After more than four months off, the New England Revolution will take the field Thursday at 8 p.m. against Montreal to play their first game in the MLS is Back tournament.
Every match will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, where strict protocols are being enforced in a bubble setting to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. But in a state where nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases were reported Wednesday, the MLS hasn’t remained immune to the virus.
Wednesday’s late match between Nashville and Chicago, following the tournament-opening Orlando City SC-Miami CF game, was postponed Tuesday after five Nashville players tested positive for COVID-19. FC Dallas was forced to withdraw from the month-long tournament because 10 players and one coach had positive test results.
One Revolution player tested positive for the virus since the team resumed training in Foxborough on June 8, and two rounds of testing for everyone returned negative results before the team departed on a charter flight for Orlando.
Revolution coach Bruce Arena said he and the team are comfortable with the arrangements in Florida, where they undergo testing for the virus every other day and be sequestered in the Swan and Dolphin hotels, and he never considered pulling out of the tournament.
“I think resuming league play is a good idea,” Arena said on a Zoom call with the media Wednesday. “You can argue whether this is the appropriate way to do it or not, but I think it’s fantastic that we’re starting the league again. Our players are excited to play, coaches want to get back into it.
“Everyone involved in the sport, I believe, wants to get back into competition.”
The World Cup-style event features 25 teams that are divided into six groups for round-robin first-round play. The top two teams in each group plus four teams with the best third-place records will advance to a 16-team knockout round. Games will conclude Aug. 11 with the title match.
The Revolution posted an 0-1-1 record before MLS suspended play on March 12. They lost to Montreal on Feb. 29 in the season opener.
Midfielder Carles Gil, who led the team in goals and assists last season, will make his 2020 debut Thursday after missing the first two games because of a foot injury. The return of the MLS newcomer of the year should provide a spark for the Revolution, who will need to contend with Montreal’s Maximiliano Urruti, who scored three goals in the Impact’s first two regular-season games. The Impact also signed Victor Wanyama out of Tottenham in March, but he did not make his MLS debut before the league shut down.
Despite the teams’ familiarity with each other, Arena said anything can happen Thursday night after the league resumed so quickly after months away from organized workouts and games.
“We’re hopeful that our fitness that we’ve worked hard on in the month of June is going to pay off, and we’re going to be decent from minute one to minute 90,” Arena said. “However, we know that every team is going to have some difficult moments in the second halves of these games.”
The Revolution will play D.C. United on July 16 before concluding group play against Toronto F.C. on July 21.