EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The USL Championship Board of Governors voted in favor of resuming the 2020 season, with a provisional start date set for July 11th, per a statement released by league officials on Thursday.
While additional information on competition format, scheduling, broadcast, and other important details were not made available, the league’s return to play will be conducted in strict alignment with all local and state public health guidelines, according to a release issued by El Paso Locomotive FC.
USL Championship play was suspended in March after just one match due to COVID-19.
“The process to get to today’s vote has been a very deliberate and thoughtful one to ensure that, first and foremost, we proceed in a manner to appropriately manage the health and safety of all concerned,“ said MountainStar Sports Group President Alan Ledford. “This decision further solidifies and demonstrates the commitment of USL Championship to our communities and to establishing itself as a premier professional soccer league. On behalf of all of us associated with Locomotive FC, we thank our fans and this community for the amazing support we’ve received during a very challenging time for us all.”
Safety is at the forefront for the leagues, clubs and players. While details regarding measures to be taken are still in the works, it’s on the minds of everyone.
“We all understand and appreciate the importance and frankly, the priority of health and safety first,” said Ledford.
Connor Tobin, from the USL Players Association’s board of directors, agreed.
“I know that they’re continuing to do their due diligence and put things in front of players and we’re working on the players end to see their collective level of comfort,” said Tobin.
While Thursday’s vote is a step in the right direction, the USL Players Association released their own statement acknowledging their hope to restart the season, but that no agreement has been reached with the players.
“Today, the league notified us that their USL Championship Board of Governors elected to pursue a return to play for the 2020 Championship season with a provision start date of July 11,” the USLPA said in the statement. “While there has been no agreement reached regarding proposed economic relief or return to play protocols, we view today’s vote as a positive first step for the league in articulating what a season may look like. Players remain hopeful for a continuation of the 2020 season. We continue to work with all players to ensure that any potential return to play is done in a manner that is safe and responsible.”
The players would like to see widespread testing for COVID-19 in any scenario with which the league returns, because so many players have young families.
“For those players that’s a much bigger concern regarding if I contract it and give it to my wife who gives it to my kids, or I give it to my kids, that’s a much bigger concern for some players than others,” Locomotive FC goalkeeper Logan Ketterer told KTSM.
The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter is reporting that matches will not take place in a hub model like we’re seeing with the MLS, NHL, and NBA. This means teams will have to travel for road games.
Ledford told KTSM that a plan is in the works to limit the amount of travel, since the league isn’t planning on using a hub system.
“The goal is to adjust the divisions and the schedule to accomodate mainly bus travel,” said Ledford.
Fans in attendance is still up in the air because of all the different health and safety guidelines across the United States. Legally, Locomotive FC could host fans in the stands after Greg Abbott said on Thursday that professional and collegiate stadium could operate at 50% capacity.
Perhaps the biggest x-factor in the season’s re-start is an ongoing dispute over compensation. In short, he league wants to dock player’s pay to save money during the pandemic; the players, obviously, want to be paid their full salaries. KTSM covered the story extensively when the USLPA issued a counterproposal to the league on May 19.
While most clubs including Locomotive FC, have stepped up and are still paying the players in full, it could be a snag in the planned re-start.
“This isn’t a vote to say, ‘yes there will guaranteed be a season,’ it’s a vote to say, ‘this is what the season will look like if we continue down this road,” said Ketterer. “It’s great to see that the league has a desire to play a season; players just want to play no matter how many games it is.”
El Paso Locomotive FC returned to their practice facility last month for small group training. MountainStar Sports Group continues to pay their players and staff members their full salaries while play has been suspended.