MLS ponders future play options with border issue looming

MLS Commissioner Don Garber speaks to reporters prior to an MLS soccer game between the Montreal Impact and DC United. (Graham Hughes/CP)

TORONTO — Canadian MLS teams may get to see a lot of each other in the coming weeks.

As the MLS is Back Tournament continues in Florida, Major League Soccer continues to review its options for resuming play in home markets. The Canada-U.S. border and accompanying restrictions, including the need for quarantine, loom large in those discussions.

MLS officials, working with clubs, local health authorities and government officials, are looking at several scenarios. A source with knowledge of the situation, but not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed one option being explored is having the Canadian teams play each other in the short-term.

Having Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver face off, either in one-off contests or home-and-away series against each other would buy the league some time, in the hope that travel restrictions ease.

As for talks with Canadian government officials, the source said the discussions were ongoing. A post-tournament schedule remains a “work in progress” but could be finalized next week if everything falls into place.

The league is also working on makeup games needed for FC Dallas and Nashville SC, who are behind the other 24 teams after being forced to pull out of the Florida tournament due to positive COVID-19 tests.

The border issue was front and centre in Major League Baseball’s return to action.

The Blue Jays were forced to play south of the border after the federal government nixed the team’s proposal to host American teams at Rogers Centre.

Marco Mendicino, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship said the plan was too risky, citing “repeated cross-border travel” for Jays players and staff, as well as opponents.

“Of particular concern, the Toronto Blue Jays would be required to play in locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high,” Mendicino said in a statement.

MLS was two weeks into its season when play was shut down March 12 to the global pandemic. With group games at the MLS is Back Tournament counting in the regular-season standings, teams are now at five games with the exception of Dallas and Nashville.

Given future games are likely to be contested behind closed doors — although small groups may be allowed in a few markets depending on local restrictions — the league can be more nimble in scheduling. Without fans, TV is the driving force for scheduling with less lead time needed.

The Florida tournament wraps up Aug. 11. The Canadian teams exited in the round of 16, needing to go into 14-day quarantine upon their return home.

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