With Minnesota United’s scheduled home opener just three days away, Major League Soccer on Thursday followed the NBA’s game-changing decision from the night before and suspended its season — for 30 days — because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Those 30 days include Sunday’s home opener against New York Red Bulls at Allianz Field, and successive home games March 21 against Montreal, April 4 against San Jose and April 11 against L.A. Galaxy.
On a day when the NHL also suspended its season, Major League Baseball delayed its start and the NCAA canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, MLS Commissioner Don Garber called his league’s decision “in the best interest of our fans, players, officials and employees.”
It was made upon the recommendation of national and local health officials in an attempt to slow the virus’ spread.
The season’s suspension will disrupt game and training schedules for a Loons team that started its season with two road victories. It also will affect the franchise’s revenues and its stadium “Brew Hall” business as well as individuals who work gameday operations at Allianz Field and local businesses that rely significantly on gameday supporters. The impact all around depends how long the suspension lasts and how much season the league can still salvage.
All tickets purchased for Sunday’s home opener and subsequent postponed home games will be honored when the games have been rescheduled. The team said it will update any changes as the situation evolves.
“We’ll certainly take a pretty big hit,” said Wes Burdine, owner of the Black Hart of St. Paul bar a quarter-mile from Allianz Field’s front door. “This is a place where supporters come together, and they get ready for the game. They celebrate the game. They mourn the game. So having a Sunday afternoon when we can have a pregame and then karaoke afterward, all of that is a long time for people hanging out here on a Sunday afternoon.”
Loons players had a scheduled day off Thursday and were set to train Friday for Sunday’s opener. Their training schedule this next month now is undetermined and dependent a number of factors involving MLS, the league’s players union, health officials and others.
Minnesota United goalkeeper Tyler Miller celebrated his 27th birthday Thursday with a tweet that read, “27 is off to a wild start already.”
In a statement, the team said it “fully supports” MLS’ decision because of what it called the “rapidly evolving situation” regarding the virus.
“We as a club believe the health and safety of our community, our fans, players and staff is of the utmost importance,” the statement read. “We will continue to work with MLS and the Minnesota Department of Health on next steps. We look forward to welcoming our community and all fans and stakeholders back to Allianz Field in 2020.”
In its own release, MLS said it will continue to assess the virus’ impact through its medical task force and public health officials. The statement said the league and clubs will update their status at the “appropriate time.”
“Our clubs were united today in the decision to temporarily suspend our season,” Garber said in the statement, adding the decision was based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Agency of Canada and other public-health authorities.
The league decision came less than 24 hours after Minnesota United announced that it would play Sunday as scheduled. The team said it would expand sanitation measures at the stadium, but also that it would continue to monitor the situation.
“I think MLS and the team made a good decision here,” Burdine said. “My hope is if they make a drastic decision now, a month or two from now we’ll be able to come back and people will be able to go out and feel safer. Hopefully, our business will make up for it and people will miss each other so much, they’ll come out looking to drink together when this is over.”
The season’s suspension length will determine whether MLS extends its regular season by four or more games or tries to make up games lost by playing as many midweek games as possible.
“Weekend games are better, but even away games for people to come and watch are a really big deal for us,” said Burdine, who bought the bar in 2018. Burdine called business Thursday and in recent days “good,” but he also acknowledged how important financially game days are — particularly weekend games.
“Coming out of the winter, we really look forward to soccer as a really big part of what we do here,” Burdine said.