Chicago Fire FC Commence MLS is Back Tourney Play, COVID Concerns Paramount

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Chicago Fire FC will finally begin play in the MLS is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla on Tuesday. Their second game in the tournament, against the San Jose Earthquakes, will follow five days later.

One club, FC Dallas, had to drop out before the competition even started due to a coronavirus outbreak. Another team, the Fire’s first opponent, Nashville SC, was forced to do to the same. Originally assigned to Group A, the Fire were then re-assigned to joined Group B after MLS announced an updated format and schedule for the MLS is Back Tournament, which now has six groups with four teams each.

If you need betting info, the kind of information you would get at the  Wagerwebs guide to Gamstop, then check out the odds for this tourney. LAFC are favorites at +450. Seattle Sounders +850, Atlanta United +1000, Toronto FC +1000, and Sporting KC at +1300 round out the top 5. The Chicago Fire FC are way down there at +3400

If you watched the action last night, you probably heard an announcer say “there has to be a Group of Death right?” Yeah dude, you might want to avoid that that common soccer cliche right now, if you could please! The United States is handling this pandemic much worse than the rest of the world, and Florida might just be the worst state possible in which to be staging live sports right now.

The United States makes up only 4% of the world’s population, yet it accounts for 1/4 of global coronavirus cases and 1/4 of the world’s deaths related to the virus. And Florida is a state where the daily case count keeps breaking records.

So while there are hopes to having an MLS season in the fall, sometime after this tournament is completed, don’t get your hopes up.

Another match, DC United-Toronto FC has also been postponed. Not once but twice. Containing the spread of the virus is a serious issue, and if it cannot be effectively contained within the bubble in Orlando, what would happen under the circumstances of a normal regular season?

No matter what happens, safety and health issues currently are and always will be the headline story/overriding theme of this tournament. It’s why the hashtag #MLSisNotBack the parody account @MLSCovidCup are so popular on Twitter right now.

In spite of it all, Chicago Fire FC manager Raphael Wicky says he feels very secure about how things are being handled.

“I feel safe down here,” he said on media conference call.

“We are tested every other day. We have been tested so often before coming here, we have been tested so often here, and we will be tested every other day in the future. We have our own floor.”

“Our team is in our floor. You are rarely in touch with anyone else.”

“If you don’t go over to talk to a former teammate or a former coach, a person you know, you really are not often in touch, in physical contact, with anyone.”

With that in mind, let’s look ahead to this week. Chicago Fire FC will begin play in Group B on Tuesday, July 14 against the defending MLS Cup champions, the Seattle Sounders.

It kicks off at 8am CT (it’s Orlando in mid-July, you can only play in the morning or at night due to the extreme hear) and it will be televised nationally on ESPN. The Fire lost their season opener, 2-1, at Seattle on March 1. On Sunday July 19, the Fire-Earthquakes game will kick off at 7pm CT, televised on FS1.

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Wicky affirms that his team is doing everything it needs to be doing to try to stay safe and remain healthy.

“We are wearing our masks at all times besides when we are in training, when the players train, and obviously when we eat,” he added, before doubling down on his statements about how safe he and his team feel within the bubble.

“Yes, if we do our part and we are disciplined, and the league is doing their part and we are tested and tests are accurate, then yes, I can say we feel safe. Yeah, there have been cases — there have been cases since we are here, but I believe these cases were brought in. They were not from here.”

“And as long as that is the case, we feel safe, yes.”

In terms of the actual football itself, this tournament will certainly have a feel like a bunch friendles cobbled together. Guys are rusty and far from match fit do the long layoff. Quality of play is just not there yet. The league MVP, Carlos Vela, withdrew from the competition long before it started. We’ve already seen a dull goalless draw that was basically unwatchable.

Even a pundit from ESPN, the network that’s broadcasting almost all of it, said that this is basically a preseason tournament, at least for the opening rounds. Things may get better in the knockout rounds, but we’ll see. So please bear that in mind when watching, and manage your expectations.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TVSports IllustratedChicago Now and SB Nation.

You can follow Banks, a former writer for Chicago Tribune.comon Twitter and his cat on Instagram.

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