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Six Degrees: Shut Down

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MLS: Portland Timbers at New England Revolution
Gillette Stadium gates locked on Sunday after the Timbers game was canceled.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

1) Obviously the big news this week is Sunday’s 4-4 draw against New England. If you didn’t see the game, you can watch the full replay here, but I’ll warn you, it’s total bullshit. We were up 4-2 for God’s sake! In stoppage time! How the fuck can you be up 4-2 in stoppage time and not come out of it with all three points?

I mean, yeah, I love the improved offense, I love that we finally scored more than one goal in a game, but then the defense completely falls apart? Absolutely unacceptable. Someone needs to be benched, I’m just not sure who. Maybe bench ‘em all. Send a message.

Two goals allowed in stoppage time... Completely unacceptable.

2) In all seriousness, though, the real story this week is MLS postponing the season for 30 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is extremely small news compared to everything else going on in the world right now, but for those of us in Timberdom, it’s very big news, indeed.

I’ve never claimed to be an expert on soccer, but when it comes to global pandemics, my expertise is truly infinitesimal. Take everything I say from here on with an extremely large amount of salt. Just like most everyone else in the world right now, I have more questions than answers.

3) First question, will MLS really start back up in 30 days? My guess is ‘probably not.’ We’re still in the early stages of this whole COVID-19 thing, and I have a feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Is it possible the league will start the games back up, only with no fans in the stadium? This seems a little more possible, but I’m still guessing no. After all, teams would need to fly from city to city and I’m not sure they’d be willing to do that. Airplanes seem like big flying incubators to me. (Again, not an expert.)

If the league postpones the season past 30 days, how long will it be? 60 days? 90? At what point do they just say fuck it and cancel the whole season? I have no idea, but I imagine it would depend on how bad the pandemic gets. If things in the U.S. get as bad as they are in Italy, then yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if the season gets canceled. But if things never get that bad? Maybe we’ll see some games this year. Maybe they’ll play 17 games instead of 34. Maybe they’ll have playoffs and an MLS Cup and everything. We can only wait and see.

4) Here are some player-related questions.

  • What players might benefit from the break? Jarek Niezgoda’s getting a chance to heal up. Jorge Moreira, too. Maybe this whole thing will work out well for them.
  • Would a lost year be good or bad for our aging players? A month or two of rest might help them, but what if the entire season’s canceled? Would Diego Valeri benefit from a year of rest, or does it just mean he’s lost a year of his late-prime? This question applies for Diego Chara, Sebastian Blanco, and all our other over-30 players. Would they come back fresh, or just a year older?
  • If there are any lawyers among us, here’s a contract question for you. If we signed someone to a three year deal and the 2020 season is canceled, does that count against the three years? Would we only get their services for two years? I’m betting the answer is yes.
  • We’ve got Felipe Mora on loan. If the season’s canceled, how will we know if he’s worth signing to a permanent contract?
  • Are Jeremy Ebobisse’s Olympic dreams over? He was supposed to be at the U23 Olympic qualifying tournament right now. That’s been postponed, possibly canceled. Will the entire Olympics be canceled? They go from July 24 to August 9 in Tokyo. I can totally see them being canceled, in which case, Jebo will miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

5) Here’s an extremely complicated question: are season ticket holders gonna get their money back?

Now, you may be thinking, ‘That’s not a complicated question. It’s simple.’ Well, sorry, friend, but you’re wrong. It’s incredibly complicated and leads to many more questions, the first of which is this: are the players gonna get paid? Because if the players get paid, the team kinda needs all that season ticket money we gave them. Who do you think pays Diego Valeri’s salary? It’s you and me. Merritt Paulson’s just taking our money and passing it along to the players. If Merritt gives us a refund, will he be able to pay the players?

Could Valeri make it a few months with no paycheck? Yeah. But what about players making the MLS minimum salary, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of $70,000? It’ll be tougher for them.

And what about Thorns players making the NWSL minimum salary, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000? No friggin’ way can they miss a few paychecks.

This question also applies to everyone else with the team. The coaches, the trainers, the doctors, the equipment managers, the office workers, the groundskeepers, the stadium’s match day staff. Are any of those people going to get paid? If so, with what money? TV ad revenue from all those games that aren’t being played? Some giant pile of cash the league is sitting on? I have no idea, I just know that, right now, someone somewhere is thinking about this problem and how to solve it.

Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank came into the league with billions of dollars from Home Depot. A guy like that might be able to write a personal check paying literally everybody under him, but I doubt Merritt Paulson can, nor can his dad, majority owner Henry Paulson. They’re rich, but they’re not Home Depot rich. They can’t just laugh this off. This ain’t pocket change for them.

Now, as I’ve stated before, I have absolutely no expertise on this matter. All I’m trying to do is point out how complicated it is. When the games stop, it doesn’t just affect fans. It affects a lot of people. I have no idea how the team and the league are going to answer all these questions. I doubt they know yet, either. I imagine they’re trying to figure it all out as we speak.

6) And I’ll finish with that “trying to figure it all out as we speak.”

Be patient, everyone. There are certain organizations in the world whose job it is to think about pandemics. Professional soccer teams are not one of them. We can’t expect our sports teams and our sports leagues to handle a global pandemic perfectly right from the start. They’re figuring it out. Give them some time.

And don’t just be patient with MLS, be patient with everyone. Literally everyone. The Timbers front office, MLS headquarters, your boss, your co-workers, the people in your neighborhood, the people at the grocery store, all of them. No one knows how to handle this. No one’s dealt with it before. There might be a few really old folks who were around in 1918, when the Spanish Flu hit and a quarter of the world’s population got sick, but they were just kids and I doubt they were taking close notes on what professional sports leagues did at the time.

We’re all figuring out how to deal with this. Hopefully, most of us will get it mostly right, but I doubt anyone will get it perfectly right.

I mean, except you, of course. You’ll handle this perfectly. But the rest of us? We’ll just try to do the best we can. And that includes the Timbers.