Sources MLS plans shorter time frame for return-to-play tournament in Orlando

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Sources MLS plans shorter time frame for return-to-play tournament in Orlando

11:32 AM ET

  • Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent

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      Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.

Major League Soccer is in the process of altering its plans for its proposed return-to-play tournament in Orlando so that the event will fit within a shorter time frame, multiple sources with knowledge of the league’s thinking told ESPN.

MLS has been shut down since March 12, and earlier this month had its teams begin voluntary individual workouts as long as they didn’t conflict with local stay-at-home restrictions. In that time, the league has been working on return-to-play scenarios.

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With cities around the country loosening stay-at-home restrictions, MLS is now thinking of having teams remain in their home markets until around June 21, at which point the teams would decamp for Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando (ESPN is owned by the Walt Disney Co.) and stay there for a little more than a month.

The teams would then take part in a group stage comprised of five matches, followed by a knockout stage. The group-stage games would count in the regular-season standings.

The league declined to comment, and the MLS Players Association (MLSPA) did not respond to ESPN’s request for comment.

If the new proposal is implemented, it would allow players to spend considerably more time in their home markets. The league’s previous plan required teams to head to Orlando in early June, and practice for three to four weeks in a bid to return to game fitness. Such an approach would have meant that players and staff would be out of market for upwards of 10 weeks. This aspect of the proposal resulted in considerable pushback from the MLSPA, especially as it relates to those players with spouses and children.

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One stumbling block is that three MLS teams — the Chicago Fire, D.C. United and the San Jose Earthquakes — haven’t yet been allowed to begin individual workouts due to local stay-at-home restrictions. It’s possible that the three teams could travel to Orlando earlier in June in a bid to create more of a level playing field.

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) on Wednesday announced its plan to return to action, with a 25-game tournament beginning on June 27 in Salt Lake City, Utah. It becomes the first U.S. league in a team sport to resume play since the coronavirus pandemic put leagues on hiatus around the world.

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MLS is also negotiating cuts to player compensation with the MLSPA. The league’s latest offer was delivered to the union last Friday, one that included a 10% salary cut across the board, as well as a plans to insert force majeure clauses — which would allow the league to institute unilateral salary cuts in the event of a pandemic. The proposal also asks the MLSPA to delay by one year a revenue-sharing agreement based on a new domestic broadcast rights deal scheduled to begin in 2023.

Sources also told ESPN that the MLSPA is weighing its own counteroffer that would include a 7.5% salary cut, although it isn’t known whether the offer has been voted on by the union membership.