Sources: MLS teams could forfeit over COVID

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Teams that suffer from an outbreak of the coronavirus during the MLS Cup playoffs will likely be forced to forfeit their match, and thus exit the postseason, sources have told ESPN.

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Major League Soccer has completed its protocol for the playoffs, and included in that document is how it handles outbreaks of COVID-19 within one of the participating teams. One source with knowledge of the situation stated that MLS will make every effort to reschedule games in which one or both of the teams is suffering from a COVID-19 outbreak.

But MLS is operating under a compressed schedule due in part to the pandemic, and the postseason is set to conclude with MLS Cup on Dec. 12. That gives the league little in the way of flexibility in terms of rescheduling games.

The source said that if a game cannot be rescheduled, the team with the COVID-19 outbreak would be forced to withdraw from the postseason, allowing the team free of COVID-19 to advance. If both teams are dealing with an outbreak, the team with the higher points per game average during the regular season would be the one to advance.

MLS has been combating the pandemic all season. The campaign was originally shut down on March 12 with just the first two weeks of the regular season having been played. MLS resumed its season in July with the MLS is Back tournament held at the Wide World of Sports complex on the grounds of the Walt Disney World resort. (ESPN is owned by the Walt Disney Co.)

At the conclusion of the tournament, MLS opted for a modified regular season that reduced the number of games from 34 to 23. Most teams resumed playing in their home markets, with the league’s three Canadian teams — the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps — forced to play “home” games in the U.S. due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada.

Since Sept. 25, MLS has had to cancel or postpone 11 matches due to outbreaks of COVID-19, primarily due to an outbreak within the Colorado Rapids organization that saw five players and 13 staff members test positive. Overall, seven games were canceled, forcing MLS to utilize points per game to determine where teams finished in the conference standings.

The playoffs are scheduled to begin this Friday with a pair of play-in games. New England Revolution will host the Impact while Nashville SC will take on Inter Miami CF.