What the A-League can learn from MLS’s restart

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

The A-League will be finishing its 2019-20 season starting on Friday evening, approximately four months after the season was suspended, cramming its remaining regular-season games within a four-week window.

And to do so, the league will be assembling all eleven of its teams in a Sydney hub, with Melbourne’s three clubs having just joined in.

Meanwhile, approximately 17,000 kilometres away from that Sydney hub, another soccer competition has just kicked off in a hub of its own. Major League Soccer (MLS), the United States’ top-flight competition celebrating its 25th season this year, kicked off its “MLS Is Back” tournament on Thursday (Australian time), at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida.

In the tournament taking place in that Orlando hub – which many MLS insiders refer to as “the Orlando bubble” – “MLS Is Back” pits 24 of the league’s 26 member clubs against each other in what the league calls “a World Cup-style of tournament” with six balanced four-team groups reducing themselves to knockout rounds from the Round Of 16 onwards, until a champion is crowned on August 12.

The “MLS Is Back” matches – being contested at the hub without fans being allowed to attend – will count in the league’s regular-season standings, in a milestone season that was suspended on March 11 after having played just two rounds.

If all goes according to plan with the “MLS Is Back” tournament – which is no guarantee, given how the COVID-19 global pandemic has ravaged its way throughout the U.S. and in the state of Florida in particular – MLS remains hopeful to resume its regular season and a playoff campaign which will culminate in the MLS Cup championship game, in dates yet to be determined, pending the success of this tournament.

The details surrounding the “MLS Is Back” tournament happen to be of critical observation to the A-League’s season revival. Although the reputation of a vast majority of A-League fans is to closely follow the European leagues rather than those in the Americas, none of the leagues in England, Germany, Italy or Spain have used the hub system to restart their seasons, whereas MLS has.

So if the A-League was to observe what MLS is doing in Orlando, what lessons could they apply to what they can do in Sydney?

The most important general lesson should be a simple one: from an organizational standpoint, accept that not everything is going to go according to plan, revise from setbacks quickly, and learn and grow from it all.

While the A-League has had its issues surrounding its three Melbourne-based clubs – Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United – having their plights tied into the current spike in Melbourne’s COVID-19 cases, and unable to leave the state of Victoria in a timely fashion to join the Sydney hub, MLS had setbacks with two teams that were already in the Orlando bubble.

When FC Dallas reported ten COVID-19 cases among its playing group and expansion side Nashville SC reported nine among its own, MLS found it had no other choice but to expel each team from the tournament. And with FC Dallas’s ouster leaving Group B with just three teams, the league moved the Chicago Fire out of a lopsided Group A and into Group B to join the San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps, to bring about the six balanced round-robin groups.

Meanwhile, all three of Melbourne’s A-League clubs gained special permission to fly out of Melbourne and landed in Sydney on Saturday, upon all of their collected players passing their COVID-19 tests, the A-League has had to juggle its fixtures to account for those teams to abide by a required 14-day quarantine before they can train or play in league matches.

The A-League anticipates to complete its regular season with 27 remaining games in a 28-day interval, with its Grand Final slated to be played on August 23.