Sports·The Buzzer

Major League Soccer's return isn't going smoothly

Tuesday's edition of CBC Sports' daily newsletter, The Buzzer, features Major League Soccer's bumpy road to return, the unique July sports schedule and Patrick Mahomes' deceiving contract extension.

FC Dallas already withdrew, while Nashville's status is in flux after 5 positive tests

Reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela of Los Angeles FC withdrew from the Disney World tournament over concerns about the coronavirus. (Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images)

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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The shaky-looking MLS is Back Tournament kicks off tomorrow night

The name was meant to sound triumphant. But, a month after announcing it, Major League Soccer is limping toward its comeback event inside a fanless "bubble" at Disney World.

Here's what's gone wrong so far and a few other things to know about the tournament:

One team has already been dropped and another's status is up in the air because of COVID-19 outbreaks. FC Dallas was removed yesterday after 10 of its players and a coach tested positive since their arrival at the bubble.Today, MLS postponed Wednesday's Nashville-Chicago match — one of two scheduled for opening night — after five Nashville players tested positive and another four produced inconclusive results. The league said it will decide whether Nashville can stay in the tournament once additional test results come back. Also, one player from Columbus Crew SC tested positive.

The schedule is a mess. In addition to the Nashville-Chicago postponement, Toronto FC's opening match vs. D.C. United was pushed back from Friday night to Sunday morning at 9 a.m. ET because TFC didn't arrive in Florida until yesterday (it needed more time to complete testing). Meanwhile, MLS is still trying to figure out what to do about Dallas' matches. They were supposed to open Thursday vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC. As of our publish time, Vancouver's first scheduled game was July 15 vs. San Jose. The first of the three Canadian teams to play will be the Montreal Impact. They open Thursday vs. New England. Read more about the last-minute scramble to revise the schedule here.

The league's reigning MVP pulled out. Carlos Vela won the award last year after scoring a league-high 34 goals and helping Los Angeles FC win the Supporters' Shield for the best regular-season record. His wife is pregnant, so he decided to stay home. Vancouver was also hard-hit by opt-outs: five of its players decided not to participate. Despite Vela's absence, LAFC is still favoured by oddsmakers to win the tournament. Most betting shops give the reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders the second-best odds. Online bookmaker Pinnacle listed MLS Cup runner-up Toronto as the No. 6 favourite, Montreal 13th and Vancouver 23rd.

The format is similar to the World Cup's. Dallas' absence leaves 25 teams. They're divided into six groups, and the plan is for them to each play three group-stage matches over the next 16 days. Montreal and Toronto are in a group with D.C. and New England. Vancouver is grouped with Seattle, San Jose and (on paper, anyway) Dallas. The top two finishers in each group advance to the single-elimination knockout stage, along with the four best third-place finishers. That stage begins July 25 with the round of 16 and culminates with the championship final on Aug. 11.

After this, MLS hopes to resume its regular season. It was halted in mid-March after everyone had played only two matches. The plan is for teams to play a revised scheduled, which the league is still working on, out of their home stadiums. Everyone's three group-stage matches from the tournament would count in the regular-season standings.

Marky Delgado's TFC team is among the favourites to win a tournament that hasn't exactly gone according to plan. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

It's going to be a busy month (hopefully) for pro sports

The NHL and its players' association took another big step toward bringing hockey back when they announced late yesterday that they've reached a wide-ranging tentative agreement that paves the way for this summer's expanded playoff tournament. The deal includes all the details of the NHL/NHLPA's return-to-plan plan and a four-year extension to their collective bargaining agreement. All that's left now is for the NHL's board of governors (the owners) and the players' union's executive committee and full membership to ratify it. Those votes are expected to happen by the end of the work week. Learn more about the deal in this video by CBC Sports' Rob Pizzo.

Pretty much all the most interesting things about the return-to-play plan had already been reported (and covered in this newsletter) before yesterday's announcement. But we did get something new: actual, official, firm dates. Assuming the deal is ratified in the next few days, training camps for the 24 playoff teams will open in their home cities this coming Monday (July 13). Teams will report to their assigned hub city (reportedly, but still not officially, Edmonton for the Western Conference and Toronto for the East) on July 26. The playoffs will start Saturday, Aug. 1.

Major League Baseball also finally gave us some dates last night when it released the schedule for its shortened regular season. It starts with a pair of night games on Thursday, July 23 (the Yankees visit World Series champion Washington at 7 p.m. ET, followed by Giants-Dodgers at 10 p.m. ET). Everyone except the Yanks and Nats plays the following day — including the Blue Jays' season opener at Tampa Bay at 6:40 p.m. ET. Toronto starts with five straight road games (three at Tampa, two at Washington) before its home opener vs. the Nationals on July 29. The Jays would like to play that in Toronto, but they're still awaiting approval from the Canadian government to host regular-season games. 

Now that we finally have specifics from baseball and the NHL, it feels like a good time to update our North American pro sports calendar. Given the gloomy state of the U.S. right now, I'd suggest marking these dates in pencil, not pen. But, assuming everyone's plans hold up, here's a look at the key dates from now through Aug. 1, presented in this wonderfully handy graphic designed by CBC Sports' Sophie Baron:

(CBC Sports)

Quickly...

Patrick Mahomes' contract isn't quite as good as it sounds. The agency that negotiated the superstar quarterback's new deal with the Kansas City Chiefs is touting Mahomes as the "first half-billion player in sports history." This is based on the agency's claim that Mahomes agreed to a "10-year extension worth $503 million" yesterday. That's a bit of a stretch, though. Mahomes still had two years left on his rookie contract, and his new deal includes $25 million in incentives that he may or may not reach. So, really, he's got a 12-year deal for $477 million.

On the surface, that compares favourably to baseball superstar Mike Trout's 12-year, $426.5-million contract. But Trout's money is fully guaranteed. Mahomes was guaranteed "only" $63 million at signing, and $141 million in the event he gets injured. That's still an obscene amount of money, and Mahomes is set for life. But the fact that the NFL's best player, who's still only 24 years old, can command so much less guaranteed money than baseball's is another reminder that pro football is a very tough business. Read more about Mahomes' big extension here. And if you're interested in the finer details of the deal and exactly how much money Mahomes is likely to pocket, I suggest this piece by ESPN's Bill Barnwell.

And finally…

Curling is in for some sweeping changes. Literally. As part of its new guidelines for making the game safer to play during the pandemic, Curling Canada is asking recreational players in clubs across the country to use only one sweeper at a time. The governing body is also calling for markings on the ice to help keep non-throwing players away from each other, and for players to forego the traditional post-game handshakes. Those are just some of the new regulations in Curling Canada's 29-page guide to the 2020-21 season. Read more about the changes here.

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