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Columbus Crew To Return As MLS Restarts 2020 Season

Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen (23) celebrates with midfielder Artur (8) and defender Milton Valenzuela, right, after winning an MLS playoff soccer match in penalty kicks against D.C. United, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, in Washington.
Nick Wass
Columbus CrewColumbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen (23) celebrates with midfielder Artur (8) and defender Milton Valen players celebrate the game-winning goal after an MLS playoff soccer game against Atlanta United, in Atlanta, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017.

Major League Soccer on Wednesday announced a plan to restart the 2020 season with all teams competing at a tournament in Florida, sans fans.

Columbus Crew general manager Tim Bezbatchenko says team management is working on a plan to allow spectators at local games.

"I wouldn’t say I expect it at this point, but I’m hopeful that we’re able to overcome the challenges brought on by this virus, and I think that if there’s a way to have limited capacity at MAPFRE, we would certainly welcome it," Bezbatchenko says.

He says MLS has generally taken a financial hit, but that most Crew fans did not go with the option to be reimbursed for games that were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"To the credit of our fans, a very high, nearly all of our fans have decided to not take that," Bezbatchenko says. "They’ve kept their money with the Crew, whether or not that’s currently or sort of for the future."

Starting July 8 , the "MLS is Back Tournament" will be held at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, but will be played without fans in attendance. That winner will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Fampions League.

“We are pleased to team up with Disney to relaunch the 2020 MLS season and get back to playing soccer,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber in a press release. “The opportunity to have all 26 clubs in a controlled environment enables us to help protect the health of our players, coaches and staff as we return to play."

Soccer clubs will start arriving to Orlando as early as June 24 for preseason training. Clubs that are able to train their teams in their home markets must arrive to Orlando no later than seven days before their first match.

The tournament will feature a continuous schedule of matches nearly every day, with most matches being played in the evening. Each team will play three group-stage matches, and those results will count in the 2020 MLS regular season standings. 

“After 16 consecutive days of group stage matches, the top two teams from each group along with the four best third-place finishers will move on to the knockout stage,” the MLS press release stated. “The knockout stage will include a Round-of-16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and the Championship match will take place on August 11. Matches tied at the end of regulation in the knock-out phase will proceed directly to a penalty kick shootout.”

The final game will be held August 11.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.