In a bid to have players on international duty return in time for the MLS Cup playoffs, the league is taking the unusual step of using charter flights to speed their return to the U.S. and thus avoid quarantine periods, sources have told ESPN.
This move will allow these players to be fully available for the playoffs.
The MLS Cup playoffs are set to begin on Friday with a pair of play-in games, including the New England Revolution taking on the Montreal Impact and Nashville SC hosting Inter Miami CF (Watch live on ESPN2 at 9 p.m. ET). That will be followed by the first round of the playoffs.
- Carlisle: Can MLS complete playoffs outside bubble?
- MLS Cup playoffs: Who's in, fixtures and more
- MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)
Because of the resumption of the CONCACAF Champions League in December, MLS is attempting to squeeze the postseason into a compressed timeframe in which MLS Cup would be played on Dec. 12.
However, with latest international window finishing, combined with protocols for COVID-19, several teams were in danger of losing key players during the play-in round and first round. All told 28 players would have been forced to engage in a nine- to ten-day day quarantine period upon their return to the U.S., with LAFC and Minnesota United FC set to miss up to four players each.
LAFC would be missing stars Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez, while first round opponents Seattle Sounders FC would be without starting defender Xavier Arreaga. The Loons would be missing starters Jan Gregus, Robin Lod, Romain Metanire and Kei Kamara.
In a season fraught with competitive balance issues due to the ongoing pandemic -- including canceled games -- the potential impact was such that MLS began looking into alternatives. One source said that the league consulted with infectious disease experts, who informed MLS that if charter flights were used to bring the players back to the U.S., a quarantine period wouldn't be necessary assuming they continued to test negative for COVID-19.
The change also assumes that those players that have contracted COVID-19 while on international duty -- like Seattle Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz -- did so while traveling and not when they were with their teams, since those are thought to be controlled environments.
It is still unclear if every player will be able to be accommodated, but the source stressed that the league was working to bring back "as many players as possible."