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Pro soccer in U.S. on hold indefinitely over coronavirus outbreak

Professional soccer in the U.S. is on hold indefinitely with MLS, the second-tier USL Championship, the U.S. Soccer Federation and CONCACAF, the regional governing body for the sport, all canceling games in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic.

MLS said it was suspending play for a minimum of 30 days beginning immediately, and U.S. Soccer canceled upcoming friendlies involving the men’s and women’s teams as well as youth national team training camps. CONCACAF announced it was suspending its Champions League tournament, postponing Thursday’s quarterfinal between LAFC and Mexico’s Cruz Azul at Banc of California Stadium.

“Our clubs are united in the decision to temporarily suspend our season,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. The league, Garber said, was acting on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Public Health Agency of Canada and other public health authorities “in the best interests of our fans, players, officials and employees.”

MLS has been wrestling with a decision over how to proceed since Monday, when officials in Santa Clara County banned large public gatherings, forcing the San Jose Earthquakes to either postpone their March 21 game with Sporting Kansas City or play the game in an empty stadium. On Wednesday a similar directive covering Washington’s King County led the Seattle Sounders to postpone their March 21 game with FC Dallas.

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Late Wednesday the California Department of Public Health called for the cancellation of all public events of more than 250 people statewide, which would have led to postponed games for LAFC and the Galaxy as well.

With the MLS season just two weeks old, league officials are hopeful games can be resumed in a month, allowing for postponed games to be rescheduled and a full 34-game schedule to be played.

The USL Championship, which has four teams in California, also has suspended play for 30 days.

“It was very clear from owners that the health and safety of players, fans and staff was their top priority,” league CEO Alex Papadakis said in a statement.

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U.S. Soccer canceled men’s friendlies scheduled for late March in the Netherlands and Wales and women’s friendlies scheduled for mid-April in Sandy, Utah and San Jose. No decision has been announced on the CONCACAF men’s Olympic qualifying tournament, scheduled to begin March 20 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“With the health of our players, coaches, staff and fans as our main priority, U.S. Soccer had decided it was in the best interests to cancel the majority of our upcoming domestic and international camps at all levels,” George Chiampas, chief medical officer for U.S. Soccer. Chiampas said the federation also consulted with the CDC and state and local health officials in making its decision.

As for the CONCACAF Champions League, the two-leg playoff between LAFC and Cruz Azul was the only one of the four quarterfinal series that had not started. Other teams still alive in the regional tournament are the Montreal Impact, Atlanta United and New York City FC of MLS; Club America and Tigres UANL of Mexico; and Olimpia of Honduras.

Tournament officials said California’s recommendation against large gatherings in the state played a part in their decision.

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“The welfare of everyone associated with our matches and competitions is of paramount importance to us,” CONCACAF, which governs the sport in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, said in a statement. “Given the developments [Wednesday] night, including new guidance issued by countries, cities and states, we have made the decision to suspend” the tournament.

No decision has been made as to when the tournament will resume.

Stories examining the impact the spread of the coronavirus has had on the NBA, NHL, MLB, the NCAA tournament and the rest of the sports world.


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