Major League Soccer will forgo national anthem before matches over lack of spectators

Major League Soccer will not play the national anthem before matches as the league is a few weeks away from returning to the field after the coronavirus pandemic shut it down in March.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber told reporters during a conference call that the anthem will not be played because there will be no fans in the stands when the players start up again at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida on July 8.

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“We won't be playing the anthem,” Garber told reporters. “There's not going to be any fans in the stands, so we didn't see that it would be appropriate. And I feel today no different than I felt then, which is if a player is looking to express their right to kneel during the national anthem, they should have the right to do so. I would hope that they would stand, but if they opt not to, that's their prerogative and we will support that.”

To kick the season off again, the league’s 26 clubs will be divided into six groups for the opening round of the tournament played at Walt Disney World.

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The players will be sequestered in a resort with a rigorous testing protocol. Each team will have three group matches, played over 16 days with multiple matches a day. The group matches will count toward the regular season. The title match will be played on Aug. 11.

“From the very beginning we said anything we do has to ensure that we’re going to protect the health and safety of our players, all of the staff that will be accompanying them and those that are going to be working the tournament,” Garber said. “There will be testing for those who are traveling down to Orlando before they leave and when they arrive. There will be testing regularly during the competition in the training that will precede it. And staff will be tested as well.”

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Teams can arrive for training on June 24.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.