FC Dallas’ players and staff will sit alone in their hotel rooms thinking about what could have been as the MLS is Back Tournament kicks off on Wednesday. One big question is were FC Dallas the outlier or just unfortunate to be the Orlando Pride of MLS’ return to play?
FC Dallas wasn’t the first team to have a positive test for COVID-19. Philadelphia’s Kacper Przybylko tested positive in late March, two months before Jesus Ferreira became the second MLS player to contract the novel Coronavirus.
A spate of positive results that began shortly before departing for Orlando were effectively FC Dallas’ undoing. Fafa Picault and Brandon Servania tested positive nine days before the team was due to leave Frisco. While Picault stayed in North Texas, Servania recovered and was eligible to travel.
While other teams have delayed travel due to players testing positive close to their planned departures, FC Dallas pressed ahead as the third team to enter the Orlando bubble on June 27.
The final three teams – LAFC, Toronto, and Colorado – only flew into Orlando International Airport a few hours after FC Dallas had been withdrawn from the tournament on Monday.
I asked FC Dallas President Dan Hunt about the subject on a conference call. Hunt weighed up a delayed departure against the extra preparation time for the tournament as he explained how he felt his side was simply unlucky with the timing.
“If we’d left a couple days later potentially [the situation could have been averted] but that would have put us much closer against our first match and that’s not what the group wanted to do, and I applaud their preparation.” said Hunt.
Although the virus can take up to two weeks to present, the median time from exposure according to the CDC is 4-5 days. The positive tests recorded on June 27 after arriving in Orlando (2), June 28 (1), June 30 (3), and July 1 (4) would almost certainly have resulted from exposure to the virus in Dallas.
All teams are subjected to immediate testing and a 12-hour quarantine upon arrival. With the length of time to obtain results, teams are holding their first training session prior to receiving their initial test results. On Sunday, June 28, FC Dallas trained with players who tested positive.
Similarly, the Montreal Impact abandoned their first session after finding out that a participating player had an inconclusive result.
While Dallas is certainly been the clubhouse leader in number of positive cases, Nashville SC has had five positive cases since arriving. Dallas has been the only team to have to undergo full isolation, although Nashville’s opening game in the tournament has been postponed.
Preparation for the tournament underwent changes as the league negotiated with the MLS Players’ Association. The original plan saw a minimum of two weeks in Orlando prior to this week’s opening games, as well as a quarantine in-market. The added time meant players would be away from their families for longer, and was negotiated down to a minimum arrival of one week prior to a team’s first fixture with no in-market quarantine.
Without quarantine, players – and the teams as a collective – must show discipline to reduce the chance of an outbreak. As many of us have practiced social distancing, kept up with hand hygiene and face covering, and largely avoided public settings, those same daily decisions are imperative to the health of the squad.
We may never know for sure, but with little else to do until they depart, you can guarantee the players and staff are looking for answers as to how much luck and judgement played in their failure to compete in MLS’ return.