LOS ANGELES -- Major League Soccer said Friday that it will reopen team training facilities to players next week for the first time since the league suspended its season in mid-March.
The partial lifting of the training moratorium, for individual workouts under closely controlled conditions, comes in response to concerns players were endangering themselves by training in parks and other public venues where there were limited safeguards against the spread of COVID-19.
MLS announced March 13 a ban on the use of training facilities for small group and full-team training, then extended it five times through May 15. That moratorium remains in place.
The league said it won't resume its regular season until June 8, a date that could be wishful thinking.
Under the new training guidelines, teams must submit a specific plan before players are allowed to resume workouts. Teams will be required to restrict facilities to essential staff, sanitize and disinfect all equipment after each session, put in place screening measures to include temperature checks, and stagger player and staff arrivals and departures.
Players are required to train alone on outdoor fields, meaning they cannot pass or head balls to one another. Fields are to be divided into four quadrants with a maximum of one player per quadrant and use of the same equipment -- balls, cones, goalposts -- is not allowed.
The new protocol also forbids players from using locker rooms, team gyms, restrooms and other facilities. All individual workouts are considered voluntary, the league said, and cannot conflict with local public health or government restrictions.
The league is hopeful of completing a full 34-game schedule even if that means playing the 2020 MLS Cup final early next year. The season was two weeks old when play was halted.
One option discussed would have teams return to play in empty stadiums, but that would be costly since the league says ticket revenue, along with corporate sponsorships, is its largest source of revenue.
An MLS official said this week there is no leaguewide policy on refunding tickets for games that are canceled or played without fans, leaving each team to develop its own rules. The Galaxy already have missed three home dates to the COVID-19 shutdown and LAFC will miss its third game Saturday, but since no league matches have been canceled, tickets to those games are still valid.
In response to the season's suspension, the Galaxy deferred season-ticket payments in March, spreading that money out over the remaining 2020 installments, and gave season-ticket holders the chance to do the same in April. But the team has not offered blanket refunds. Brendan Hannan, the team's vice president for marketing and communications, said requests for refunds for the three postponed games would be considered on a case-by-case basis, as would refund requests from season-ticket holders.
LAFC announced a similar policy in a letter to season-ticket members, saying that "if a 2020 LAFC match scheduled at Banc of California Stadium is officially canceled or will be played without spectators, we will notify you of the cancellation and then automatically apply your credit to your membership for the 2021 season. If upon receiving such notification you need other accommodations, contact us and we will work with you to find an appropriate solution, such as providing a refund for the value of the canceled matches."
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