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Major League Soccer resuming season in home markets; fans will be allowed at Real Salt Lake home matches



SALT LAKE CITY — For quite a while now, talk has circulated that Major League Soccer would resume this season in home markets once the MLS is Back bubbled tournament in Orlando concludes.

On Saturday, that talk became official, as the league announced plans for the resumption of play starting next week. The schedule for Real Salt Lake’s first six matches was unveiled, and as part of that, the club announced that it will allow “roughly” 5,000 fans into three home matches at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“We’re excited,” RSL head coach Freddy Juarez told reporters via Zoom on Saturday afternoon. “We’re happy with it. We would have loved this to have been the case before Orlando, but it couldn’t be done. … This will be nice. It will be nice to be at home.”

Like other leagues that have played in “bubbles” in recent months, MLS has had great success in terms of having no positive coronavirus tests during its tournament at Disney World that concludes on Aug. 11, but leagues that have played in home markets haven’t had the same success.

MLS’s return “will feature comprehensive health and safety protocols, including regular testing of players, coaches and essential staff for COVID-19,” Saturday’s announcement read. Teams will take chartered flights, and for the majority of road trips will arrive in the host market on matchday and depart after the match later that evening.

“I honestly don’t have any fear,” Juarez said. “I don’t think MLS would have done it if they hadn’t really thought through it. They definitely thought through the Orlando thing, and I don’t see any difference here.”

Both Zac MacMath and Justen Glad feel similarly, with MacMath even bringing up that the arrangements could end up somewhat similar to a bubble.

“I think they’re going to do a good job of flying us privately, getting in there safely and staying away from as many people as possible. Hopefully it will be a contained bubble with both teams being tested as often as we are.”

Added Glad: “Personally, I think it’s great to be playing games again. Personally, I’m not very scared. I know they’ve done a very good job with the guidelines and the rules they’ve set out for us. We’re traveling private, so I’m just looking forward to getting back out on the field again.”

That said, Juarez is aware of the need to remain nimble should games need to be moved around because of problems that arise related to COVID-19.

“I think the whole message has always been, ‘We’ve got to be flexible, guys,’” he said. “The only thing that would not be good for the players is if there is something postponed and then they really just try to cram it in.”

The league’s first game of the season resumption will be Aug. 12 between FC Dallas and Nashville SC in Texas, and RSL will open Aug. 22 on the road against the Colorado Rapids. Given that RSL’s first six games (the rest are expected to be announced by early September) will be played in a span of just three weeks, Juarez said the travel arrangement will actually be a positive.

“I like the fact that we get to come back after the game,” he said. “We don’t talk too much about it, but during the regular seasons in the past, you spend an extra day, and when calendars are crowded like in this case it’s going to be, it makes a difference to fly back right after the game. Even though you may get in a little late, you really get to have the next day totally to yourself as opposed to traveling on the day off and getting back.”

RSL’s first home game will be Aug. 26 against LAFC. The plan to allow fans inside Rio Tinto Stadium will follow “detailed procedures and protocols authorized by the Salt Lake County and State of Utah government health officials,” the club said in its announcement Saturday.

Real Monarchs SLC have already played two games at Rio Tinto Stadium this summer in which up to 5,000 fans were allowed in, although announced attendance for each was roughly 20% of that.

“Personally, I’m excited,” Glad said. “I’m hoping that everyone stays safe and follows the social distancing rules while at the game, but I’m definitely excited to be back in that environment where you have real fans chanting and clapping and bringing that energy that might not have been there in the bubble. It’ll definitely be nice to have that environment again.”

Season ticket holders will have a priority presale, and any remaining tickets will be made available to the public at a later date.

All matches are scheduled to broadcast on KMYU and ESPN 700 with a live stream on the KSL TV app.

In an expansion of the postseason for 2020, 18 clubs will compete in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs — up from 14 teams last year. MLS Cup will be played on Dec. 12.

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