Major League Soccer allows Toronto, Montreal to begin play in home venues

Major League Soccer announced plans on Wednesday for CF Montreal and Toronto FC to begin playing select games in their home venues.

The decision is based on updated public health legislation enacted on July 5 by the Canadian government that eased travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Toronto will be able to play at BMO Field against Orlando City on July 17, and the New York Red Bulls four days later. Montreal will be able to host FC Cincinnati on July 17 at Stade Saputo. These will be the first home games against U.S. opposition for either team since the opening weeks of the 2020 campaign. Toronto and Montreal will be permitted to have fans and media in attendance at matches, in accordance with all local and regional guidelines.

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A source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN that due to ongoing improvements to BC Place, the return of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC to their home venue will be delayed until a later date.

MLS added that it remains in communication with the Canadian government regarding plans for its teams to host the remainder of their home matches in Canada.

Travel restrictions due to the COVD-19 pandemic, including a requirement that individuals entering the country quarantine for 14 days, have prevented Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver from playing matches in their home cities. All three teams had to set up "home" bases in the U.S. during the latter portion of the 2020 season as well as during the first three months of the 2021 campaign. This season Montreal played in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida., Toronto in Orlando, while Vancouver has been playing home matches in Sandy, Utah.

But the new legislation by the Canadian government allows vaccinated individuals to bypass the quarantine requirement, though they must still test negative for COVID-19. Those who aren't vaccinated must still quarantine.

That requirement could pose a problem for unvaccinated players. A spokesperson for the MLS Players Association told ESPN that "MLS is approaching 95 percent of the player pool being vaccinated, which is among the highest in North American sports leagues alongside the WNBA. We are extremely proud of our members for doing their part in fighting the virus, and we remain supportive of all players getting the vaccine."

A source with knowledge of the situation added that 26 of the 27 MLS teams have at least 85 percent of their players vaccinated. The source added that the one team not at that threshold is "one or two players away." A spokesperson for the Vancouver Whitecaps said that 100 percent of the players had been vaccinated.

League wide, that still leaves roughly 40 players who haven't been vaccinated against COVID-19, and practically speaking wouldn't be able to travel back and forth between the U.S. and Canada.

Recently, Montreal traded forward Erik Hurtado to the Columbus Crew in part because of his refusal to be vaccinated. During a Zoom call with reporters on July 4, Toronto FC GM Ali Curtis said all of the team staff and almost all of the players are fully vaccinated. One or two players are either not vaccinated or need a second shot. He admitted that there are "potential complications for non-fully vaccinated players but we'll have to see how things unfold."

Toronto midfielder Nick De Leon said back in March that he hadn't been vaccinated and had no plans to do so.