By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Mar 30, 2020) US Soccer Players – The coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a halt. With people forced to stay home because of the contagion and life as normal interrupted, sports leagues have also come to a stop. Where does that leave these leagues once the virus subsides and life gets back to normal?
It is difficult to predict the future, although the outbreak's spread in Europe a few weeks before North America does offer up a crystal ball into what could happen here once fewer people become infected. Once life does return to the way it was before, what will the soccer calendar look like? The domestic season across Europe needs to be completed. The Champions League is frozen in the Round of 16, along with the Europa League.
Closer to home, MLS, which had just kicked off its 25th anniversary season, had played only two matchdays before suspending the season. Also in a lurch are knockout tournaments such as the Concacaf Champions League and the US Open Cup.
What will the calendar look like in the coming month and what form will these tournaments take should the virus subside? There are plenty of scenarios. Should the virus continues in its current form, all these competitions would have to be suspended and no champions crowned. Should government and health officials allow for things to resume by the summer, the soccer calendar could look radically different.
With the European Championship, Copa America, and Olympics all postponed to the summer of 2021, the months of June and July have liberated themselves of National Team commitments. That paves the way for club competitions, both national and continental, to resume. Here's what could happen to the leagues that matter most to Americans:
Europe's big five leagues, the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga, and Ligue 1, have all been affected by COVID-19. While Italy and Spain have seen the most cases in Europe thus far, it is very unlikely those seasons could resume. That leaves the champion and relegation up in the air.
In England, a national lockdown has also forced the suspension of the Premier League, Championship, and all of English soccer. The title race was all but a forgone conclusion. In theory, that means Liverpool could be awarded the crown with little argument from the rest of the league. The promotion/relegation fight with no further games could mean an enlarged Premier League next season from the current 20 to 23. That would mean the top three of Leeds United, West Brom, and Fulham automatically advancing from the Championship. Which teams qualify for Europe, however, would be a lot more difficult to determine.
If the situation improves, the season could resume in England, and across Europe, with games played either behind closed doors or with fans throughout the summer. The aim would be for the seasons to end by the end of July so that teams can have a short break and begin a new season in September.
Like the domestic leagues, the knockout stage of the Champions League and the Europa League could go ahead midweek as if it were the spring. UEFA has tossed out proposals that would make the Champions League and its 12 remaining teams the centerpiece of the summer's TV viewing with games every few days. However, national federations would likely protest the move since it would interfere with their potentially reformatted schedules.
The Champions League final, slated for May 30 in Istanbul, Turkey, has already been postponed. The scenario that a new champion is crowned later in the summer is both appealing and would be the biggest sign of a return to global normalcy.
UEFA also has to worry about scheduling the preliminary rounds of its European competitions, which usually starts in mid-June and stretches for the duration of the summer. That could mean that for the first time in soccer history that two seasons would occur simultaneously. As a result, the summer transfer season would need altering. That's something FIFA has yet to address fully as the situation changes day-to-day.
Major League Soccer has the least to worry about considering its season had just gotten underway. Although the financial ramifications of not playing an entire season would be largely devastating to a variety of teams and the league as a whole. Other leagues along the US soccer pyramid, like the NPSL, have canceled their season. The USL and MASL also remain on hold.
For MLS, various scenarios can play out depending on when the season resumes. Should the season return in July, the league could play a shortened schedule of about half the normal amount and still hold the playoffs and MLS Cup Final on November 7. The championship game could also be moved to December since the league has traditionally held the match in that month in recent years. MLS Commissioner Don Garber, in an interview last week on ESPN, said the league intended to play the entire 34-game regular season and push the playoffs into winter.
What if that isn't possible? Another potential scenario, should lockdown orders extend into the late summer, could mean transforming the regular season into an NCAA basketball-style knockout tournament (potentially based on 2019 final standings and the two games played thus far in 2020) with all 26 teams involved. It would be a very different type of tournament, but one that could draw immense interest while also crowning a champion.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- 5 USMNT players in the Eredivisie
- The USMNT U-23s wait for an Olympic chance
- Remembering Fred Shields, a soccer role model for Harrison, NJ
- Q&A with Red Bulls midfielder Alex Muyl
Photo by Fabrizio Carabelli - LPS via ZUMA Wire - ISIPhotos.com