MLS is close to finalizing a return to play via a tournament in Orlando featuring all 26 teams. But, before the league can get back to matches, players will need to get back up to speed with full team training for the first time since a training moratorium was put in place upon the suspension of the season on March 12.
The ability to do that rests on securing requisite COVID-19 testing. And MLS has a plan for all that, as President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott relayed to reporters on a video conference call on Wednesday.
"We’re looking forward to our teams to get back to full team training," Abbott said, before laying out just how that will happen, over three phases.
The first phase of training was launched on an individual player basis, and clubs were given clearance to begin these voluntary workouts on May 6. Testing was not required due to players being on their own and socially distanced at all times. The second phase occurs in small group training, which the league gave the green-light to clubs to commence on Monday, June 1. That doesn't require testing either, as the groups (no more than six players) are socially distanced at all times, too.
Phase three is full team training, in which full testing will be required. Clubs will be in charge of providing testing when they are in-market, prior to leaving for Orlando.
“There’s three key issues," Abbott said. "First is that clubs have to have testing capacity to test players, second is that they have local government approvals [to return to training] and third is a variety of protocols, in terms of sanitized facilities and PPE (personal protective equipment)."
Once in Orlando, MLS will provide testing. Tests will be conducted when players and staff arrive, then continuously throughout the tournament.
Specific competition details for the tournament have not yet been revealed, with dates and competition format set to be announced in the coming days.