MLS suspends season for 30 days as result of COVID-19 pandemic

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Toronto FC, pictured in action against New York City FC. (Chris Young/CP)

TORONTO — North American soccer slammed on the brakes Thursday in the face of the growing COVID-19 outbreak.

Major League Soccer suspended its season for 30 days, joining the NBA in downing tools.

"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 (CDC), Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and other public health authorities, and in the best interest of our fans, players, officials and employees," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.

A host of soccer organizations followed suit with one MLS team executive calling the turn of events "surreal."

— The USL Championship, the second-tier league in the U.S., also put a 30-day halt on its season.

— The governing body of soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean suspended CONCACAF Champions League play. Los Angeles FC was to have played Mexico’s Cruz Azul on Thursday evening.

— U.S. Soccer cancelled its upcoming men’s and women’s senior matches in March and April.

— The Mexican national team cancelled matches against the Czech Republic in Charlotte, N.C. on March 26 and Greece in Arlington, Texas, on March 29.

— The Canadian Soccer Association postponed naming its team for the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, set to begin play March 20 in Guadalajara, Mexico. CONCACAF said it was reviewing other upcoming competitions and would make a further public statement "in due course."

The Canadian Premier League is continuing its pre-season preparations, saying it is communicating with its clubs "regarding the appropriate measures to take as the situation continues to evolve."

"It is important to note that the CPL’s season does not start until April 11 and we are not playing in public venues at this time," the league said in a statement.

The Canadian men’s team, looking to collect valuable FIFA ranking points in its bid for the most direct route in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, is slated to host Trinidad and Tobago on March 27 and 31 in Langford, B.C.

"We’re reviewing it really on an hourly basis every day," said Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association. "We’re reviewing it with the local authorities. … We continually monitor it to make sure that the health and safety of our players and spectators are the No. 1 concern."

While the March games are in a FIFA international window, it seems unlikely they will go ahead with MLS on hiatus and clubs in Europe, where matches have been held in empty stadiums or postponed, likely unwilling to send players around the globe given current conditions.

MLS is in its third week of the season and has some leeway — at least on the calendar — having moved up the back end of the schedule in recent years.

Toronto FC players arrived at BMO Field for training Thursday, only to be told the session was cancelled and they should go home. The team, which was to host expansion Nashville SC on Saturday, did not make anyone available.

"Stay safe everyone," tweeted star striker Jozy Altidore.

TFC is owned by Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, which also owns the NBA Raptors and NHL Leafs. The soccer club has its own training centre in north Toronto.

The Whitecaps, who were to host Colorado on Saturday, also cancelled practice.

The Impact were on the field training before word broke that the CONCACAF Champions League also has been suspended. Montreal was slated to travel Sunday to Honduras for its quarterfinal against C.D. Olimpia on Tuesday.

"The safety of our players, staff and fans is our primary concern," Toronto FC president Bill Manning said in a statement. "We completely support the league’s decision."

There was no immediate word on what the players will do for the month.

The MLS Players Association said it "fully supports" the decision to suspend the season.

"We’re all one MLS family and ask that everyone please take the precautionary measures necessary to keep themselves and each other safe," it said in a statement.

U.S. Soccer also cancelled most of its youth and senior camps planned through the end of April.

"We have been in communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state and local departments of public health, and after those conversations and continuously monitoring the situation, we strongly believe this is the best decision considering the ongoing worldwide health situation," U.S. Soccer chief medical officer George Chiampas said in a statement.

The U.S. women were scheduled to play Australia on April 10 in Sandy, Utah, and Brazil on April 14 in San Jose, Calif. The men were to face the Netherlands on March 26 in Eindhoven and Wales on March 30 in Cardiff.

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