developing events and their potential impact,” NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said. “We are deeply appreciative of our fans and partners for their continued support of our league and all our world-class players.”

Mas told Inter Miami players and coaches of the MLS suspension late Thursday morning, then held a news conference at the team’s temporary stadium.

“We think it is a prudent decision by the league, because obviously we want to protect our players and protect our fans as much as is possible for us to undertake,” Mas said. “We look with optimism that we can continue building here in South Florida.”

Mas said he expects the full 34-match season to be played. He was on the league’s board of governors call Thursday when when the decision was made, and said it was not a difficult choice.

The MLS Players Association said it was working closely with the league.

“Our shared goals remain the same and our focus will shift to providing the necessary resources and support that our players need in the weeks to come,” the association said. “We’re all one MLS family and ask that everyone please take the precautionary measures necessary to keep themselves and each other safe.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 60,000 have so far recovered.

Inter Miami’s stadium is located in Broward County, where seven COVID-19 cases had been confirmed as of Thursday morning. Cases have also been confirmed in Palm Beach County, on Broward’s north border, and Miami-Dade County on Broward’s south border.

“We were 48 hours from kickoff with a tremendous amount of excitement in our community and having a full house here on Saturday,” Mas said. “That does not change. It’ll just be a different date.”

Inter Miami sporting director Paul McDonough said calls would be held later Thursday to determine exactly how the team will spend the time off. Saturday would have been the first time an MLS match was played in south Florida since 2001, and Beckham’s group has been working toward getting a team back in the area for about six years.

Mas said this is just another challenge along that road.

“We’ll deal with it the best way,” Mas said.

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