Portland Timbers GM Gavin Wilkinson: MLS return to training will be team-by-team

Portland Timbers training

With most of the sports world on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans are being made by leagues for how to safely transition back to the game.

Bundesliga clubs in Germany have returned to training in small groups as they hope to play to resume soon. One potential date in Germany is May 9, but it could be later than that. Training in small groups is the first step on the path to competitive matches taking place again, something MLS understands.

Portland Timbers GM Gavin Wilkinson said on Thursday that the league is in constant communication with clubs over the subject of how teams can safely return to training when the time is right, keeping in line with local governments and the CDC. 

"We're starting to look individualized return to training, obviously that's relative to local governments, CDC," Wilkinson told reporters on a video call. "It's relative to what the stay at home order is. There are very strong guidelines that MLS has in place and are looking to get approval on. That should come out in the near future. We're looking at other countries, what they've been able to do and how they're progressing."

The league has a number of subcommittees working on the task. One is focused on how to return to play and another on scheduling, to name a few. 

"Once all the protocols are signed off on, the stay at home orders have been removed, I think it'll be team by team (returning to training)," Wilkinson said. "It'll be individualized, where you're adhering to social distancing."

MLS paused after two weeks of the 2020 season and play is currently suspended through at least June 8.

“For us individualized training sessions, if we can get to that, is the first step as far as optimism in getting back to small groups," Wilkinson said. "Then team trainings in order to play games.”

Many scenarios are being discussed about how a return to play could be facilitated.

One option that most leagues around the world are considering would be playing games without fans, as health leaders recommend against large gatherings. On the economic side, that's difficult for some leagues where matchday revenue makes up a large percentage of the bottom line. MLS, Wilkinson says, would be able to navigate that with how the business is structured. 

“While every league is structured differently around the world, I think MLS has balance between tickets, sponsorships, the commercial side versus the spectator side," Wilkinson said. "So with MLS, there’s a necessity to play games and there’s a hope to play the entire season.”