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USL, players association agree to return-to-play plan

Updated June 19, 2020 - 1:42 pm

The Lights FC is one step closer to playing games again.

The United Soccer League and its players association announced Friday they reached a formal agreement on a return-to-play plan for the 2020 season. Details of the deal were not provided. The league has targeted July 11 as its restart date, with the expectation that games will likely be played at home arenas with no fans to start.

“While this season may look different, we look forward to your support and hope to see you in the stands soon,” Real Monarchs midfielder Jack Blake said in a USL players association video.

The agreement paves the way for the Lights to resume small-group training as well. USL clubs currently are allowed to conduct voluntary noncontact practices on outdoor fields in groups of up to 10, with no more than one trainer and one member of the technical staff present.

Lights owner Brett Lashbrook, however, didn’t want the team holding formal practices unless players signed a liability waiver acknowledging the risk they might get infected with the coronavirus. The players did not sign those waivers. Friday’s agreement resolves that issue.

The Lights still need to hire a coach before play resumes. Coach and technical director Eric Wynalda was fired Wednesday for violating rules related to the USL’s return-to-play guidelines, Lashbrook said.

Internal and external candidates are expected to be vetted. Wynalda’s four assistant coaches were not fired.

The Lights played one game before their season was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a 1-1 draw at San Diego Loyal SC.

The USL is attempting to be the first North American pro sports league to return with games in home arenas. The National Women’s Soccer League is holding a tournament in Utah starting June 27, Major League Soccer is holding an event of its own in Orlando, Florida, beginning July 8, and the NBA is attempting to finish its season starting July 31 in Orlando as well.

The NHL will try to finish its season at two yet-to-be-determined sites likely beginning in late July or early August. MLB has yet to come to a return-to-play agreement.

The USL’s rough seasonal equivalent in regards to popularity and competitiveness — Triple-A baseball — has had little to no dialogue about resuming its season.

Lashbrook said any Lights players who feel uncomfortable practicing, playing or traveling with the team will be paid their full salaries.

”We’ll be taking all the appropriate health and safety measures,” Louisville City midfielder Paolo Picallo said in the players association video.

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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