By TIM REYNOLDS
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Major League Soccer is shutting down for 30 days because of the coronavirus, delaying the home opener for the expansion team co-owned by former England captain David Beckham.
“Our clubs were united today in the decision to temporarily suspend our season — based on the advice and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Agency of Canada and other public health authorities,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement Thursday.
Inter Miami, co-owned by Beckham and Jorge Mas, had been scheduled to play its home opener Saturday. MLS started its season on Feb. 29 and each of the 26 teams has played two league matches.
In addition, the U.S. Soccer Federation canceled exhibitions in March and April for its men’s and women’s national teams. The men had been scheduled to play the Netherlands in Eindhoven on March 26 and Wales four days later in Cardiff, preparation for the scheduled start of World Cup qualifying in September. The women had been slated to face Australia at Sandy, Utah, on April 10 and Brazil four days later at San Jose, California.
Mas told Inter Miami players and coaches of the MLS suspension late Thursday morning, then held a news conference at the team’s temporary stadium.
“We think it is a prudent decision by the league, because obviously we want to protect our players and protect our fans as much as is possible for us to undertake,” Mas said. “We look with optimism that we can continue building here in South Florida.”
Mas says he expects the full 34-match season to be played. He was on the league’s board of governors call on Thursday when when the decision was made, and said it was not a difficult choice.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.
Inter Miami’s stadium is located in Broward County, where seven COVID-19 cases have been confirmed as of Thursday morning. Cases have also been confirmed in Palm Beach County, on Broward’s north border, and Miami-Dade County on Broward’s south border.
“We were 48 hours from kickoff with a tremendous amount of excitement in our community and having a full house here on Saturday,” Mas said. “That does not change. It’ll just be a different date.”
Inter Miami sporting director Paul McDonough said calls would be held later Thursday to determine exactly how the team will spend the time off. Saturday would have been the first time an MLS match was played in South Florida since 2001, and Beckham’s group has been working toward getting a team back in the area for about six years.
Mas said this is just another challenge along that road.
“We’ll deal with it the best way,” Mas said.
Also Thursday, CONCACAF suspended matches in the CONCACAF Champions League, which is in the first leg of its quarterfinal stage.