The Revolution and the rest of Major League Soccer are expected to get back to work this week after the league’s investor/operators and the Player’s Association came to an agreement on a modified Collective Bargaining Agreement last week.
That, plus the league lifting its moratorium on full squad training on Thursday, has the American first division primed to return to action next month with a World Cup-style tournament in Orlando, Fla.
The league’s decision coincided with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s announcement that pro sports teams in the Commonwealth — the Revs, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins, the four teams impacted by the March shutdown of their respective leagues — could resume training sessions within state boundaries.
All of this was welcomed by Revolution head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena this week.
“First of all, we’re all happy to be back at work. I’m happy that the league and the players’ union came to an agreement,” Arena said. “Our players came back on Thursday and they were very excited to be back in training. We look forward to moving from group training, certainly, to full team training and getting our team ready for Orlando.
“Let’s be fair — this has been a very difficult time with COVID-19 and the Governor has done a remarkable job in dealing with the safety and welfare of the citizens in Massachusetts. The state and local authorities have been outstanding. In a perfect world, we would have preferred to be on the field earlier, but we completely understand the issues involved and safety first. I think the Governor has done an outstanding job and we appreciate this wonderful gesture.”
Players were able to voluntarily train at their respective outdoor training facilities over the last month, but doing so in a socially distant setting: players had their own quadrant of the pitch to work in, and there was no sharing of equipment.
Those restrictions are now lifted — to a point. Teams were allowed small group training on Thursday, with full squad training expected this week.
Yet while first teams are free to train, the moratorium has not been lifted at the Academy level.
“I think it’s more productive mentally maybe than physically, but obviously both. It helps,” Arena said. “We need to eventually advance this training into full-team training so we can prepare to play games. It’s very difficult in our sport to rely on this. In baseball, you can be in a batting cage. In basketball, you can do a lot of shooting, which is a little bit more relatable to what they’re doing in games. In soccer, there’s a lot of issues, so we need to eventually prepare our team to get on the field full time.”
And much like with the voluntary training, this new normal in MLS will come with new protocols, such as that locker rooms and meal areas will see social distancing in place. In the changing room, individual lockers will be 10 feet apart. Showers will be cleaned after each session; the same goes for the weight rooms and fitness areas.
“(The protocols are) very different,” Arena said. “As I mentioned with what the Governor has done, the league has done the same thing. They’re very cautious about not having teams jump into full training too soon. It’s safety first. We’re being smart about it. It’s a safe environment for the players, and that’s our number one priority.
“Full-team training will be a big step. We’re in the process now of testing all our players and staff, and hopefully everybody gets clear and by next week we’ll be back to full-team training. At the end of the day, the only way to prepare a team to play games is to actually get them all on the field and playing soccer. We’ve really been away from that since the beginning of March, so we’re hopeful that we can get going as soon as possible and we can make up all this lost time.”
The current plan, of course, is to see teams make their way to Orlando for a resumption of the 2020 MLS season, with a World Cup-style tournament that’ll start in July. As of now, the format and the number of minimum matches played for each team is up in the air — and so, too, is what happens to games after the tournament concludes.
“Our goal is to play the season in 2020,” MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott told the league website. “There’s an opportunity to go into even deeper December than we were before … I don’t think we’re looking at playing any of the regular season in 2021—possibly some playoff games. But the first choice is to complete it in calendar 2020.”
As of Sunday, 14 Revolution matches — nine at home, five away — have been postponed due to COVID-19, and next Sunday, June 14, would have marked the halfway point in the 2020 campaign.
Tickets for Revolution home matches will be honored on their rescheduled date. Should the game not be played or played without spectators, the ticket holder will receive either credit for a future game, or a refund.
Revs II, the club’s USL League One outfit, is expected to return to training soon, with that schedule to provisionally kick off on July 18.
The new club was expected to start its maiden season on March 28.
As of now, the competition format has not been announced, with the re-framed schedule to be announced within the next couple of weeks.
The USL Championship will kick off a week earlier.
ICYMI: Arena spent a few minutes with NESN’s Tom Caron earlier this week.
The Tidewater Landing project in Pawtucket is now full steam ahead, following the Pawtucket City Council approving a lease agreement to build a 7,500-seat stadium along the Seeking River.
That stadium is expected to draw a USL Championship team to the Ocean State.
My Blue Level colleague Tanner Rebelo has more on those developments here at Trifecta Sports.
In England, the Premier League — and Liverpool’s chase for its first top-flight title in 30 years — will return to action on Wednesday, June 17, with two matches slated: Aston Villa will host Sheffield United, while Manchester City with host Arsenal.
And with three-plus months off by the time matches resume, there is expected to be multiple quick turnarounds for teams. In response, the league will allow for a maximum of five substitutes — up from three — to account for recovery time.
Matches are currently scheduled through Thursday, July 2, and like in the German Bundesliga, all will be played without fans in attendance.