Positive Covid-19 cases throw MLS Cup into peril

Written By Harrison Hamm on December 11, 2020

This being 2020, nothing is going to go completely smoothly. With MLS Cup coming up on Sunday, the Columbus Crew announced that two players tested positive for Covid-19 this week.

In a corresponding move, they classified Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos, two crucial starters, as “medically not cleared to play” on the injury report. The club does not disclose the identities of positive tests.

How this impacts MLS Cup match-up

The news is troublesome in a number of ways.

Of course, we hope that the players who tested positive recover quickly and smoothly. While the club tests every player, it does raise the question of whether the players have close contacts that could pose risk. We’ve seen in other sports (and in MLS) how fast outbreaks can spread.

MLS said from the beginning of the postseason that no game would be postponed. They were prepared to force a team to forfeit if the situation dictated. But that stubbornness could now result in the league’s marquee game being played with one team at a significant disadvantage as a result of coronavirus cases.

That this MLS Cup will likely be remembered in part for the effect Covid-19 had is a reminder of how bad the pandemic is getting in the United States. In Europe, games are generally going smoothly and have not been pushed back (aside from the racism that affected a recent PSG – Basaksehir Champions League match). America is having a different experience.

To replace Nagbe and Santos, the Crew will have to turn to players who can’t exert the same influence on the game. In midfield, I would imagine it will be either Fatai Alashe or Sebastian Berhalter. Alashe and Berhalter have both made six starts this season, appearing together in the second-to-last regular season game. The Crew will severely miss Nagbe’s influence in possession.

Santos has been very good and productive this season, and most of the options are speedy specialists. Yonness Mokhtar might be the most likely replacement, though Emanuel Boateng has experience in high-leverage games from his time as a starter for the Galaxy. Derrick Etienne Jr. could also get a look.

Whatever happens, the Crew will be at a clear disadvantage against the talented Sounders, who have had no Covid-related absences since Gustav Svensson returned in the conference finals. MLS won’t postpone, but as with everything else this year, MLS Cup will be hard to separate from the pandemic.

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