For the first time since match play was suspended March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Soccer action will resume July 8 with the historic and unprecedented MLS is Back Tournament. This one-of-a-kind competition will see all 26 clubs descend on ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, marking the emphatic return of men's professional soccer in the United States after a near four-month hiatus.
As the opening match approaches, SportingKC.com is presenting a 20-day preview of the World-Cup style tournament from June 18 through July 7 called Countdown to MLS is Back presented by Children's Mercy Sports Medicine Center.
Sporting Kansas City will kick off their Group D campaign on July 12 against rivals Minnesota United FC before facing the Colorado Rapids on July 17 and Real Salt Lake on July 22, with all three games shown live nationally on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and the ESPN app. To visit the series homepage as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/MLSisBack.
Played amidst a pandemic, the MLS is Back Tournament can only be staged with stringent health and safety protocols in place. Sporting Kansas City's traveling delegation to Orlando—consisting of players, technical staff and support staff totaling around 47 people—will undergo regular COVID-19 testing while following a series of health and safety guidelines during their stay. We provide all the details for tournament participants in the space below.
Testing and travel to Orlando
All 26 MLS clubs will have traveled to Orlando via charter plane. Prior to making the trip, all essential members of a club delegation must undergo two PCR tests 24 hours apart. Players also undergo a baseline serology test as part of a physical exam that includes a temperature check and the completion of a screening questionnaire. PCR tests detect an active COVID-19 infection, typically via a nasal swab or saliva test. Serology tests, also known as antibody tests, detect the presence of antibodies in response to a COVID-19 infection.
Individuals who test PCR positive will not travel and will be isolated and overseen by club medical staff. Contact tracing will also be triggered to identify close contacts. Individuals who test PCR negative but serology positive may travel to Orlando if they are asymptomatic.
Arrival in Orlando
Upon arrival in Florida, all individuals immediately receive an additional PCR test. Players may begin training and staff may begin working only upon receipt of a negative result from the first PCR test in Orlando.
Testing in Orlando
During an individual’s first two weeks in Orlando, that person will be tested every other day. After those first 14 days, players, coaches and PRO staff will be tested regularly, including the day before each matchday.
In addition, self-temperature screenings and the completion of standardized screening questionnaires will be required for all individuals traveling to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex or providing services at the hotel and convention center where MLS league and club personnel will be staying.
A positive response to the daily questionnaire or a temperature check above 100.3 degrees must be reported and the individual in question will be isolated immediately and PCR testing will be performed.
In addition to the screenings and testing described above, an MLS task force has worked with leading experts to create guidelines and best practices to help reduce risk and prevent spread of COVID-19. These include:
- Wearing face coverings / face masks;
- Social distancing;
- General hygiene (Ex. avoid touching face, washing hands frequently, avoid sharing food, bottles, towels or equipment);
- Cleaning and sanitization (disinfecting surfaces).
The Walt Disney World Resort and the Swan and Dolphin Hotel will be providing enhanced cleaning of all venues and enforcing appropriate capacity-management and other social distancing guidelines.
General hygiene measures extend to the field for official matches:
- Players, coaches and officials are asked to exercise care when spitting or clearing their nose;
- Players, coaches and officials on the bench or technical area are required to wear masks and practice social distancing to the extent possible;
- Players involved in the game are asked not to exchange jerseys or kiss the ball;
- Masks or face shield protections should be used during press conferences or flash interviews.
Protocol for a positive COVID-19 test
If an individual develops COVID-19 symptoms, that person must first contact club medical staff via text, email or phone. An on-site telehealth physician will provide an evaluation, and next steps will be determined including potential isolation, testing or hospitalization.
If an individual tests positive as part of routine testing, that person will be relocated to an isolation area after evaluation by an on-site telehealth physician.
Isolation requires relocation to a room in a designated area of the hotel and that relocation would occur under a strict and detailed protocol to minimize the risk of transmission. The individual would remain in isolation and would be monitored daily and tested routinely.
A test-based plan or symptom-based plan will determine an individual's timeline for a return to play or work. Using the test-based plan, an individual can return to activity once the person is asymptomatic and tests PCR negative twice in a span of 24 hours. The symptom-based plan takes into account the days elapsed since the resolution of fever and the number of days since symptoms first appeared.
In either case, players who test positive will be required to undergo cardiac testing (high-sensitivity troponin, EKG and echocardiogram) before receiving final clearance from club medical staff to return to training.
Contact tracing is also mandatory in case of a positive COVID-19 test. This process identifies close contacts: individuals who spent at least 10 minutes within six feet of a person who has tested positive or is presumed positive. Those close contacts will also be tested and they can continue to train or work as long as they wear a face mask at all times when not competing, remain asymptomatic and continue to test negative.
Hospital visits unrelated to COVID-19
Any player who suffers an injury will be evaluated by his club’s medical staff. If hospitalization is required, MLS has identified hospitals and facilities in close proximity to team hotels and training fields.
After receiving hospital treatment unrelated to COVID-19, the player will not be required to isolate unless he becomes symptomatic or tests positive for COVID-19. If the player is identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, that player will quarantine until the results of the first PCR test are obtained.
If the player can no longer play or train due to injury, a decision on potential travel home will be made jointly by MLS and the club.
Teams will revert to existing league and club health and safety protocols when they return to their home market. These protocols were created in line with guidelines established by local public health and local government entities.