Major League Soccer extends playing moratorium to at least June 8

TORONTO — Major League Soccer has extended its suspension of play to at least June 8 due to the global pandemic, with talks already underway on possible reduction of player wages.

In the case of Toronto FC, June 8 marks the halfway point of the original schedule, with 17 regular-season games on the books. Montreal was slated to play 14 games and Vancouver 15 prior to June 8.

MLS initially announced a 30-day suspension of play on March 12 — two weeks into the regular season — due to the COVID-19 outbreak. A week later, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, it extended its season hiatus with a target return date of May 10.

Earlier this week, it said a return in mid-May was extremely unlikely.

On Friday, it said the latest decision to extend the moratorium on matches was based “on the most recent government guidance.”

The league says it continues to explore scheduling options for fitting in the entire season, including pushing back the MLS Cup “into December or later.” This year’s MLS Cup had been scheduled for Nov 7.

“Like all leagues, we are in discussion with our players about changes to player compensation due to the financial impact on the league and our clubs from the COVID-19 crisis,” it said in a statement Friday.

“We are seeking to work collaboratively with the MLSPA (MLS Players Association) to find a solution that provides a safety net for all players, opportunity to earn full salary in the scenario where all matches are played with fans, and in particular provides protection for the players at the lower end of the salary scale.”

An MLSPA spokeswoman declined comment on any potential proposed changes to player salaries.

A source with knowledge of the talks, not authorized to speak publicly because the negotiations have been private, said the league proposal guarantees players 50 per cent of their annual salary if no more games are played this season. The percentage of pay would rise if more games are played — how much more would depend on how many games and whether they were played before fans.

Players earning under US$100,000 would not be affected. The minimum salary for players on a team’s senior roster is $81,375 this year. The minimum for those on the reserve roster, usually younger players, is $63,547.

The league has also said it will not furlough players.

The league and MLSPA agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement in February, but it has yet to be ratified.

Toronto players have already given up part of their pay to the Team Toronto fund, which helps the club’s part-time and seasonal workers affected by the shutdown.

Commissioner Don Garber has said that when play does resume, it will likely do so at empty stadiums. Garber told ESPN the league is looking at the “concept of a tournament” at a number of different locations prior to starting the regular season.

The resumption of the season will probably be before empty stands. “We’re calling them MLS studio games,” said Garber.

The league has some scheduling wiggle room given it staged the MLS Cup in December from 2012 to 2018 prior to trimming the playoffs last year by changing the earlier rounds to knockout matches from a two-leg format.

The championship game was held Nov. 10 last year. This year’s MLS Cup had been scheduled for Nov. 7.

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