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Six Degrees: The Orlando Plan

Amy Humphries, @amyjoyhumphries

1) No Five Favorites or Best XI’s or Mount Rushmores this week. Instead, let’s talk about MLS and whether we’ll see it again this year.

There was a lot of news this week, especially this thing I’m calling “the Orlando Plan.” This article gives the basics of it. Go give it a quick look so you’ll know what we’re talking about. I’ll wait.

You back? Awesome.

To be honest, I actually sorta halfway like the Orlando Plan. It’s creative, at least. They were thinking outside the box, which I like, and which seems appropriate these days.

If you want to hear some excellent reaction to it, plus commentary on how things might progress, I recommend this podcast. In it, Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal give some real insider’s knowledge, whereas all I can provide are the random musings of a guy who is way, way, way outside the loop.

But even though I’m an outsider, I still gotta write a column this week, so let’s dive in.

2) My gut instinct? I’m not sure the Orlando Plan’s gonna work. There are too many things going against it. Let’s break it into four parts: health, meaningful competition, money, and player buy-in.

First up, health.

The players are trying to stay fit during this break, but working-out-at-home-fit ain’t the same as soccer-fit. And now the league’s gonna rush them back onto the field, with just a week or two of practice? If so, I think we should name the tournament PulledHammyPalooza.

And that’s not even the worst health risk. There’s this thing you may have heard of called COVID-19. It’s still out there.

What if all the Timbers go to Orlando, check into a big hotel at one of the resorts, eat in the restaurants, play on the fields, do all this stuff together, and then a player tests positive? What then? Do you pull him out but let everyone else carry on? How can you? The guy who tested positive, he’s been around everyone. And if there are multiple teams staying at the same resort hotel, he hasn’t just been around his own team, he’s been around everyone, on all the teams. They’ve shared hotel spaces, restaurants, locker rooms, playing fields. I’m no doctor, but how could that player not have infected somebody else?

So what do you do? You test everyone, right? Well, maybe they don’t test positive immediately. Maybe it takes a day or two before their viral load is high enough to trigger the test. At which point, there’s another guy who’s been around everyone on his team, and probably other teams, too.

As I said, I’m not a doctor. Maybe it doesn’t work like this. Maybe this would be super-safe.

Or maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe it would be dangerous.

But at least the games will really matter, right?


3) Well, maybe not. The games might mean nothing at all.

Every February, the Timbers have a preseason tournament, either here in Portland or down in Tuscon. I enjoy watching them, but I’m not going to pretend they mean anything. The soccer’s low quality, the players can only play 45 minutes before they’re gassed, and in the end, it doesn’t matter whether the team wins or loses. I still watch the games and still enjoy them, but do they really matter? No. Is my heart caught up in the outcome? Not at all.

Would the Orlando Plan give us something like that? Poor quality soccer, where the players might pull a hammy, and it doesn’t even really matter who wins?

I mean, I’ll still watch it. I’m a Timbers obsessive, so of course I’ll watch it. But will it be good soccer? Probably not. Will my heart be fully invested in the results? Probably not.

4) Here’s a good question: what would it take for these games to mean something? I’m legitimately asking you, because I’m not sure.

If the league plays a small tournament in Orlando, then declares whoever wins it to be the MLS Champion of 2020, are you buying that? I’m not sure I am.

What if they play 17 games, all in Orlando? Will the team in 1st place at the end be MLS Champs? Are you buying that? Mmmaybe. We’re getting closer.

What if they play 17 games, but play them all around the country, in everybody’s real home stadiums, only empty? Would that make a legitimate 2020 MLS Champion?

I honestly don’t know what it would take for me to call this a real season. My instinct is to say that maybe 2020 just shouldn’t count. That, whatever the league ends up doing, we should all just agree that there’s no Supporter’s Shield winner, there’s no MLS Cup winner, the wins don’t count, the stats don’t count, and that 2020 will just go down as a year that didn’t happen.

That’s my instinct, but I can totally be talked out of it. Tell me down in comments what you would consider a “real” MLS season. What could the league do in 2020 that would make the games matter?

5) Okay, we’ve talked health and competition. Now, let’s talk money. Would the Orlando Plan make money or lose money?

The owners would be paying for flights, hotels, meals, player salaries, coach salaries, staff salaries, etc, etc, all while not selling a single ticket. Will the TV coverage bring in enough money to make this worth doing for the owners?

I’m certainly no expert, but it’s hard for me to imagine that the Orlando Plan makes money. I think maybe it breaks even at best. More likely, I think the owners lose money. Again, I don’t know this, I just suspect it.

And if that’s the case, if this is a money-losing proposition, how much of a pay cut will the owners ask the players to take? 50% of their salary? If MLS manages to play 17 games this year, I could maybe see the players taking a 50% pay cut, but what if they only play this weird Orlando Plan tournament? How many games will that be? Will everyone’s salary get prorated based on how many games get played? If so, some players, especially the lower-paid players, might be hoping for as many games as possible, injury risk be damned.

Again, I’m no expert, but that doesn’t sound like a good thing.

6) Which brings us to our final variable: player buy-in.

Maybe the owners will come to the players with their plan, whatever it turns out to be and however much of a pay cut it requires, and the players will simply say no.

And they’d have good reason to say no. If the Orlando Plan goes through, the players would be away from their families for months, they might not be making much money, they’d probably be risking injury from rushing back too quickly, the games wouldn’t be truly meaningful, and, ohbytheway, there’s a non-zero chance they’d come down with COVID-19.

So, with all that in mind, what if the players say no? Yeah, sure, the youngsters might say yes – the players who aren’t making a lot of money, who are fighting for their roster spot, who are desperate to get their career started – those guys might be willing to accept all the downsides. But Diego Valeri? Sebastian Blanco? What’s their incentive? Hell, Diego Chara’s got four kids at home, including a couple toddlers. You think he’s going to make his wife deal with all that on her own, just so he can go to Florida and play meaningless soccer for not much money? And possibly also catch coronavirus? I’m not sure he will.

In closing, let me just say that I’m completely sympathetic with everyone involved. The league, the owners, the coaches, and the players, they’re all trying to make the best of a bad situation. They’re thinking outside the box, tossing ideas around, and hoping something will work. Will they come up with a solution that satisfies everyone? I have no idea. I hope so. I miss soccer. I want to see the boys in green and gold.

But can I wait until 2021? Probably. It would suck, but if that’s what happens, that’s what happens. And right now, I’ve got a feeling that’s what’s gonna happen. If you disagree, please convince me down in comments. I want to be talked off this ledge.