ORLANDO, Fla. – The first major league soccer team is scheduled to arrive in Orlando Wednesday afternoon for the “MLS is Back” tournament, marking the first steps in the return of soccer since the coronavirus pandemic forced the league to suspended activity.
The San Jose Earthquakes will be the first team to arrive in the City Beautiful. Other clubs are expected to trickle in over the weekend as MLS plans its return to scheduled matches. Orlando City is scheduled to arrive at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex Thursday.
“Our tournament is more of a world cup style event, Caesar Lopez, CAO and Chief Legal Officer for Orlando City Soccer Club, said. “All eyes, not only the sports world, will be here in Orlando and looking at the quality of competition we can provide.”
According to MLS, clubs can send around 45 personnel, including players and staff, and can conduct full team training in their markets pursuant to the league’s medical and testing protocols must arrive no later than seven days before their first match. The tournament is scheduled from July 8 through Aug. 11 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort. The regular season is scheduled to continue after the tournament.
Sky 6 flew over the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex as lines were painted on soccer fields, as part of the preparations leading up to games.
Putting a fresh coat of paint on the fields at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at @WaltDisneyWorld. @SJEarthquakes expected to arrive in Orlando today (@OrlandoCitySC tomorrow) for #MLS tournament beginning on July 8th. #MLSisBack https://t.co/IHn6lNPAL2 pic.twitter.com/fsiAzBGIhl— Clay LePard (@ClayLePardNews6) June 24, 2020
MLS games were originally suspended March 12 to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Now three months later, teams are arriving preparing for the preseason as Florida is seeing a resurgence in coronavirus cases.
At the end of July, the NBA is expected to resume its season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex as well.
NBA media reports suggest players must tell their teams by Wednesday if they intend to play or not in Orlando.
“This will be a three month period where the NBA universe will be centered on Orange County and Orlando,” Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said during an Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force Meeting Wednesday. “A regular testing regiment was begun yesterday for those traveling to Walt Disney World. There will be traveling parties of 35 people total for each of our teams.”
The Florida Department of Health reported a record number of 5,511 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday. The MLS has made it clear that all teams must comply with the health and safety guidelines outlined by the league before they can begin training.
The league’s medical department, infectious disease specialists and public health officials helped built screening and prevention efforts to help keep teams safe as they prepare for the return of soccer in Orlando.
Before traveling to Central Florida, all 26 MLS clubs and essential members must get tested for COVID-19 twice and get an antibody test a part of an adjusted physical exam that includes a temperature check and a screening questionnaire.
Once teams arrive in Florida, all club members will immediately receive another coronavirus test. They can begin training after they’ve tested negative, according to MLS protocol.
Within the first two weeks in Orlando, individuals will be tested every other day. After those first 14 days, players, coaches and staff will be tested regularly, including the day before each matchday.
Martins said the NBA plans to test players and staff daily while they stay and play on Disney property.
"Everyone is going to be encouraged to stay on the campus and not learn the campus at Walt Disney World," Martins said. "If they were to leave, they will be quarantined for a number of days."
At no point during the NBA and MLS presentation and Q&A session to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force did the statewide rise in positive coronavirus cases come up.