D.C. United’s MLS match with Toronto postponed after positive and inconclusive coronavirus tests
It also renewed questions about U.S. sports leagues and universities going forward with competition amid the health crisis. The NBA is planning to restart its season late this month at the same sports complex that MLS is using; its players are staying in three Disney hotels.
“We believe the tournament can still be conducted safely,” MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said. “At the point we determine we can’t, obviously we would make a decision then.”
The abrupt postponement was not unlike the episode March 11 when the NBA game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder was called off minutes before tip-off because Utah’s Rudy Gobert had tested positive. The NBA then suspended the season, and other leagues followed suit.
Cleared by MLS to report to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, United arrived about 75 minutes before the scheduled 9 a.m. kickoff Sunday. Toronto remained at league headquarters, the Swan and Dolphin resort, where all teams are living in a bubble in an effort to avoid contracting the virus in a state that has been hard hit by the pandemic. On Sunday, Florida reported a national record of 15,300 new confirmed cases.
Under MLS’s health and safety protocols, clubs are tested every other day and the day before each match. Saturday’s tests for D.C. and Toronto “produced an initial unconfirmed positive covid-19 case for one player and an inconclusive test for another player,” the league said, referencing the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Abbott said a D.C. player tested positive and a Toronto player’s test was inconclusive. Citing privacy issues, the league does not share the names of such players. However, United forward Erik Sorga was the only conspicuous absence from the list of reserves on the match roster. Six players were not on Toronto’s roster, making it difficult to deduce who had the inconclusive test.
United officials said they did not want to comment. An unidentified D.C. player and a staff member tested positive last month while the team trained in Washington, but both recovered and traveled with the delegation. United also had two false positives last month (one player, one staff member).
After MLS learned of the results from Saturday’s tests, the affected players were retested. Those results came back negative but not before the match had been postponed. The two affected players must undergo additional testing and won’t play Monday, the league said.
Given the circumstances, MLS also decided to test everyone on both teams early Sunday. No one tested positive, the league said late in the day.
Earlier in the day, Abbott said: “There was an evaluation as to whether the game can move forward as to the fact all the other players had received negative results. The determination was made … that we should await the return of these tests that were done this morning before making a decision [about] rescheduling the game.”
It’s unclear why United went to the field and Toronto did not, although multiple people close to the situation said Toronto players did not want to go.
Speaking in general about the threat of the illness spreading, Abbott said, “We had established a set of protocols that are working as they were designed, which is to identify players that, if they had positive tests for covid-19, to remove and separate them from the team and isolate them but then to continue the process of testing the other players.”
Although team delegations are prohibited from leaving the resort or Disney property, hotel workers come and go. Despite numerous requests, neither MLS nor Disney has been willing to explain the testing and screening process for those employees.
In the cases of Dallas and Nashville, the league suspects that, despite the teams undergoing regular testing before they traveled, individuals carried the undetected virus with them to Florida.
The tournament began Wednesday. The D.C.-Toronto match was originally scheduled for Friday but was moved to Sunday because, amid testing issues at home, Toronto was late arriving in Florida.
With the match now set for Monday (on ESPN2), the league pushed back the teams’ midweek games. United will face the New England Revolution on Friday (8 p.m., ESPN) instead of Thursday, and Toronto will play the Montreal Impact on Thursday instead of Wednesday.
MLS is administering thousands of tests per week while people in some parts of the country are experiencing long waits.
“We understand our role in being members of the community, and so we have been in discussions” with BioReference, the lab overseeing the league’s testing, Abbott said. “It’s our view we are not impacting the ability of the public to get tests … but that is something we would continue to evaluate with them.”