Major League Soccer confirmed that both the Seattle Sounders and San Jose Earthquakes have postponed games in a bid to reduce the continued spread of the coronavirus.
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Seattle's March 21 game against FC Dallas scheduled to take place at Century Link Field will be moved to later date, as will San Jose's home match against Sporting Kansas City on the same day.
"Following Santa Clara County's legal order banning all gatherings of 1,000 people or more and the state of Washington's decision to restrict gatherings of more than 250 people in King County, Major League Soccer matches in San Jose and Seattle on March 21 are postponed," the league said in a statement. The league and its clubs are evaluating the options for rescheduling the matches at a later date."
The league added that teams will take charter flights to travel to games until further notice in a bid to reduce the chance of potential exposure to the virus.
A source with knowledge of the situation said that the league anticipates that all of the matches scheduled for this weekend will go ahead as planned, but the source cautioned that the situation is fluid.
In terms of the decision to either postpone matches or play them behind closed doors, the source added that the league's preference is to postpone matches. Unlike the NBA and the NHL, MLS's season has just started, and there remains flexibility to reschedule two to three postponed matches per team to midweek dates later in the season. Should more matches than that be postponed, the league will then have to consider playing games behind closed doors, which the source said would be a "a last resort."
The Earthquakes made their statement after Santa Clara County Public Health Department barred gatherings of 1,000 or more people through the end of March due to COVID-19 concerns.
"We're very supportive of the mandate by the County's Public Health Department," said Earthquakes Chief Operating Officer Jared Shawlee. "We'd like to thank all of our community partners, including the City of San Jose and the County of Santa Clara, for their assistance and we would also like to thank our fans, players and staff for their patience and understanding throughout this unprecedented time. We will continue to work with local agencies and league officials and provide updates as available."
Earlier in the day, the Sounders made a similar statement after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's announcement prohibiting public gatherings of 250 people or more.
"As the developments surrounding COVID-19 in our region evolve, Seattle Sounders FC has been working in real time with regional health authorities and government officials to do our part in combating this public health crisis," the team said in a statement. "Our organization must remain flexible in these efforts, and at this time, that includes heeding Governor Inslee's call to postpone our home match on March 21 versus FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field."
Seattle GM Garth Lagerwey, speaking to reporters at Wednesday's training session said: "This is not about the Sounders. This is about the community and what is in everybody's best interests. I think certainly as a company, we need to shoulder our responsibilities for our part of it."
World soccer has been greatly affected by the spread of the coronavirus. Italy has postponed all sporting events -- including Serie A matches -- until April 3 as part of a nationwide lockdown, while leagues across the globe have also cancelled matches and imposed stadium bans.
Coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, is a new strain of coronavirus that has surged around the globe in recent months. The coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious respiratory diseases. Flu is caused by a different virus. There is no vaccine for coronavirus, though researchers are working on one and hope to begin testing soon. Older people, especially those with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disease, are most at risk.
The coronavirus spreads mainly through coughs and sneezes, though it also can be transferred from surfaces. The best way to prevent infection is by frequent hand-washing, cleaning surfaces with regular household sprays and wipes, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.