If anyone is fully versed in the delicate nature of sport in a pandemic, it is the people in and around FC Dallas. The team – along with Nashville SC – faced a dozen positive cases and an unceremonious exit from the Orlando bubble before the MLS is Back Tournament got underway.
A further reminder of 2020’s uncertainty came last week as two Minnesota United players tested positive for Covid-19 to force the postponement of Sunday’s home game.
On one hand, the postponement presented extra rest for some tired Dallas legs and minds coming towards the latter stages of a grueling 89-day schedule that averaged a game every four days.
On the other hand, FCD’s plans went up in smoke as new training sessions were hastily arranged to replace the recovery-only schedule that the team is restricted to on short weeks.
For players desperate to get back on track, it’s another four days where the last result was a crushing loss to the team’s arch-rival.
“It’s mixed because I felt we were definitely very ready for that game and we built up to that day in a very positive way,” said Luchi Gonzalez of any disappointment in not playing over the weekend. “You can sense that with the players. You always get that sense before a game, their momentum, their mentality, their hunger, and I felt the players showed that but it’s something we can’t control. It’s nothing we haven’t gone through before already.”
While FCD’s game was one of three to be shelved over the weekend, the situation in Colorado seems to all but confirm the already-shortened season may see some further adjustment.
The Rapids’ fourth consecutive game was postponed after an outbreak that has seen 18 positive cases at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, with MLS and authorities in Colorado stepping in to stop the next three games.
“I doubt these games are going to get made up because of the schedule,” Gonzalez told reporters on Monday. “So unless the playoffs are pushed back, my guess is there is going to be some level of points per game. I don’t know if it’s for all the games or if certain games get docked or not. We’re learning here, I’m getting info every day from ownership, from technical leadership, to see what the league is thinking. I just hope whatever is decided that it’s fair.”
Two of Colorado’s seven postponed games have been rescheduled, but the team already has five games scheduled for the final two weeks before Decision Day with five more to find space for. This likely leaves MLS to finish the season short – something, as Luchi Gonzalez mentioned, FC Dallas has seen before.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, MLS canceled the final weeks of the regular season. With only one game separating teams and no play-off places decided by fewer than seven points, points per game (PPG) would only play a minor role in deciding seedings.
Incidentally, Dallas received the only boost from PPG, finishing ahead of Kansas City who sat a point ahead in the standings after playing an extra game. Although the PPG kept Dallas away from Supporters’ Shield winners, Miami Fusion, fierce rivals Chicago Fire were a close second and took the three-game series with two wins and a tie.
This time it could be one of Dallas’ historic rivals who receive the benefit if PPG is used to determine the conference standings.
The Colorado Rapids are only ahead of Houston on a tiebreaker as the pair chase the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. If the table switches to PPG the Rapids would leapfrog Dallas to fifth, with an LAFC loss potentially being all that separates the Rapids from hosting a playoff game under the new single-elimination format.
“Knowing that it can come down to points per game, every game now is important,” explained Gonzalez. “If there’s certain teams that don’t play for the rest of the season, and it’s points per game, they’re pretty much going to be guaranteed playoffs because they ended with a few wins. We need to capitalize and and not wait to the last few games to win. We need to do it now.”
Despite positive cases in six teams over the past two weeks, it’s believed that Major League Soccer is not looking to bring about another bubble for its playoffs. With cost and a lack of player-support factoring, it seems likely that the current model of same-day travel will continue into the post season.
“[Our] last bubble experience was not a positive one,” said Gonzalez. “So I’m gonna be in favor of continue to do what we’re doing and travel in same day and try to play the game same day.”
Gonzalez’s side stood trial in the court of public opinion after its outbreak in June, with claims of irresponsibility and Taylor Twellman’s infamous pondering on whether the consumption of Cheez-Its – an MLS sponsor – was the root cause for Dallas’ Disney woes.
FCD’s second-year head coach looks past any vindication as others find out that there isn’t a foolproof way to maintain each team’s bubble.
“I wish Colorado the best, I wish Minnesota quick recoveries with their players, I wish Columbus the same,” said Gonzalez. “What we went through was tough and there were some opinions about that. People that didn’t know anything about us or how we really prepared well for Orlando, but these things happen and those things can’t bother us. We’ve got to keep doing the best we can here in Dallas, and wish everyone good health so we can compete and do what we love to do.”