Following two straight postponed matches due to positive coronavirus cases in their player pool, Minnesota United FC and the rest of Major League Soccer are stuck in an uncomfortable situation. They have to acknowledge the health and safety concerns of players and staff while taking into account the congested schedule that leaves little to no room for rescheduling games.
With six matches to go until deadline day on Nov. 8, there are countless questions to be answered at the league level on how the 2020 playoffs will work, where they will take place and more. Locally there is uncertainty regarding Minnesota United’s schedule, positive COVID-19 cases among its players and if they will play Sunday against the Houston Dynamo.
I did my best to take those looming questions into account.
What is the status of Sunday’s home match against the Houston Dynamo?
- At this moment in time, Sunday’s match against the Dynamo is set to go ahead as scheduled. The Loons and the Dynamo have gone head-to-head twice already this season, with Houston winning the first match 3-0 and a 2-2 draw in their second meeting.
- The match, which is set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Allianz Field, is coming on the coldest day of the year in the Twin Cities since April. The temperature at kickoff is going to be an estimated 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Former Loons Darwin Quintero and Christian Ramirez are set to return against their former side while both teams clash in search of three points in an attempt to climb the Western Conference table.
Which MNUFC players have contracted Covid-19 and What is their status?
Teams are not required to disclose who has or who has not contracted the virus. At this moment in time, it’s unknown which players have contracted COVID-19. As of this moment, though, the entire player-pool is in quarantine due to an additional suspected positive test Wednesday evening. The status of those who have contracted the virus is still unknown at this point.
How and when would the Loons reschedule their two postponed matches?
There is unequivocally a problem with schedule congestion in MLS right now. Some teams are playing three matches within the span of 7 days, which is a heavy toll on the players. When looking at this congested schedule, there are limited openings for teams to make up matches.
It does not seem like it will be feasible for MNUFC to schedule a rematch with FC Dallas based on both teams’ schedules. The Loons are set to host FCD again, though, on decision day on Nov. 8; the final day of the regular season. However, there are two dates between both the Chicago Fire and Minnesota United that would work for a match-replay: Oct. 21 and Nov. 4.
Could a playoff bubble be in play, similar to the MLS is Back tournament in July?
In terms of player safety, a playoff bubble would absolutely be the correct decision. However, there are massive concerns this late into the 2020 campaign. If a playoff bubble was indeed their intention, they would probably go back to Disney World in Orlando. Teams are familiar with the facilities, the fields and the overall experience there.
The tournament back in July was framed as a success, even though two teams (Nashville and Dallas) were forced to be removed due to outbreaks among their players and staff. A playoff bubble would make the most sense if you want to play every single playoff game without worrying about postponements due to the virus.
If the choice to go inside a bubble is to be made, it will have to be made soon. There are only three weeks left in the regular season.
What would the Western Conference look like in a PPG format for playoff qualification?
Well, it wouldn’t look a whole lot different, honestly. However, there would be change, and change doesn’t come without controversy. If MLS were to move to a PPG qualification system, adjustments would be made. FCD would jump to 4th place, with the Colorado Rapids leapfrogging five spots in the table up to fifth, bumping MNUFC to 6th, LAFC to 7th and San Jose to 8th. A PPG format would exclude the Vancouver Whitecaps, who currently sit in eighth place. They would make the playoffs in a normal format.
The current active table, as of Oct 16, can be seen below. The “PPG” column can be seen right next to the “PTS” column in the graphic.
What does the format for the 2020 playoffs look like?
On September 11, MLS announced their format for the 2020 playoffs, which will consist of 18 teams — an increase from 14 teams in 2019. Eight teams from the 12-team Western Conference will automatically qualify to Round 1 of the playoffs. In the 14-team Eastern Conference, the top-six seeds will automatically qualify four Round 1, while the teams seeded 7-10 will go head-to-head in a play-in match. The two winners from those matches will conclude the final two teams to compete in Round 1 of the playoffs. The match and broadcast schedules have not been announced yet.
Once all 16 teams for round 1 are determined, seedings will be paired up with the highest seed playing the lowest seed.
What other teams have had matches postponed due to the Coronavirus?
The Colorado Rapids have had their past seven matches postponed from Sept. 27 to Oct. 21, which is 70% of the league’s postponed matches due to the coronavirus. In total, the league has postponed 10 matches due to positive COVID-19 tests among both staff and players.