D.C. United will resume the regular season Aug. 21 at FC Cincinnati and will host the New England Revolution four days later in its first match at Audi Field since March, multiple people familiar with the MLS schedule said Friday.
Like the Washington Nationals, who play two blocks from Audi Field, United would need approval from the city to stage games during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Though the organization has explored the possibility of welcoming spectators — and MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week that some teams would be able to accommodate fans, provided they follow local guidelines — United is expected to keep the gates closed for the foreseeable future. All baseball teams are playing without spectators.
United and MLS officials declined to comment.
The league is finalizing the first of three in-market phases over the next two months and plans to announce initial details Saturday.
The site of D.C.’s first in-market match in five months is fitting: The team was scheduled to fly to Cincinnati when the health crisis forced the league to abruptly suspend the season March 12. Kickoff is expected to be 7:30 p.m. United’s home game is likely to start at 7 p.m. TV details are being finalized.
MLS is nearing the end of a five-week, return-to-play tournament, conducted inside a bubble at Disney World in Florida. The Portland Timbers will face Orlando City in Tuesday’s final.
After coronavirus outbreaks caused the withdrawal of two teams and several schedule changes, MLS has not reported a positive case in more than three weeks. Resuming matches in home markets, though, comes with greater health risks, as MLB and pro soccer’s lower divisions are learning. Both have struggled with coronavirus infections and postponed games.
Garber said Wednesday on Fox Sports: “We learned a lot in the bubble. … And that really will give us a sense of what we need to do to finish the season.”
The league is making efforts to reduce travel and hotel use by scheduling as many matches as possible between teams in geographic proximity. In many cases, bus trips and short charter flights will allow teams to travel to and from destinations on the same day. United is expected to fly to Cincinnati and bus to Philadelphia and the New York area.
Under the league’s plan, the 26 teams will play six matches apiece in each of the three phases, followed by the playoffs, said several people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss the matter before an official announcement.
MLS conducted two weeks of the regular season before the pandemic shutdown in March. The group stage of the MLS is Back Tournament in Kissimmee, Fla., counted toward the regular season (three matches apiece). United was 1-1-0 before the shutdown and went 0-1-2 in Florida.
Nashville SC and FC Dallas did not participate in the tournament because of numerous coronavirus cases, which the league believes started at home and were brought to Florida. To begin making up for their missed group matches, those teams will face each other twice next week in Frisco, Tex.
During the first phase, the three Canadian teams are expected to play one another. As with MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays, the Canadian government will not allow the MLS clubs to play at home. Assuming that restriction remains in place, Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps will have to find temporary home venues in the United States.
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