Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
The USL Championship’s announcement on Thursday that the league’s Board of Governors had voted in favor of resuming the 2020 season as early as July 11, was met with enthusiasm from clubs, players and fans from across the league. The announcement opens the door for the Championship to become the first league in the United States to return to competition in its own venues.
Coming 85 days after San Diego Loyal SC earned its first official league win against Tacoma Defiance, the announcement was also a very welcome one at league headquarters, too.
“Societally I think we could use a little bit of good news now,” USL Vice President of Communications & Public Relations Ryan Madden told Tim Van Horn on the My 3 Subs podcast. “So, to be able to end a Thursday with everything that’s been going on in the world these past few months with some positive news and a bit of levity, and to be able to say to our 35 USL Championship communities across the country that the commitment is there to return to play in 2020 is great. Five weeks from now the ball will be rolling, the guys will be running around on the field and you’ll be able to sit on the couch with a cold beer and turn on ESPN+ to watch some soccer again. That’s exciting.”
Madden’s thoughts were echoed by leaders from around the Championship’s clubs.
“We are energized and motivated by the steps taken today by the USL Board of Governors,” said Louisville City FC President Brad Estes in a statement. “We have a lot of work to do, but we look forward to working with our players association and our state and local governments to resume play.”
“We had to put a stake in the ground,” added New Mexico United Owner and President Peter Trevisani, speaking to the Albuquerque Journal. “We had to set a gate post here somewhere. I think what the league is saying is, hey, we want to come back and play. We know we have a lot of issues we need to work out, but we need to let people know we are going to play first, then work the details out after that decision is made first.”
After hosting a sellout crowd for its inaugural content in March, San Diego Loyal SC has spoken with the University of San Diego on the potential for fans to attend games when the Championship returns in July. | Photo courtesy San Diego Loyal SC
The decision to return to play at clubs’ home venues – as opposed to models that see numerous teams compete in a central hub – is one that is not being taken lightly by the USL or its teams. Most importantly, the league continues to work with partners and outside organizations to ensure the health of players, staff and fans – who in certain markets may be able to attend games – is the biggest priority.
“We are working every single day to make sure we’re buttoned up on the health and wellness front,” said Madden. “We’re working with a national COVID-19 task force, we’re working with some of the most esteemed and prestigious public health organizations in the United States, we’re working with the Chief Medical Officer at U.S. Soccer to make sure that we have policies and protocols in place to make sure that everyone’s health and wellness – players, supporters, staff – is being well looked after.”
Championship clubs - including SD Loyal – are also talking with venue operators to investigate what potential there might be for fan attendance as and when the league returns to action.
“We’re still looking for some guidance from them,” SD Loyal President Warren Smith told the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Mark Ziegler on talks with the University of San Diego on playing at Torero Stadium. “We talked earlier this week to let them know this (USL) decision was imminent and hope to sit down in the near future to discuss that. I’m confident we’ll be able to work out a structure that meets their needs and ours.”
Madden said he expects it will be a couple of weeks before more details on the Championship’s planned return to play are made public, including broadcast details and scheduling. That couldn’t diminish the excitement that was evident on social media throughout the league, however, knowing that the Championship’s return is right around the corner.
“To be able to sit here and be able to say USL Championship soccer is coming back on July 11 and not only are we coming back, but we’re coming back in our venues, that’s a great thing,” said Madden.