A return-to-play agreement finalized Friday between the United Soccer League and its recognized players association increased the likelihood of Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC hosting matches at Weidner Field this summer.
Whether fans will be allowed to attend and how many matches the season altered by the coronavirus pandemic will include are among the things to be determined ahead of the agreed to July 11 restart date.
The next step for the Switchbacks is implementing coronavirus testing. According to a report from The Athletic, the agreement, which players voted on until Friday morning, features mandatory testing three days before teams return to “contact training” with additional testing for the virus and antibodies scheduled in the coming weeks. The Switchbacks continued to train in groups of 10 or fewer Friday.
“There’s a lot of conversations and a lot of plans in place now with testing,” Switchbacks head coach Alan Koch said. “I think next week is going to be the testing phase.”
The sooner test results are reported to the league, the better for Koch and the Switchbacks. He noted the layoff between the club’s only 2020 match, a 2-1 win at Oklahoma City on March 7, to its next possible game is roughly the length of a standard offseason.
“I think these next few weeks of final preparation are going to be the most important. I could not tell you today who our starting lineup is, so we’ve got a lot of work as coaches. Then, the players have a lot of work to prepare themselves,” Koch said.
“This is a second preseason.”
It’s also a relief to players who were concerned about their 2020 contracts not being honored if the season was canceled or the league and players association could not reach an agreement. Those worries have been erased by the deal that features no wage cuts and mandatory payment for players should a team not be able to complete the season, according to The Athletic’s report.
“I think everyone is excited that we are going to play games this year and relieved that our negotiations for returning to play are over,” Jordan Burt, the Switchbacks’ USLPA representative, texted The Gazette on Friday afternoon. “This process has been mentally draining for many of us, but now that we have a date in place and protocols we all agree on, there is a lot of positive energy around the upcoming games.”
The Switchbacks plan to use an intrasquad scrimmage to prepare for league matches. The club will also host one of its popular fireworks shows on the Fourth of July, though fans may have to watch in their cars. Club president Nick Ragain said a plan to host those events together was “still developing.”
“We’ll definitely have an intrasquad game,” Koch said. “When and what format and how that’s going to work, we’re still going to have to work through that over the next few days.”
The return-to-play agreement was confirmed by the USL on Twitter early Friday morning.
“The two sides are now actively preparing for a July 11 restart to the 2020 Championship season and will resume negotiations on a historic first collective bargaining agreement in the coming weeks,” the league said.
The contract negotiations will follow on a biweekly basis starting July 27, The Athletic reported, but for now the players will live with Friday’s step forward.
“We came so far since the beginning of these negotiations, which shows our solidarity as players and how amazing the USLPA’s leadership is,” Burt said. “We are grateful to them and happy with the outcome.”