The opening days of MLS's return-to-play tournament have been rocky to say the least. Two teams have been forced to withdraw over multiple positive coronavirus tests. Other matches have been postponed as a consequence of more positive (and false-positive) tests. Very fair questions are being asked, such as whether the tournament should be played at all considering the circumstances and whether MLS commandeering rapid-result testing in a state that is being ravaged by thousands of new cases per day is a worthwhile endeavor.
Nevertheless, the show goes on, and after taking a little bit to heat up, it's becoming clear that MLS is indeed back in its very MLS of ways. See, MLS has a penchant for being a place where the bizarre happens. It boasts a special brand of weird, and after the early bumps–one that included a player needing to leave the bubble for medical treatment; thankfully Inter Miami's Andres Reyes is fine–we've started to see some of those moments trickle out on the stage surrounded by superimposed advertisements.
There's the fact that multiple teams will have already played twice before one club (Vancouver) plays at all (thanks to FC Dallas's ouster and the subsequent rescheduling). What would MLS be without any unusual schedule imbalances?
On the field, where the 9 a.m. ET starts have appeared to be wars of attrition before both teams can settle in, the on-brand weird has started to take hold. Take Robin Fraser's in-game interview, for instance. That's Colorado Rapids manager Robin Fraser, the coach of the team being scored upon by a rival as he's doing a live, in-game TV segment:
There's LAFC, who, with or without Carlos Vela, showed it can still produce some of the drunkest games the league has to offer. Monday night's 3-3 draw vs. Houston, in which it battled back from 3-1 down, was no exception. Remember, it was another 3-3 LAFC draw, vs. Philadelphia, that was the league's last match prior to play being suspended.
There's Minnesota United, whose baffling goalkeeping allowed Sporting KC to waltz in with the opener Sunday night only to be given a lifeline after a red card to SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia and come away with the win after two goals in second-half stoppage time. Given that these group games count toward the regular season table, Minnesota is the only 3-0-0 team in the league.
There's 35-year-old player/assistant coach Federico Higuain, making his D.C. United debut one minute, scoring on a deft chip four minutes later and D.C., reduced to 10 men for the entirety of the second half, scoring again in stoppage time to stun Toronto with a 2-2 draw as part of another late collapse.
There's FC Cincinnati, showing that no matter how much has changed–its coach, the world around us, the setting–its atrocious and porous defending is still a constant.
There's the continued scrutiny around Chicharito, who had a penalty saved and missed a couple of other gilt-edged chances before finally opening his Galaxy account with a too-little, too-late finish in Monday's 2-1 loss to Portland.
"It's not the greatest taste, scoring your first goal with a loss like this one and then when you miss a penalty obviously," Chicharito said in his postgame remarks. "I told the lads that this one was on me."
It's been a less-than-ideal first lap around the league for the Mexican star, but then again, nothing about the last few months has gone as expected, either.
Above all else, there has been the growing voice of the player and an emphasis on social change, things that have become hallmarks of the league in recent years. Between the moving league-wide demonstration prior to the Orlando-Miami tournament opener, Thierry Henry's 8:46 of kneeling, the Jeremy Ebobisse-conceived warmup shirts that Portland wore Monday night and beyond, it's clear that the purpose of this competition and its place in the spotlight before other sports attempt their comebacks is two-fold: return to action, and do so with a message to get across.
It isn't perfect. It's all very fragile and could go one of many ways at a moment's notice. It's quintessentially MLS.